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Efforts to review St. Louis spending gather steam

St. Louis City Hall
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s looking more and more like state Auditor Nicole Galloway will be reviewing St. Louis’ spending.

A group called AuditSTL has been collecting signatures since August to force an audit of all city departments. St. Louis aldermen are now considering a resolution from Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, that would make the same request, although Galloway would not be required to do the review.

“Every neighborhood, everybody has been saying, ‘we want an audit. We feel that somehow there’s things going on down here we want to know,’” Vaccaro said Thursday, during testimony on his resolution. “I don’t think there’s anything going on, but the way you prove that is to be open.”

Matt Schmidt, the treasurer of AuditSTL, said he was pleased with Vaccaro’s remarks, and the breadth of the departments Vaccaro wants to review.

“I agree with him that if we can do this together, we’d rather do it through you guys because it’s cold and I don’t like collecting signatures,” Schmidt said. AuditSTL has collected about half of the 6,527 signatures it would need to force the audit, and has until next August to collect them all.

The push for an audit also has the support of Mayor Lyda Krewson, who is a former chief financial officer for architecture firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets. She campaigned on reviewing the city finances.

“Frankly, it’s just a good business practice,” she said. “It’s not that I think there’s necessarily anything inappropriate going on, but I think audits are a good business practice.”

Alderwoman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward, didn’t question the wisdom of conducting an audit, but was skeptical about the cost. The audit will cost the city around $1.5 million, regardless of whether the request comes from the Board of Aldermen or by petition.

“If we’re going to spend maybe over $2 million of money that the city does not have, what is it we hope to learn by this, and what are we going to do once we learn it?” Howard asked. She wants the board to review recommendations from a similar audit that was completed in 2010.

Budget director Paul Payne also sought to “temper the expectations” of audit supporters.

“If the expectation is that ‘oh, we’re going to find some operating savings and we’re going to be able to balance our budget based on that,' I would caution against making that assumption,” he said.

Aldermen did not vote Thursday on Vaccaro’s resolution. The committee will use a second meeting to look at the findings of the 2010 audit and make any changes to the resolution. Chairman Scott Ogilvie, D-24th Ward, said he hoped to hold that meeting before Dec. 25, although the full board would not act until after the new year.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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