NewsPoliticsThe SouthSider

Reed demands list of cuts to balance short budget

CITY HALL –  Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed is demanding that Mayor Tishaura Jones come up with ways to close a $5.7 million shortfall in the proposed budget for the year starting July 1. 

In a letter to Jones on Friday, Reed said the proposal was illegal because state law says municipalities can’t have unbalanced budgets.

Reed wrote that when the Board of Estimate and Apportionment initially approved the proposed 2021-2022 budget on April 29, there was an assumption that the budget included the $5.7 million from housing federal detainees. The estimate board is the most important budgeting agency in city government, and consists of the mayor, the comptroller and the Board of Aldermen president.

However, Reed wrote that it came out at the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means (budgeting) committee on June 3 that Jones’ administration had decided to stop housing federal detainees, thereby opening up the shortfall. 

“I am requesting a line item detail from your office indicating the proposed departmental expenditure reductions to balance the budget due to the $5.7 million in anticipated revenue that was created when your administration made the decision to no longer proceed with receiving the revenue provided by the federal detainee contract,” Reed wrote,

But Jones’ public information officer, Nick Dunne, said in an email that there was an easy solution.

“We should not be balancing the budget on the backs of detainees,” Dunne said. “There is a straightforward solution: The Board of Aldermen should follow the standard budget process, and send the budget back to the Board of E&A for cuts and additions. We are ready to balance the budget without unnecessary cuts.”

Reed said at the Ways and Means Committee meeting on Thursday that this situation was unprecedented.

“Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a position that I’ve never experienced before in all my years of service where we have a bill that’s apparently in reality an unbalanced budget,” he said.

Reed said the Board of Aldermen had the power to reduce any budget item except those having to do with debt payments or meeting its obligations under state law or its responsibilities under state law.

Reed recommended that the Ways and Means hold the budget proposal without any changes for now. He also said that it would be better for the mayor’s office to provide a list of $5.7 million in cuts for the Board of Aldermen to make. He also said that if the Board of Aldermen didn’t approve some kind of budget by the end of the month, the original budget approved by the estimate board would become law. 

After that, a supplemental appropriations bill could be introduced to fix the problem, Reed said.

“But where we stand now, I am not comfortable putting the board in a position to run counter to Missouri state law,” he said. “I think that would be irresponsible.”

Twenty-third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro said he had no intention of voting for a budget that overcrowded a prison. The budget calls for closing the Medium Security Institution, also called the workhouse.

But Vaccaro asked why the Board of Aldermen couldn’t send the budget back to the estimate board to fix it.

Reed answered that sending the bill back to the estimate board wouldn’t expedite anything. The Board of Aldermen is the agency that can cut the budget, he said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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