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Effort To Make City Bond More Transparent Causes Delay

An extreme closeup of U.S. currency.
kevindooley via Flickr
An extreme closeup of U.S. currency.

The president of the Board of Aldermen thinks voters deserve to know exactly what kinds of projects they're getting when they vote on a $195 million bond issue in November. But listing what kind of projects are covered could delay the process of putting the bond issue in front of those voters. 

General obligations bonds fund things like new fire trucks or road projects or building repairs - something that will last longer than it takes to pay off the bonds. The city sold $13 million in general obligation bonds in 2006, and $65 million in 1999.

For most bond issues, voters approve a specific amount, and then politicians later decide on specific projects. But Reed wants to reverse that this time.

"I think it's important that we tell the people of the city of St. Louis why we're asking them to tax themselves, and how it will make a difference in their lives," he said. "Without any detail attached to it at all, the money may never go to any of these things that people are asking for, right?"

Devil in the details

Reed is the sponsor of the legislation that would place the bond issue on the November ballot. His original bill outlined some broad policy areas he wanted to fund, including land purchases, building maintenance, street improvement, and building demolition.

After two months of public hearings and feedback, Reed came back with an updated version of the bill containing several other categories. These included bike and pedestrian infrastructure, economic development and job creation, and building stabilization. What's more, the city could only use the proceeds from the bond sale "only for the purpose designated in the proposition with which the bonds are identified, and shall be used according to Exhibit A, attached hereto to this ordinance."

GO Bond Project List

The city's Ways and Means committee took nearly 100 minutes of testimony on the bond issue on Thursday, but did not vote because a usually simple procedural motion failed over concerns about the level of detail Reed wants. Mayor Francis Slay isn't a fan either. A spokeswoman said the city needs to be able to respond to changing capital needs over the life of the bonds.

The full Board of Aldermen has to pass the measure before going on summer break July 11. Otherwise, the bond issue will have to go on the March ballot.

Real-Time Intelligence Center

Reed made another crucial change in the second version of the bill -- he wants city residents to vote separately on a proposed real-time intelligence center.

The $6 million center would allow the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to monitor a variety of data sources in real time, including cameras and automated license plate readers.  But public response to the proposed intelligence center was clear: don't make us choose between ambulances and surveillance.

St. Louis resident David Factor called it a bad idea to spend that much money on something that's probably unconstitutional.

"The truth is there are many things the city can spend $6 million to $10 million on that will offer more effective solutions and provide increased public safety and are community-building," he said. "These range from street lights, improved public schools, drug rehab programs, gun buyback programs, mental health programs."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.