During the recent recession that began after 2008, every department of the city pulled together to balance the city budget while meeting the need to deliver city services and keep the city solvent. In order to balance the budget when the city was dealing with the economic recession, city leaders voted to reallocate funds, including funds for Ward capital for other critical uses.
As Comptroller, I have a duty to protect the credit of the city and to be a watchdog over taxpayer dollars. Therefore, it is appropriate to comment on a few facts about the proposed $180 million bond issue. There are critical public safety needs that were voted on and approved by the capital committee in the proposed bond issue, along with matching funds for roads and bridges and important infrastructure needs. But, I have a fiscal concern regarding $10 million in the proposed bond issue for Ward capital when taxpayers already fund Ward capital through the sales tax. In fact, taxpayers would be asked to pay twice, once from the ½ cent sales tax when making retail purchases and again from their property tax. This double dipping, in my view, poses an undue burden on taxpayers.
In the $180 million proposed bond issue on the August 4th ballot there are many worthy projects, especially for public safety and matching dollars for federal funds. The fiscal concern regarding the $10 million inserted for additional Ward capital funding, as I see it, is that it amounts to double taxation. Taxpayers fund capital improvements for the 28 Aldermanic Wards with the ½ cent sales tax at a rate of $8 million per year and will do so every year.
The Board shouldn't be double dipping especially when existing outstanding balances amounts to $31 million--money which has built up in Ward capital accounts. Though there are designated projects for most of the money, it will take several years to spend.
When you have $31 million in the bank and $8 million coming in every year, it is hard to justify to the taxpayers that you need an additional $10 million to pay yourself back for reallocating funds to balance the budget at a time when every city, county, state and individual households were tightening their belts during a major recession.
We also need to come to a meeting of the minds at City Hall and ask ourselves how long is too long for money to be kept in a fund before being reallocated to more critical needs. There is much in the bond issue which is good, but not this $10 million. As Comptroller for the City of St. Louis I feel I have a responsibility to speak out and make people aware of my fiscal concerns prior to the August 4th Special Election. Ultimately it is a decision for the voters of St. Louis to make, but they deserve to have all the facts to make the most informed decision.
Office of the Comptroller