Aldermen give preliminary approval to 2019-20 city budget

CITY HALL – Tenth Ward Alderman Joseph Vollmer says the city’s 2019-2020 $1.3 billion budget meets most of the needs of St. Louis government. But Vollmer says the city has a bigger problem that money alone won’t solve: people to fill empty positions.

“Someone asked me to describe the budget,” Vollmer said at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. “If it was ice cream, this year it was vanilla, as compared to last year’s rocky road.”

Vollmer chairs the board’s Ways and Means Committee, which handles budget matters. He said he had heard a similar theme from numerous department heads who appeared before his panel.

“It wasn’t money they were looking for, it was people who could work,”  Vollmer said. “The residency requirement came up constantly from department heads stating that they have all the money that they need to do many things, but they do not have the people to do them.”

Lifting the requirement that city employees live in the city might ease that lack of workers, said Vollmer, who represents the Hill.

Following an hour-long debate about the budget, the board voted 19-3 to give initial approval to the measure. Those opposing it were 1st Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus; 18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd; and 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn.

The budget is set for a final vote at this week’s meeting on Friday. Then it would go to the desk of Mayor Lyda Krewson for final approval. The new budget year starts July 1.

Much of Friday’s debate was taken up with old complaints by aldermen about city government.

Vollmer said his committee was able to make some changes in the budget it received from the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which includes the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen. The estimate board agreed to many of the changes.

The biggest change from the original proposal includes $500,000 for a crime prevention program to be added later. Other changes include the addition of equipment and medical supplies for the fire department, and one more officer to the excise (liquor license) division. Another building inspector was added, as were two employees for the communications division.

One major deficiency, 12th Ward Alderman Larry Arnowitz said, was the lack of pay increases.

“City employees have been getting a 1½ to 2 percent (raise) for the last 15 years,” the south side alderman said. “Their salaries haven’t gone up much, so I suspect that’s part of the problem of getting people to work here, too. I’m just very disappointed that we look for funds for every other program except for city employees’ getting a raise.”

Eighth Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, whose area includes the Shaw neighborhood, agreed with Arnowitz.

“We need to figure out ways to pay our city employees more,” she said.

Todd, whose 18th Ward is on the north side, disputed the idea that the city needed to get rid of the residency rule.

“We have plenty of people that are qualified to do any job that the city has open,” Todd said. If the city hires people with a police record and offers grass-cutting jobs for full time with good pay and good benefits, there will be plenty of workers, he said.

And Tyus, also of the north side, said there should be three more zoning inspectors. She agreed that the city wasn’t cutting grass enough.

“When you don’t cut grass, you’re violating your own laws,” she said.

Tyus also said there was an agenda to get rid of the residency rule.

According to Benjamin Singer, director of communications for the city treasurer’s office, the city budget was helped by the delivery of more than $20 million in investment returns and increased parking revenue to various city funds from his office.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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