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A primer: St. Louis' 2018 budget

Illustration by Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio
The city of St. Louis has started looking at the budget for fiscal year 2018.

Updated April 26 with result of E&A voteSt. Louis aldermen will have another $2.3 million to distribute when they start looking at the city’s budget for fiscal year 2018.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved changes Wednesday to the draft budget, leaving the new use tax revenue available for things like public safety and affordable housing. Previously, the entire amount had gone to closing a $17 million deficit.

E&A, which includes Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen president Lewis Reed and comptroller Darlene Green, freed up the money by eliminating more positions, not all of which are vacant. They also cut spending on cellphones and travel, and required E&A approval of “expenditures for discretionary travel by any elected officials and employees in excess of three trips annually.”

E&A members also want the Board of Aldermen to consider increasing the trash fee by $3, which could help the city buy new trash trucks and restore money aldermen can spend in their wards.

The budget is expected to be officially be introduced at the Board of Aldermen on Friday.

Original story from April 25:

It’s again time for St. Louis officials to wrestle with the budget, a process that kicked off last week  with budget director Paul Payne presenting an initial draft to Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, and Comptroller Darlene Green.

Those three, who make up the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, are likely to give their initial stamp of approval Wednesday, with a few changes.

Here’s a quick look on how solid a fiscal ground the city stands for the fiscal year that starts July 1:

The basics

The overall budget for the city totals more than $1 billion, an increase of about 1 percent from last year. About half of that is general revenue, or money from business, sales and property taxes that can be spent on anything. The rest is spread among special funds, which are meant for specific purposes but sometimes are transferred to the general fund, or enterprise funds that can’t be taken away from services, like the water department and the airport.

One thing that hasn’t changed is where the largest chunk of money, nearly 60 percent, is going: public safety, which includes the St. Louis police and fire departments, as well as corrections.

The challenges

Generally, St. Louis sees a gap between how much money it brings in and how much it will need to spend. This year’s gap is projected at nearly $17 million — which is high for a non-recession year.

“A couple of years ago, we were at single digits,” budget director Paul Payne told E&A last week when he presented the draft budget.

Most of the spending increases are due to raises for employees and increased pension costs, according to Payne said. The biggest driver of the deficit, he said, is lower-than-expected sales tax and payroll tax collection, as well as drops in taxes paid on landline telephones and gaming revenue.

To shore up the budget, Payne has proposed eliminating vacant positions, redirecting some money meant for long-term infrastructure needs to the general fund and directing all of the additional use tax revenue that voters approved in April to current spending needs rather than new projects.

The last of those ideas bothered the members of E&A.

"Having this new source of revenue and then just not being able to deliver anything different is concerning," Krewson said last week at the E&A meeting.

Green said she wanted to take a look at the fleet of city vehicles, city credit cards and cell phones, as well as the amount of traveling city elected officials do. She proposed a system that would require anyone wanting to take more than three trips a year get approval from E&A.

"We need to be looking at citywide, where the cuts can come from,"Green said. "If we're really serious about this crime prevention, you need to look inside the house."

Krewson and Reed were both agreeable to that change.

The process

Payne’s revised budget to be presented Wednesday will take into consideration the requests of Krewson, Reed and Green. With the board's approval, it will be introduced as Board Bill 1 on Friday.

Over the next few weeks, the city's Ways and Means committee will hear from various departments, some of whom may ask for more money. Aldermen can move money around, but any increase in spending in one place has to be balanced with a cut somewhere else — the city can't run a deficit.

E&A would have to approve any changes the aldermen make to the budget, which must be signed by the mayor by July 1.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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