ST. LOUIS COUNTY • The St. Louis County Council approved on Tuesday $5 million in additional funding for Metro security but postponed action on a measure to fund the $240 million expansion of America’s Center.
It also delayed action on another controversial proposal that would have allowed coordinated archery hunts in county parks as a way to curb the deer population.
Reacting to the latest news of violence on the transit system, the council voted 6-1 to release $5 million in funding for Metro security it had withheld amid concerns about cooperation between Metro public safety officers and police in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County in addressing crime on the system.
Taulby Roach, president and CEO of the Bi-State Development Agency, appeared before the council Tuesday night to address the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old man at the Fifth & Missouri MetroLink station. A 17-year-old was in custody Monday in connection with the shooting.
Roach said MetroLink security footage and a security guard who was a key witness had aided the police investigation. He said MetroLink immediately shut the train down after the shooting and “threw our resources at it.”
“The obligation we have to you and to the public is to react appropriately,” he said. “I believe we did that.”
Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, told Roach that he appreciated his efforts but that he would not vote for the measure “until I see concrete evidence of a tactical force that’s addressing the problem of crime on MetroLink.”
“I know that you’re really trying to right the ship,” Trakas said. He said the recent shooting was “disheartening.”
“It’s like a bad dream that just keeps happening over and over and over again,” he said.
Councilman Mark Harder, R-7th District, said he would require regular updates from Metro as the agency and would be “calling out” the agency on any issues.
“People and systems are going to need to be accountable for this going forward if we’re going to have a mass transit system at all,” Harder said.
‘We have some work to do’
Action on the convention center was delayed, in part, to allow the council to determine whether the funds earmarked for the project — $6 million each year raised through hotel taxes — could be spent elsewhere.
“This isn’t about $6 million, this is about a quarter of a billion dollars,” Trakas said. “The county has infrastructure needs, it has payroll needs.”
The plan calls for the fund used to service the debt issued in 1991 to finance the Dome at America’s Center — built for the Rams, who left in 2016 — to be used to service the new, 40-year bonds issued for the center’s expansion.
St. Louis and St. Louis County each contribute $6 million annually to the fund through hotel taxes. The state contributes $12 million. The Dome debt is set to be paid off in 2021.
The plan needs support from both St. Louis city and county to move forward. County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson support the measure. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted 21-3 in December to approve the city’s contribution.
The County Council appeared poised to follow suit after voting 6-1 on March 12 to advance the measure to a final vote.
But on Tuesday, the bill’s sponsor, Hazel Erby, D-1st District, tabled it until she could read the county’s legal staff’s opinion on whether the project is subject to the county’s minority inclusion requirements.
Trakas, who was the sole vote against the measure last week, said he wanted the county’s legal staff to determine if the county could direct the hotel tax revenue after 2021 to the county’s general fund for use on road repair or other issues.
“We have some work to do with what can be done with respect to that $6 million. Or more accurately $240 million.”
The council had heard from a handful of supporters including business owners, Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which operates America’s Center, and other commission top brass.
They said it was needed to boost tourism and draw more conventions to St. Louis so it can compete with peers including Indianapolis and Nashville, Tenn, which have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into their tourism infrastructure in recent years. They also said the conventions generated revenue for area businesses that allows them to thrive.
“We are a direct recipient of all of those conventions,” said Tamara Keefe, owner of Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery. The ice cream maker has a location in St. Louis and in Clayton as well as a production facility in Berkeley that employs 16 people, she said.
“Every single day. When it’s cold and snowy and there’s a convention, all of those people come out when the residents don’t. I know and can count on making a certain revenue.”
Local government watchdog Tom Sullivan spoke against the funding at Tuesday’s meeting. He said the $240 million could be spent on neighborhood improvements and development in the county.
Deer get a reprieve
The council also heard from two speakers who opposed the deer hunting bill sponsored by council member Tim Fitch, R-3rd District.
Fitch has said deer have overrun county parks, especially Edgar M. Queeny County Park. The park, near Town and Country, is part of the district he represents.
Barbara Hughes was one of two residents who asked the council to pursue non-lethal methods of population control such as sterilization and other roadway design approaches to preventing deer-car collisions. Hughes asked the council to set up a task force to study the issue that could be funded through donations.
“In fact, count on me to make the first $1,000 gift,” she said.
The bill before the council Tuesday would have allowed the Missouri Department of Conservation to conduct archery hunts at the county park director’s request.
But Fitch introduced a substitute bill that would require the council to order each individual hunt.