In light of a recently completed state audit critical of the Metro transit agency for not properly controlling its expenses, county officials and Metro are pushing ahead with a countywide half-cent sales-tax proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot.
State Auditor Susan Montee concluded in a 47-page audit of Metro that the transit agency’s financial decisions on the Cross County Extension to connect the Metro-Link light-rail line to Shrewsbury “placed numerous burdens on Metro’s operating budgets for future years.” The final $686 million cost of the project exceeded its original project budget of $550 million by $136 million.
This November, county voters will be asked to raise an estimated $80 million per year to Metro through the half-cent sales-tax increase Proposition M. That funding would be evenly distributed between Metro operations and eventual light-rail expansion to Westport and Florissant.
The County Council voted 4-2 on a party-line vote in August to place Prop M on the ballot. The measure was opposed by 6th District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, and 7th District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, while 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, was absent Aug. 7.
The council in July also allocated $39.5 million to Metro from a separate half-cent transportation sales tax. The allocation is $10 million less than Metro got from that fund last year as more money is proposed for improvement of arterial roads.
Metro officials have said without additional funding from Prop M, the transit agency would be forced to reduce its service for both MetroLink and MetroBus.
The MetroLink light-rail line would see a 42-percent overall service reduction, trains would run every 15 minutes rather than every 10 minutes during peak hours, service would stop after 8 p.m., service in non-rush hours would operate every 20 minutes instead of every 15 minutes and service would run only between Shrewsbury and Forest Park in non-rush hours.
As for MetroBus, there would be a 57-percent overall reduction, up to 28 of the 60 existing MetroBus routes would be eliminated, routes outside of Interstate 270 and all night service would be eliminated and many remaining MetroBus routes would be consolidated.
At the same time, University City resident Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Public Transit Accountability Project, noted that if Metro’s spending had been more responsible over the past few years, the transit agency would not need this additional funding.
“The state audit of Metro demonstrates again that the transit agency operates far outside of public control,” he said. “It is not accountable to anyone. Metro officials do as they please and could care less about the public. County voters should never approve $80 million more a year for Metro, which is what Proposition M would do.”
The state audit reports Metro did not properly review designs for the Shrewsbury extension from the Cross County Collaborative, CCC, a joint venture of four engineering companies hired in 2000 by Metro.
“Metro did not control the cost of the Cross County Extension Project and now faces significant funding shortages,” the audit states. “Metro did not ensure the final design of the project prepared by the CCC was substantially complete and free of errors and omissions before proceeding with solicitation of construction bids. Metro also (1) did not retain the services of a project management oversight consultant prior to the completion of the final design, (2) did not ensure utility relocation design work was completed timely and did not ensure utility relocation work was coordinated with construction work, (3) did not follow federal guidance by requesting lump sum bids, and (4) issued bid documents that contained conflicting provisions regarding the contractors’ responsibility for excavation of rock and utility relocation …”
The audit also states that besides questionable financial activities and raises for top Metro officials, the agency also did not follow its own open-meetings and records policies.
“Metro has not complied with board policies regarding public meetings,” the audit states. “Metro did not record the votes to go into closed session, did not specify topics to be discussed in closed session, and did not record individual member votes in closed session.
“Metro also did not report the actions taken in closed board meetings in the open session and has not established procedures to periodically review closed session minutes to determine the necessity for continuing confidentiality.”
As for Proposition M, Campisi contends that if his south county constituents will not be benefiting from much of the services that the tax-rate increase would maintain or expand, he cannot support it.
“We’re just not getting the type of service needed in south county to warrant putting that kind of tax on the ballot and having our people pay for the north county area,” he said. “And I’m getting tired of it. I don’t want south county people having to pay for the people up north.
“We’re not getting a good return on our real-estate tax dollars either. South county is the stepchild of St. Louis County. St. Louis County loves to take from us, but they don’t like to give to us.”