Poorly managed government has a cost, and the people who run the Metropolitan Sewer District are asking voters to help cover part of that cost. Proposition Y, which appears on the April 6 ballot in both St. Louis city and county, asks voters to authorize issuing $500 million in bonds to cover much-needed — and now federally mandated — upgrades to the system. They are also asking approval for five more propositions. On Prop Y, it is clearly in the best interest of voters to vote “yes.” As for some of the other propositions, things are about as clear as the sewage the district regularly dumped into the Mississippi River for decades.
In 2019, voters rejected a request from the district to fund improvements to storm water management. That proposition would have allowed the district to charge fees based on a property’s amount of impervious surfaces — like pavement — that contribute to runoff. That defeat, along with the uncertainty of the pandemic, likely contributed to the district delaying this vote on Prop Y, which was originally supposed to appear on the ballot last year.
This choice presented to voters, like many sewer district propositions, stinks. Regardless of the results of the vote, customers are going to see their rates increase. The only question is whether it’s by a little or a lot. If Prop Y is approved, average St. Louisans will see their monthly bills rise from last year’s $55.57 to about $62.59 by 2024. If that bond authorization fails, the district will have to rely on cash for repairs and capital improvements. That will raise customers’ bills to around $86.12 by 2024. Neither option is pleasant, but $65 is better than $86.
With Proposition 1, the district mixes some benign housekeeping items like replacing outdated phrases used in its charter — such as “city workhouse” to be replaced with “jail or detention facilities” — but also asking for approval of less transparency and accountability, like eliminating the need for MSD to do anything more than posting a notice on its own website when it wants to raise rates. That’s not in the public’s best interest. Voters should reject Proposition 1. Similarly, Prop 2 would significantly alter the formula by which the Board of Trustees can vote on ordinances. That’s also not in the public’s best interest. Voters should also reject Prop 2.
Propositions 3, 4 and 5 deal with board operations and daily business. Prop 5 allows the district to use the same auditing firm for a period of more than five years, but it also requires the contract to be awarded only after a competitive bidding process. Voters should vote “yes” on Props 3, 4 and 5.