NewsThe SouthSider

City eyes uses for $11.6 million surplus from last year

CITY HALL – More cash poured into the city’s coffers in the last fiscal year, and some parts of city government spent less than they thought they would.

That means there will be money for much-needed body cameras for police and an anti-violence program aimed at reducing the number of murders in the city. It also means more construction and repairs for departments including streets and parks.

The change will come as a result of an unexpected $23.3 million surplus in the end-of-the year operational budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended June 30. A city ordinance specifies that when the city gets a surplus, it must split it between the reserve fund and the capital expenditures fund.

That adds $11.6 million to the reserve fund and $11.6 million to the capital expenditures fund, said Mary Ries, legislative director for Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed. That opens up opportunities for city spending and its financial cushion.

The reserve has been $42.3 million, or 8.2 percent of the operational budget. The minimum to satisfy credit rating agencies is 5 percent. The city wants to have a reserve equal to at least 10 percent of its operational budget. Adding $11.6 million to the reserve will enable the city to move closer to the 10 percent level.

“It was higher than we had anticipated going into the fourth quarter,” city Budget Director Paul Payne said. 

During that quarter, earnings tax receipts were up 15 percent from the same period before, or $5.3 million over budget. During the year, the city received 5.8 million more than expected in intergovernmental payments for such things as federal inmate housing and state reimbursements for EMS transport. 

Also, the city received $2.2 million in reimbursements for the closing of the Argyle tax increment financing district around the Schlafly Library in the Central West End. A decrease in expenditures in 16 different departments brought the total surplus to about $23.3 million. Those departments included the Board of Aldermen, the mayor’s office, personnel, the budget department and the comptroller.

The surplus may be a one-time event and may be affected by the possibility of a recession and other factors, Payne said. That’s why the ordinance specifies that it be split between the reserve and capital spending, he said. 

A major expense that’s been proposed for the fattened capital budget is $5 million for body cameras. Ries said a bill to that effect would be introduced in the Board of Aldermen at its Sept. 13 meeting, the first after the board’s summer recess.

Reed also will seek more money for the Cure Violence program to reduce the number of killings, Ries said. This year’s budget already includes $500,000 for an anti-violence program. 

As for the rest of the surplus, Payne said, “There’s a long list of outstanding capital improvements.”

Those include elevators at City Hall and street and bridge repairs.

“You sort of take it as it comes,” Payne said. “You treat it as one-time uses.”

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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