County Council delays vote on placing bond issue on ballot

Sullivan says he’s ‘confident’ bond issue can be defeated

By BURKE WASSON

The County Council last week held a bill that would submit a $120 million bond issue to voters in the April 7 election.

That could require county officials to seek a court order to place the bond issue on the April ballot. While the deadline to place a proposition on the April ballot measure was 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, the County Council was not scheduled to meet until 6 p.m. that day — after the Call went to press.

The council met last week with five of its seven members as 1st District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, and 5th District Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, were absent. They attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, Democratic County Executive Charlie Dooley was absent from the council’s Jan. 20 meeting to attend Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., despite Dooley’s presence at council meetings being required by the County Charter.

Section 3.050.6 of the County Charter states that the County Executive shall “(a)ttend regular meetings of the council and participate in its discussions without vote, and attend such other meetings as the council may require.”

After the council voted to elect 4th Di-strict Councilman Michael O’Mara, D-north county, to preside over the meeting, O’Mara moved to hold a substitute bill in support of placing the bond issue on the April ballot.

“We’d like to just hold on the order of business,” O’Mara said. “I don’t think we have enough.”

“You need three votes to adopt a sub,” County Counselor Patricia Redington said.

“I don’t think we have that, Pat, at this time,” O’Mara said.

After rejecting four of five ballot measures in November, county voters could be asked again this April to approve new versions of two such proposals rejected in the last election.

Dooley previously requested the County Council to resubmit the $120 million bond issue to voters.

In November, the $120 million bond issue Proposition I received 252,226 “yes” votes and 244,131 “no” votes.

But while the bond issue received 50.78 percent of votes cast, the measure failed as it required a four-sevenths approval, or 57.15 percent.

County officials are eyeing the April election for the bond issue as it would be the last time in 2009 that the measure would need a four-sevenths majority to pass.

After April, any ballot measure would require a special election, which would take a two-thirds majority to pass.

Prop I would have funded capital projects like a new family courts building, renovations to the county’s court building, construction of a new animal shelter and expansion of the county’s crime and health labs.

Additionally, county officials are considering asking voters in April to approve a 0.1-cent sales tax to fund an $80 million countywide emergency-communications system. The proposed tax would generate an estimated $15 million per year.

The county’s Blue Ribbon Commission, a collection of three County Council members and local leaders appointed by Dooley, recommended in December that the 0.1-cent sales tax be placed on the April 7 ballot.

In November, more than 55 percent of voters rejected Proposition H, which included the countywide emergency-communications system being proposed for funding in April.

Prop H was a proposed 1.85-percent use tax on all out-of-state purchases of more than $2,000 for the purposes of “enhancing county and municipal public safety, parks and job creation and enhancing local government services.”

The use tax received 278,474 “no” votes and 224,215 “yes” votes.

Dooley has waited for St. Louis County Municipal League Executive Director Tim Fischesser to develop a plan to pass the 0.1-cent sales tax before he takes a position on it.

The council still could request a court order to place a proposal on the April ballot after that Jan. 27 deadline. County officials succeeded in doing so with the unsuccessful Prop H, which was placed on the November ballot after its August deadline.

As for the proposed $120 million bond issue, University City resident and political activist Tom Sullivan recently told the County Council that he does not believe the measure will be approved.

At the council’s Jan. 13 meeting, Sullivan instead urged the council to reconsider placing a use tax before voters that would help fund deteriorating neighborhoods, which he believes would be more beneficial than the proposed bond issue that would fund county buildings.

Sullivan also criticized county officials for handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to owners of the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Rams as well as the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

“The belief is that (the bond issue) can pass with just a little more effort,” Sullivan told the County Council. “It’s doubtful that will happen. If the proposal is put on the ballot, it will be opposed. I am confident it can be defeated. If it could not pass with voters in November, it certainly will not pass in April. I told the council in 2007 that the MetroLink would never pass. But you didn’t listen. Maybe you will listen this time. But I doubt it.

“There are many problems with the bond issue. It wouldn’t even be needed if the county wasn’t giving $110 million for the Cardinals’ stadium in downtown St. Louis. As the Cardinal owners are worth more than $4 billion, they can pay for the stadium themselves. In addition, county taxpayers just handed $180 million to the downtown (Edward) Jones Dome. Since the state is giving $360 million for the dome and county taxpayers provide about 25 percent of state revenue, this means they are really giving about $275 million ….” he continued.

“In addition, tens of millions of county tax dollars have been sent to the (St. Louis) Convention and Visitors Commission. As shown by (KTVI-TV’s) Elliott Davis, a great deal of it was wasted. This is one more area where the council has failed to oversee the funds it appropriates. If all this weren’t enough, the council regularly hands out tens of millions of dollars in tax abatements — $60 million for Edward Jones Dome by itself, a company whose CEO makes more than $10 billion a year and the top five executives make $45 million a year. The tax abatements are another reason the bond issue should be rejected by county voters.

“I would suggest there are much greater needs than building or replacing county buildings. As an alternative, I would look at the use tax again and also consider using it as it was proposed several years ago as a way to help deteriorating neighborhoods. That is a much greater need.”