Prop A sales-tax hike OK’d for Metro; voters here narrowly reject measure

Baer: Work will start immediately to improve Metro’s services


While voters countywide overwhelmingly approved a sales tax-increase for mass transit last week, the ballot measure was narrowly rejected in south county.

Roughly 63 percent of county voters April 6 approved Proposition A, a half-cent sales tax-increase that’s expected to generate at least $75 million a year.

The money will be appropriated annually from the county to the Metro transit agency, which says the new permanent revenue source will help restore, enhance and expand light-rail, bus and paratransit van service throughout the region.

Prop A’s passage also has triggered a quarter-cent sales tax in St. Louis city, which voters approved in 1997 but was contingent upon passage of a sales-tax increase in the county.

Prop A received 94,795 “yes” votes — 62.91 percent — and 55,884 “no” votes — 37.09 percent, according to unofficial results from the county Board of Election Commissioners. Of the 681,949 registered voters in St. Louis County, 151,610 went to the polls April 6, which puts last week’s voter turnout at roughly 22 percent.

However, township reports released late last week by the election board reveal Prop A was rejected by roughly 51 percent of south county voters.

That’s because a large number of voters in two of south county’s five townships — Oakville and Tesson Ferry — overwhelmingly turned down the ballot measure.

In Oakville, Prop A received 1,971 “yes” votes — 39.18 percent — and 3,059 “no” votes — 60.82 percent.

In Tesson Ferry, the proposal garnered 2,406 “yes” votes — 44.21 percent — and 3,036 “no” votes — 55.79 percent.

Prop A captured the highest percentage of south county votes in the Gravois township. There, the measure received 3,246 “yes” votes — 57.56 percent — and 2,393 “no” votes — 42.44 percent.

Across all five townships, Prop A received 11,724 “yes” votes — 48.76 percent — and 12,319 “no” votes — 51.45 percent.

Countywide, Prop A received the strongest support in the central townships — such as Clayton and Creve Coeur — where it captured 72 percent of the vote. It found similar success in north county, receiving 70.8 percent of the vote.

Prop A lost narrowly in three west county townships — Chesterfield, Lafayette and Wild Horse. However, it won across all seven west county townships, receiving 52.57 percent of the vote.

Proposition M, a similar half-cent transit sales tax proposal, was defeated by roughly 51 percent of county voters in November 2008. That measure received 249,089 “yes” votes and 265,027 “no” votes.

In south county, all five townships rejected Prop M, with Oakville and Gravois townships again showing the most opposition and support, respectively.

Facing financial problems after Prop M’s defeat, the Metro Board of Commissioners voted to raise rider fares, eliminate more than 500 jobs and cut back more than 30 percent of MetroLink light-rail, MetroBus and Call-A-Ride van routes and frequency.

Millions of dollars in one-time federal stimulus and grant money brought back about half of that service, but Metro officials warned that money would run out next month, and predicted additional service cuts without any new, permanent revenue source.

However, with Prop A’s solid countywide victory last week, officials said they immediately would begin working to improve the Metro transit system.

Metro President and CEO Bob Baer said the agency first would bring aboard about 120 people — some new hires, others current employees who were laid off during the March 2009 cutbacks. New drivers would have to be screened, trained and assigned to routes, he said.

From there, Metro would begin to restore service “incrementally” throughout the region, beginning with MetroBus and Call-A-Ride service for seniors and the disabled, Baer said.

The Metro board is scheduled to meet this Friday — April 16 — and would call a press conference afterward to discuss a restoration plan, he said.

As for service expansion, Prop A proponents have contended the new sales-tax revenue will help Metro secure federal grants to build new light-rail and bus lines. Under an agreement with St. Louis County, Metro cannot pursue expansion projects unless it first secures federal funding for them.

However, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the region’s planning authority, will have the final say on when and where any transit expansion will occur.

Baer, who lives in Sunset Hills, said he hopes Metro continues to build a positive relationship with south county — no matter how the area’s voters felt about Prop A.

It’s important for residents to know “who we are and what we do,” he added.

“We’re going to continue our community meetings, and we’re going to continue to work on south county,” Baer said. “And I think as they see service start to come online as a result of this win, they might have a more receptive attitude.”