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Committee action settles new city budget

CITY HALL – A committee Thursday effectively settled sharp differences over how to cover a $5.7 million shortfall in the city’s proposed budget.

The aldermanic Ways and Means Committee voted to recommend that the Board of Aldermen not pass its budget bill for the year starting July 1. The bill, sponsored by Board President Lewis Reed, then would go on the aldermanic “informal calendar” and, in effect, die.  

Without a budget bill from the Board of Aldermen, the budget bill that was approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on April 29 will become law on July 1. Normally, the Board of Aldermen’s bill makes changes in the estimate board’s bill.

Reed and others on the Ways and Means Committee became concerned after they learned about the unexpected $5.7 million shortfall that developed because the federal government planned to stop housing its detainees at St. Louis’ jails.

Then Reed sent a letter to Mayor Tishaura Jones asking for her to identify $5.7 million in cuts the aldermanic board could make. The Board of Aldermen can make cuts but not additions.

Jones responded by asking Reed to have an amendment made to the budget to add $4.3 million in revenues from unspent money from a grant for fire and EMS and $300,000 in revenue from the new federal American Rescue Plan (COVID-19 stimulus) money. The money also would cut $1.1 million in the budget for expenditures for detainees. The estimate board would have to approve all additions. 

The differences between Reed and two other members of the estimate board, Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green, showed itself at a contentious meeting on June 16. Jones and Green pressed Reed to amend his budget bill to make the changes and pass a bill before July 1, but Reed refused and said he planned to have his budget bill die.

City’s Budget Director Paul Payne anticipates that there will be enough money to take care of the budget gap.

The mayor’s public information officer, Nick Dunne, was conciliatory.

“Despite President Reed’s refusal to balance the budget with the solutions that were offered to him, we are glad to see the City of St. Louis moving forward with a budget that makes St. Louisans safer through more funding for affordable housing, crime victim support, wraparound services for the unhoused, and much more,” Dunne said in an email.

In a statement, Reed said that as the sponsor of the bill, he agreed with the decision of the Ways and Means Committee not to pass the bill out of committee. He said a supplemental appropriations bill would include any cuts or additions the committee wanted to make.

“This is why we have checks and balances in government,” Reed said.  “I am thankful to the members of the Ways and Means Committee for asking the right questions at the right time; without their hard work we would never have discovered the hole in our budget.” 

Mary Goodman, Reed’s legislative director, acknowledged that there would have been the same result if the Ways and Means Committee had made the changes the mayor wanted and sent the bill to the Board of Aldermen for passage before July 1.

“It does not matter if it’s the mayor’s plan or the budget director’s solution, there will be no difference in city operations,” Goodman said in an email. “The way the Charter is written, it does not allow for the city to just come to a screeching halt.”

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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