County officials propose $528.7 million capital-investment program

St. Louis County proposing new parks sales tax and use tax along with Metro sales tax

By BURKE WASSON

St. Louis County officials are proposing that $528.7 million be spent over the next five to seven years on an expansive capital-investment program.

The county’s Blue Ribbon Commission — a group of regional business, political and civic leaders — met earlier this month to hear a laundry list of proposals.

County Executive Charlie Dooley formed the committee to recommend a “viable, publicly acceptable plan” to generate funds needed to “correct widespread problems the county faces with many key pieces to its infrastructure puzzle.”

The projects would be funded through a combination of existing funding as well as general-obligation bonds and certificates of participation, some of which would require voter approval.

The county’s proposed $528.7 million capital-investment initiative is broken down into five sections — buildings, transportation, parks, economic development and “safety/security and communication.”

The county’s $528.7 million proposal over the next five to seven years includes $213.4 million for transportation facilities as well as roadways, bridges, sidewalks and intersections; $117. 1 million for safety/security and communication; $112.8 million for buildings; $43.9 million for parks improvements and $41.5 million for economic development.

The five-to-seven-year $528.7 million proposal initially was estimated to be a proposal of $430 million to $530 million that would be needed in the next 10 to 20 years.

Financing options for these would be obtained through existing funding, general-obligation bonds and certificates of participation, or COPs.

Existing funding that could be utilized includes the county’s transportation trust-fund sales tax, which would be transferred to MetroLink operations as well as county arterial road maintenance and construction. The COPs would be funded through casino revenue as well as three proposed elections.

Proposition M, a proposed half-cent, countywide sales tax that was last year pulled from the February 2008 ballot, would fund Metro operations and expand Metro’s light-rail line to Florissant and Westport.

The measure also would use $5 million annually to support $50 million in COPs for highway capital projects. County officials are eyeing placing Prop M on the Nov. 4 ballot.

County officials also have proposed a new parks sales tax that would use $7 million of revenue to issue $70 million in COPs for parks projects.

Additionally, a new sales-and-use tax that would tax out-of-state purchases of more than $2,000 has also been proposed. The county would use $15 million of that revenue to support $150 million in COPs for public safety, park improvements and job creation.

County officials also have proposed using casino revenue by establishing an annual boarding fee.

That fee would produce $14 million per year. Of that $14 million, the county would use $5 million annually to support $50 million in COPs for capital projects to county government buildings.

Many of county government’s Clayton-based buildings are “old, cramped, leaking and need to be replaced,” officials say.

Besides the antiquation of many structures, “space” also is a prominent issue — with many departments placed into work areas that county officials say are too small to accommodate their work.

County Police Department officials also say that the department’s crime lab is in need of more room.

Besides an expanded crime lab, county officials would like new family courts, health labs, an animal shelter and office space into which it could transfer those parts of county government now operating out of the Family Courts Facility off Brentwood, and the 121 and 111 S. Meramec buildings in Clayton.

One potential plan would entail the demolition of the 121 and 111 buildings to clear the way for a new family-courts building that could be physically connected to the regular courthouse and county jail.

The county’s parks system and arterial roads need significant, additional cash infusion as well, officials have said.

During the June 12 public hearing for these proposals, St. Louis County Municipal League Executive Director Tim Fischesser told the commission that the league supports new government buildings as well as Metro expansion.

“On the issue of Metro, our board specifically said that they would like to see the County Council go forward with a transportation proposal,” Fischesser said. “I think a lot of people are excited about the prospect of adding another link. Hopefully, we could do that with some securing of federal funds, which we were not able to do with the link that goes from Central West End down to Shrewsbury.”

At the same time, Fischesser added that while the league hopes the proposed sales-and-use tax would eventually be put on a ballot to fund a new emergency communications system, he hopes it would not interfere with the Prop M campaign.

“We did vote twice on this county use tax …,” Fischesser said. “And it failed twice. But we have a new effort among the mix that are interested in it in particular with trying to build a new emergency radio system for our first responders … The county’s system is old. Many of the municipal systems are old. And we’d sure like to see a use tax put before voters at the appropriate time. But our board did say that they don’t want a use-tax election to interfere with a Metro election.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s goal is to take all of these recommendations and produce an official recommendation to the county executive by August.

The commission is chaired by former 3rd District County Councilman Skip Mange, who did not seek re-election in 2006.

Besides Mange, commission members include: Frederick Douglas, chairman of the Workforce Investment Board; David Mason, David Mason & Associates; Don Musick, Don C. Musick Construction Co.; James Quinn, Q&C International; Pat Kellett, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562; John Siscel, former executive director of the Mechanical Contractors Association; Nancy Cross, Service Employees International Union; Sally Roth, Regions Bank; George Brill, Talisen Tech; 1st District County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City; 3rd District County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country; 5th District County Council-woman Barbara Fraser, D-University City; Judith Metzger, Knoll Inc.; and Steve Lichtenfeld, Clayton Board of Aldermen.