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First step complete in city's byzantine budget process

Because a pending state bill doesn't pre-empt local minimum wage laws passed before August 28, Board of Aldermen members may act fast on passing a minimum wage increase.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen will begin work on the 2017 budget in early May

The departure of the Rams to Los Angeles may mean budget cuts for some St. Louis agencies.

The city's top three elected officials on Tuesday approved a proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2017, which starts July 1. The $1.04 billion budget is about 2.5 percent bigger than last year, but revenue growth is projected at only 1 percent, driven mostly by hits to the sales and amusement taxes. 

"The revenue impact from the location of the Rams NFL franchise from the city, though small in proportion to the budget, can be expected to be a drag on revenue growth in the coming fiscal year," budget director Paul Payne wrote in a summary.

This has created a gap in the city's discretionary spending, which has led budget officials to propose reducing the amount of money available for building demolition and for capital projects in individual wards. There are also proposed cuts to the Affordable Housing Commission. The $1.04 billion includes all federal and restricted funds.

At a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, Judith Arnold of the Enright Neighbors Association asked Mayor Francis Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed to keep demolition funding at the same level as last year.

"Our mission is to improve quality of life for its residents," Arnold said. "Our neighborhood feels that demo and board-up of derelict buildings should be a priority."

Aldermen can restore than funding when they begin debating the budget in early May — but to do so, they'll have to cut from somewhere else.

Budget highlights

  • $1.042 billion budget, with a $511 million general fund, $305 million in special revenue and other funds, and $226 million from enterprise funds (like the airport and water department)
  • Grant funding is projected to drop 3.4 percent across all city departments.
  • Most city employees will be eligible for a merit pay increase of 1.5 percent on the anniversary of their hiring. Uniformed police and fire personnel will also see an across-the-board increase.
  • There will be no change in police and fire department staffing levels, though the city does plan to hire five additional park rangers.
  • The city's drug court program will be funded solely through general fund revenue. Previously, more than half on the $577,000 budget was covered with special crime prevention funds.
  • The budget includes $1.5 million in expenses related to thelikely relocation of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to north St. Louis.

Remaining steps

  • On Friday, the budget will be introduced as Board Bill 1.
  • Starting in early May, the Ways and Means committee will consider the budget bills. Generally speaking, department heads come before the committee to explain their budget needs and request any increases. Aldermen can only move money around — a boost in spending in one place must be offset with cuts from another.
  • Any changes the aldermen propose would have to be approved by the city's Board of Estimate and Apportionment before the aldermen take a final vote on the budget.
  • The fiscal year begins July 1.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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