New budget becomes law without final vote

New budget becomes law without final vote

CITY HALL – Without the final approval of the Board of Aldermen, a $1.116 billion St. Louis budget package for 2020-21 became law on July 1. 

The package, down 3.4 percent because of the COVID-19 outbreak, was removed from the board agenda during the July 26  meeting and kept off during a July 29 special meeting. Under the City Charter, a version approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on June 17 went into effect. 

The board was set to consider initial approval of the budget at the June 26 meeting when Tenth Ward Alderman Joseph Vollmer asked to take the budget bill off the agenda. Vollmer took the action after 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan introduced an amendment to remove the entire $8.77 million allocation for the controversial Medium Security Institution, also called the workhouse.

Vollmer, who chairs the aldermanic Ways and Means (budget) Committee, co-sponsored the budget bill. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed was the sponsor. 

Vollmer expressed concern that passage of the amendment might make it impossible for the board to give initial approval by July 1.  In that case, the original proposal made by the Budget Division in the spring would go into effect, without important amendments on such matters as capital improvements in the wards. Without the amendment, the updated version approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on June 17 could go into effect.

“I understand all the emotions tied around losing the workhouse,” Vollmer said. But, he maintained, it’s better to get a budget out and come to a solution to the workhouse situation later.

Nobody asked to put the bill to a vote at the special June 29 meeting. In fact, a vote on initial approval of bills sponsored by Reed to close the workhouse is expected at Friday’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

Mary Goodman, Reed’s legislative director, said there wouldn’t have been enough time to finish work on the bill before July 1 if an amendment had been approved.

“If you amend the board bill, it takes three days, and it would have killed the budget,” Goodman explained.

Various additions to the budget bill made earlier – including cuts to the workhouse fund, additions to the ward capital fund and breathing apparatus for the fire department – would have been lost from the budget, Goodman said. The time to make amendments was earlier, when it was being discussed in the Ways and Means Committee, she said.

Because of COVID-19, general fund revenue for fiscal 2020-21, the year starting July 1, are calculated at $481.7 million. That’s down 9 percent from the 2019-20 general fund revenue estimate made at the start of this year. 

General fund expenditures for such purposes as streets, police and parks are set at $481.6 million, down 9 percent from the 2019-20 spending budget at the start of the year. 

Major expenditures in the general fund budget are $264.3 million, down 8.4 percent; judicial, $45.8 million, down $4.2 percent; streets, $40.4 million, down 2.1 percent; board of public service, $36.6 million, down .1 percent; general government, $28.0 million, down $3.2 percent; non-departmental spending, $25.3 million, down 30.3 percent; parks, recreation and forestry, $19.4 million, down 5.2 percent; county offices, $10.2 million, up 15.8 percent; and finance, 9.3 million, up 2.8 percent.

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