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St. Louis aldermen send $50 million bond issue to mayor

A fire rages out of control in a warehouse after walls collapsed during a five-alarm fire in St. Louis last Wednesday. Nearly 200 St. Louis firefighters battled the warehouse containing numerous paper products and nearly 200,000 candles.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
St. Louis firefighters would get some new equipment and improvements to the fire stations if voters approve a bond issue in August.

St. Louis voters will decide this summer whether the city should borrow about $50 million to buy new fire equipment, upgrade electrical panels at City Hall, install permanent air conditioning at the city jail known as the Workhouse, and other projects.

Aldermen sent the bond issue to Mayor Lyda Krewson on Friday. Her signature will place the borrowing on the August ballot, when it will require a two-thirds majority to pass. The bond issue will not increase taxes.

The $50 million would be spent in the following ways:

  • $14 million for new vehicles for the St. Louis Fire Department, including five new ambulances and eight new pumpers
  • $1.7 million for repairs to firehouse roofs and generators
  • $7.8 million for upgrades to police department radios, and for construction at a building that will house the department’s property custody unit and SWAT headquarters

“The radios that we currently have are about eight to nine years old, and they’re being phased out,” said Alderman. Frank Williamson, D-26th Ward and a sponsor of the bill. “And they’ll have the capability of communicating with St. Louis County, and St. Clair and Madison County, Illinois.”

  • $6.5 million for various repairs at Department of Corrections facilities, including $3.2 million for permanent air conditioning at the city jail known as the Workhouse

The permanent system won’t be installed until 2019, Williamson said, so the city again will use temporary units to provide cooling to the inmates this summer.

  • $5 million for upgrades at the courts and juvenile detention buildings
  • $4.9 million for upgrades at City Hall and other municipal buildings, including new electrical switches
  • $5 million for a new payroll and accounting system

The current payroll system is 40 years old, Williamson said, and replacing it was one of the recommendations in a 2008 audit of the city.

  • $1.5 million to evaluate what the city would need to do to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • $2.5 million of local match for bridge projects

Although no aldermen voted against the borrowing, many, including Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, were concerned about the message the city was sending by borrowing for city maintenance.
“We don’t have any other way to pay for the basic needs of our city. This is a bond issue of a city in a very dire financial situation,” she said.

A spokesman for comptroller Darlene Green said it is not uncommon for cities to borrow money for similar projects.

Airport resolution

Aldermen on Friday also approved a resolutionthat requires the mayor’s office to provide updates on the process of airport privatization every 60 days.

But the requirement for transparency faced quite a bit of pushback from aldermen, who said it was too late in the process to start demanding updates.

“This resolution here is just a smokescreen to make it seem as though this is going to be some kind of transparent process where we are actually weighing all of our options,” said Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward.

The due diligence the resolution demands, she said, will actually be done by Grow Missouri, a non-profit funded by Rex Sinquefield that also covered the costs of the initial privatization application.

“If we actually were serious about studying airport privatization, what we would be doing is looking at all the options,” Green said. “We wouldn’t be looking at a predetermined conclusion. I would really like to know who actually wrote this resolution, because it very much does read like one of the special interests pushing privatization wrote this.”

Alderwoman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward and the chair of the committee that would receive the updates, said she wasn’t happy about how much of the initial discussion took place in private.

“We want to be at the table from this point forward,” she said. “We have to take our position, you hold it, and you be extremely responsible in your position.”

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment could on Wednesday approve a contract with Grow Missouri and two other firms to evaluate proposals from companies that want to lease the airport. Krewson, Darlene Green and aldermanic president Lewis Reed make up the board’s membership.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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