CLAYTON — The St. Louis County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to call for a federal audit of the struggling Loop Trolley.
The council also tabled a resolution proposed by its presiding officer, Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, that would have chided the city of St. Louis for a lack of transparency over the possible privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
In the trolley resolution, the council called on U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, and Reps. Ann Wagner and Lacy Clay, to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to audit the Urban Circulator Grant that funded nearly half of the $51.5 million project.
The resolution said an audit was appropriate because the trolley “yet again finds itself in an unsustainable financial position despite the significant public resources and taxpayer dollars that have been expended on it.”
The trolley company, which opened last November, created an uproar earlier this month when it said it was reducing service and would be insolvent without an infusion of $200,000 by next month and $500,000 to operate into next year. The trolley company has blamed most of its financial problems on lengthy and unforeseen delays in completing the project, which held down sponsorship, ad revenue, donations and ticket sales, depleting its reserves.
Trakas said last week the request for more county funding was “going nowhere,” and Lewis Reed, president of the city’s Board of Aldermen, recommended the trolley seek private funding. And the executive director of the local agency that coordinates transportation funds said the U.S. government could seek to claw back a significant portion of its investment in the project.
In a statement emailed Tuesday night, Loop Trolley Co. board president John Meyer did not respond directly to the call for an audit but said the board had hoped for a council hearing to answer questions about the operation’s finances and discuss how the city and county together could give the project “an opportunity to realize its potential as a connector of St. Louis neighborhoods.”
The airport resolution accuses St. Louis officials of “conducting closed, non-transparent studies” about privatizing the airport and said the effort was “entirely funded” by libertarian megadonor Rex Sinquefield.
If the resolution is passed as proposed, it would urge the city to “conduct itself with openness and transparency in all matters” concerning privatization.
And it would urge the city to hold a nonbinding referendum on selling the airport and support efforts in St. Charles, Jefferson and St. Louis counties to poll their own voters.
But Trakas put his airport resolution on hold after Adolphus Pruitt, president of the NAACP in St. Louis, told the council that the Airport Advisory Working Group posted all of its records online on its website, fly314.com.
Pruitt noted that Trakas’ resolution said “there’s no documents, meeting minutes, economic impact studies, accounting reports or anything available, but if you go to fly314.com, everything about the airport and the working group is posted online.”
Trakas proposed the resolution as leaders of St. Charles and St. Louis counties said they were supporting a move to explore regional governance of the airport. The St. Louis County Port Authority may vote as early as next month to begin the process of hiring an outside contractor to conduct a study.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, in an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal, said the neighboring counties were “not very neighborly” and should have warned the city before taking steps to study regional control of the airport.
Trakas said in a brief interview after Tuesday’s council meeting, “I would argue the reverse should be true. If you’re going to privatize a regional asset, why didn’t Mayor Krewson reach out to (the) county executive in St. Louis County, or in St. Charles County or in (other area counties)? They are stakeholders as well.”
In a text, Krewson’s spokesman, Jacob Long, said his boss “remains focused on gathering information related to the future of the airport, a property the City has proudly owned for 99 years. If St. Louis County wants to spend their own money on a study, she is open to learning from whatever results that process could yield.”