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St. Louis aldermen pass $1.32 billion budget, give initial OK to tenants rights bill

Doors leading to the Board of Aldermen chambers on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, at St. Louis City Hall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Aldermen passed a budget Friday that includes raises for city employees.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved the city’s budget Friday, the last day before the fiscal year begins on July 1.

Immediately following its overwhelming approval by the board, Mayor Tishaura Jones signed the budget, which totals $1.32 billion – a 7.3% increase over last year.

“This year’s budget continues to make significant investments in our city employees to help improve our hiring and retention,” she said in a statement.

The mayor also commended the budget’s creation of an Office of New Americans, designed to help immigrant and refugee families adjust to St. Louis life.

Among the board’s biggest considerations was the city’s recent challenges with maintaining a full workforce. Pay raises to help the city compete in a tight labor market make up most of the spending increase.

“This budget delivers on our promise to hardworking city employees by prioritizing raises across city departments,” board President Megan Green said in a statement. “Providing higher wages also puts us on track to build and retain a workforce that meets the needs of our residents.”

The budget allocates more than $25 million to give city employees raises, which will amount to an average 4.5% pay increase. That money will cover at least an 8% raise for police and firefighters to help compete with nearby jurisdictions after new union contract negotiations.

Also part of the budget considerations were the rising costs of insurance and trash and recycling services in the face of an ongoing shortage of workers. In total, more than $27 million will go to the refuse department.

The newly established Office of Violence Prevention is getting $2.6 million.

Most of the budget discussion was not contentious after an earlier attempt to divert funding from police did not get traction.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment presented the proposed budget to the board for approval. Officials said the economy is expected to weaken over the next year, even though hotel and restaurant income is significantly up from pandemic levels.

The budget is balanced without drawing from reserves, remaining funds from the American Rescue Plan Act or the city’s settlement with the Rams.

Bill to help tenants moves forward

Also at Friday’s meeting, the board gave initial approval to a bill that would provide tenants facing eviction with legal representation.

If passed, landlords would be required to provide their tenants with information about the program when serving eviction notices. A coordinator would also be hired to educate tenants about their new rights.

Aldermen Bret Narayan, Ward 4, was initially worried about whether there would be appropriate funding for the bill but said he came around quickly.

“I didn't want to have residents of the city believe that there was a protection here for them, and then have that rug pulled out from under them,” he said. “Ultimately we need to do what we can to prevent people from living on our streets.”

Nearly $300,000 of the city’s federal COVID relief will be used to establish the Right to Counsel program. A different version of the bill died earlier this year because aldermen could not decide how to pay for it.

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, Ward 12, was one of two who voted against the bill, saying there should be an income threshold to qualify.

“You cannot make all tenants equal. And if you don't have some kind of way to divide those tenants, that's a mistake,” Tyus said.

She also said she had fears as a landlord herself that the bill would undermine contract agreements between property owners and tenants. Alderman Joseph Vollmer, Ward 5, also voted against the bill.

Aldermen Michael Browning, Ward 9, said the bill will make sure trials have fair outcomes.

“It's a tool in the tool belt for making sure that we have quality housing in this city. People do deserve a roof over their head. They do deserve shelter. And we know the effects that eviction has on somebody,” he said.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard of the 10th Ward, said legal services is already prepared to start work on the program.

“These are trusted partners, legal representation, that are ready here to stand in solidarity in support of right to counsel here in the city of St. Louis,” she said.

Lilley Halloran was a Summer '23 News Intern at St. Louis Public Radio. She is studying Journalism and Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri.