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Board to add two new check-offs to property tax bills

By Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis – Social service providers that work with the homeless and utility assistance provider Heat Up St. Louis could see extra money when people pay their property taxes next year.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday took the first of two votes necessary to send the additional check offs to the mayor. One check off would send revenue to a new fund to help combat homelessness in the city. Heat Up St. Louis, which was added just before Friday's vote, had to slash its utility assistance grants this year because of declining state and federal revenue.

There are already two check-off options on property tax bills. One goes to Forest Park Forever to maintain the park. The other is for a new animal shelter that never got built.

John Farrell, a spokesman for the comptroller's office, which oversees the fund, said the last time any money was distributed from the Forest Park Forever fund was in 2003. No money has ever been used from the Animal House Fund. There is $295,576 in the Forest Park Forever fund, and $246,663 in the Animal House Fund.

A number of aldermen expressed procedural concerns about the measure while praising its merits. Alderman Fred Wessels worried about the cost to the city to add the check-offs to the property tax bills. Others wanted to include provisions that would set a threshold for how much a fund has to raise a year to remain on the tax bills, and remove funds that are no longer needed.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd wanted the board to deal with those concerns before approving the check-offs.

"We have to be about good government and about good policy-making decisions," he said. "And I'm not sure today, if we vote on this, it's making a good policy decision, because we already know there are some flaws in the proposed system."

But Alderman Marlene Davis urged her colleagues not to allow procedural concerns to make them "callous."

"Every one of you I believe received calls wanting help to pay utility bills," she said. "We don't have the funds as an alderperson to do that."

Despite the concerns, the measure passed on a voice vote. The aldermen could send it to the mayor next week.