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With potential state funding in hand, St. Louis County to resume federal aid spending decisions

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Seal of St. Louis County, Missouri

Seal of St. Louis County, Missouri (Post-Dispatch)

CLAYTON — The St. Louis County Council will resume talks Saturday over competing proposals for roughly $74 million in federal funding, now that it knows which projects the state will match.

Gov. Mike Parson signed the state budget last week, setting aside up to roughly $74 million in matching grants for St. Louis County projects.

That includes up to $6 million for the demolition of Jamestown Mall, $23 million for a new law enforcement center, $40 million for a makeover of the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus, $4 million for an expansion of the MET Center job training site in Wellston, and $1.2 for a nonprofit, Family Forward, that provides social services for families.

The council had delayed decisions on how to spend the county’s remaining federal aid until it was certain how much state funding might be available.

Now the seven-member body has to decide how the state funding fits in with a list of other proposals for the county’s federal aid that, all together, call for more that $99 million, more than the $74 million in federal funding the county has available.

“These are going to be difficult decisions,” Council Chair Rita Heard Days, D-1st District, said Thursday.

Days said her priority for the Saturday meeting is to figure out how much the council would dedicate for each of the projects to match state funding, and then tackle other proposals afterward.

“We don’t have enough money for everyone’s projects, we knew that going in,” Days said. “We’re looking at what’s on the table right now. If any of the bills out there fit any of those, that’s great. If they don’t, then we have to put that aside until we get leftover monies.”

Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, said he expects “a very spirited discussion,” but the federal aid should be focused on boosting funding for county departments, like police. Fitch, a retired county police chief, is calling for more spending on police services.

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, has proposed funding for early childhood care and to help women get abortions across state lines. She said she hopes the council’s decisions are “based on data and the merits of each proposal, and not on politics.”

County Executive Sam Page on Wednesday named the Jamestown Mall demolition, the MET expansion and UMSL campus makeover as priorities “based on input from the community” for more “job training, higher education, and mental health services.”

At least one of the projects is all but guaranteed to move forward.

The county committed $6 million in April to demolish the mall, under a push by Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, D-4th District, to make the site “shovel ready” for redevelopment into a possible community center. The state matching grant puts a total $12 million behind the demolition.

The state has set aside $4 million for expansion and renovation of the job training and education hub in Wellston, under a plan pushed by Page. Days, who represents Wellston, said she supports the project.

While the state set aside $23 million for a new law enforcement center in the county, Fitch said Thursday that he may have to tweak his spending proposals for county police in order to match 100% of the funding.

Fitch has proposed separate bills that would use about $23 million to build the new precinct, a new regional intelligence operations center, a new property control facility and a training complex that includes a firearms range. But the state funding doesn’t include a new central county precinct, he said.

Among other proposals for the county’s federal aid, Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, has called for $25 million for a range of infrastructure projects, business support and social services in his mostly unincorporated south St. Louis County district, arguing that other parts of the county benefit from $133 million in ARPA funds split among the county’s 88 municipalities.

One of the few bills to undergo a council hearing this year is a proposal by Clancy to give a nonprofit supporting early childhood development $5.6 million in federal aid to support teachers and caretakers.

Clancy has also called for $1 million to help women get abortions across state lines, a plan endorsed by Page but criticized by council Republicans.

Other proposals include bills sponsored by Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, D-2nd District, to give $1.2 million each to three nonprofits providing social services for children and families.

And Days and Webb have introduced bills calling for a total $7 million to address food insecurity in their districts in north St. Louis County.

The county has appropriated more than $109 million from a total $193 million American Rescue Plan Act windfall last year. The bulk — $80 million — was put, at Page’s recommendation, into the county’s general operating budget through 2024 to avoid cuts from revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local governments have until the end of 2024 to obligate money and until the end of 2026 to cash out.

The council has set aside three hours Saturday to discuss federal aid spending. The videoconference hearing, which starts at 10 a.m. will be streamed live on BoxCast.

The council is meeting by videoconference until September, while the council chambers in the county building in downtown Clayton undergo renovations to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.

Members of the public who wish to speak at the meeting can register at https://bit.ly/3IgfCtQ between 9:00 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. Saturday to address the council by web conference.

Posted at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7.

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Reporter covering St. Louis County politics. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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