Public hearing set May 4 on MSD budget

A public hearing on the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District’s proposed fiscal 2007 budget will take place tonight — May 4 — at the MSD’s main building at 2350 Market St., St. Louis.

During the hearing, which begins at 7 p.m., the proposed fiscal 2007 budget of $502.1 million — an increase of $43.9 million over last year — will be presented to the public.

“This budget represents a promise that has been kept,” MSD Executive Director Jeff Theerman stated in a news release. “In February 2004, area voters were asked to authorize $500 million in revenue bonds for the express purpose of financing the opening phase of MSD’s $3.7 billion, 20-plus-year capital program. At that time, we promised that actual construction would increase as the program went on.

“In fiscal year 2007, 85 percent — or $264.3 million — of this program will go towards construction that builds projects that addresses our community’s wastewater needs. This is a multi-decade program, but we are getting the work done,” the executive director added.

The capital program, known as the Capital Improvement and Replacement Program, or CIRP, will help alleviate basement backups, control overflows into local waterways and improve water quality in rivers and streams, the release stated.

Different from past capital programs, the CIRP addresses the entire St. Louis area’s collection and treatment capabilities on a systemwide basis, rather than undertaking system improvements one section at a time.

2006 is a transitional year in the CIRP, in that the amount of problem identification, planning and design work will diminish, and actual construction – work that directly benefits the community – will increase. In 2006 and beyond, MSD anticipates that construction will account for roughly 80 percent of the CIRP’s expenditures versus a national average of approximately 70 percent for similar programs. Phase I of the CIRP was financed in part through the issuing of $500 million in bonds, which was authorized by the passage of Proposition Y in February 2004.

Proposition Y was approved by 68 percent of voters in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County combined.

Regarding the budget as a whole, Theerman stated, “As part of the new ways that MSD has been doing business over the last three years, we have been very meticulous in how this budget was developed. We need to be able to justify each and every dollar that we plan to spend and make sure that we are being sensitive to the needs of our customers. Though this budget is an increase over last year’s budget, each expenditure is linked to serving our community and our customers.”

MSD’s fiscal year 2006 budget was $458.2 million. The growth in the fiscal year 2007 budget is attributable to an increase in MSD’s capital budget, which covers construction and engineering projects, a continued upsurge in the price of insurance, dramatic increases in the cost of electricity and natural gas and higher debt service to finance the CIRP.

Theerman stated, “The increasing prices that everyone is seeing for gas, healthcare and other goods and services are also paid by MSD. To be responsible stewards of the dollars entrusted to us by the public and keep rate increases to a minimum, we must ensure that we spend each dollar as wisely as possible.”

During the hearing, a complete overview of MSD’s expenditures will be given by district staff.

“We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the public. Our accountability is to the citizens of our community, and I hope they will attend and participate in this important process,” Theerman stated.