At the last City Council meeting several Councilmembers recounted the outreach they had made to MSD, State and Federal officials and will continue to do so in an effort to find a way to complete the Army Corp of Engineers Study and move toward a solution for those whose homes are in the flood plain.
There was also a brief discussion of what MSD’s position on their responsibility had been in the past and a desire for the City to exert pressure on MSD to keep their channels clear of trees, debris and silt build up. The City Manager will arrange a meeting with MSD to discuss this with the Council and public as some time in the near future.
I requested that the City Manager allow staff to help those who experienced flooding with MSD claims, which he agreed to do. The City will be holding a Flood Informational meeting on July 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM in the Library Auditorium. Nova Felton will be directing the volunteer effort to help residents file MSD claims and appeals as she did in 2008. All who experienced flood damage should call MSD (314-768-6260) IMMEDIATELY to arrange for an inspection and obtain a service number. Even if MSD has preliminarily denied your eligibility, please come to the meeting and file an appeal.
The City will be mailing information of the meeting to all who were affected by the floods. More information will follow.
• Street Sweeping
Last November, at the request of citizens, several members of Council broached the idea of the City providing street sweeping on streets in private subdivisions. The council consulted with the City Attorney and found legal reasons not to pursue this.
First, the State prohibits the use of public funds or benefits for private entities, unless there is a corresponding public benefit. Second, there is a potential risk of common law dedication, which according to the former City Attorney means if you spend many money to improve any private street, that can open the door for the private property owners to claim that the City had accepted responsibility for the streets and now the City would be responsibile for maintenance of those streets. Finally, if the City did improve, repair and maintain those private streets, the City might be able to claim them as public streets.
I have looked at the schedule for street sweeping in our City, and examined the numbers of properties that are owned by non-taxpaying entities whose properties reside on public streets. I discovered that most of us who live on public residential streets have our streets sweep 3 times per year, school routes and highly traveled streets are swept 12 times per year (1 time per month), the commercial areas in the Loop and Trinity in front of City Hall are swept 208 times per year (4 times per week), and some streets designated as “Special Routes” are swept 72 times (2 times per week) between the months of March and October. Many of these special routes are on streets on which Washington University owns a great deal of property - yet pays no taxes. Those who live in private subdivisions (over 1000 residences in Ward 2, alone), however, receive no street sweeping from the City even though they do pay taxes.
We all pay the same tax rate, except Washington University, which pays no property taxes. All who pay taxes are subsidizing the frequent sweeping of those streets, while many others receive no service at all. Washington University has indicated that they will not consider PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), but does pay fees. The obvious consideration is to remove the service from the property taxes and provide it as a fee-for-service. By spreading the cost over all the users, costs should be relatively low.
The Council has asked the City Manager and his staff to determine the costs per sweeping and come back to the council with some numbers. We will consider the best way to move forward. While it seems reasonable to consider street sweeping as a fee-for-service, we can make no good decisions until we have all the data. It is, however, not acceptable to have so many taxpayers subsidize the frequent street sweeping on streets where others, who may not pay taxes, reside.
• Sutter-Meyer House
Our newly passed budget contains funds ($15,000) for the painting of the Sutter-Meyer House. We have a lease with the Sutter-Meyer Society in which the City charges the not-for-profit private entity only $1/year to rent the house and property, because the agreement was that they would raise the money to renovate the historic home and bring it up to code.
According to the lease agreement, the City will not be a partner or engage in joint ventures with the Society; the City can ONLY finance the work if they will immediately bill the Society to recover the cost of the work plus a 5% overhead charge. Last year the City financed a parking lot for the Sutter-Meyer House, and this year the majority of the Council has agreed that the house should be painted at City expense.
As with the issue of street sweeping there is the consideration of using public funds to benefit a private entity (the Sutter-Meyer Society, which is a 501c3 organization). It could be argued that restoring and maintaining the oldest remaining building in University City is a public benefit… not unlike the Hanley House in Clayton.
If the Sutter-Meyer Society is not able to meet its contractual obligations to improve and maintain the property, and since there is general support for this historic property, it seemed obvious to me that the City should assume responsibility for the historic home and seriously consider making it into a City Park and Museum. I mentioned the idea of making the Sutter-Meyer House into a City Park and Museum during the Council Comments last Monday evening and have received a great deal of support for this idea. We are in the process of examining this possibility.
The Sutter-Meyer Society could still raise funds for any special programs or renovations if they are so inclined, and the oldest building in University City would be one of our City Parks - truly belonging to us all.