The City of University City will have a $20 million bond issue for streets (Proposition S) and a $5 million bond issue for parks (Proposition P) on the April 7th ballot. Both of these bonds come with a 20-year increase in your property taxes, but the ballot language will NOT say that.
There has been great interest from our residents regarding Propositions S and P in the weeks leading up to the election. The Town Hall meetings and the City sponsored informational meeting were well attended, and many questions were directed to those on both sides of the issues. Conversations on social media have continued daily. We all agree that safe and accessible streets and parks are important, but the difference lies in how to pay for this work: through a large increase in our city property taxes OR by using the money collected through existing, dedicated sales taxes and money we have on hand.
I support the second approach. Those sales taxes were passed to provide a continuous source of revenue for our parks, street work and sidewalks, as well as a way to service the debt on other capital improvements financed through bond issues. We do have the money to pay as we go for the street, sidewalk and park improvements in our budget IF we make funding these improvements a priority instead of funding special interest discretionary projects plus operations expenses as we have been doing over the last several years.
The City cites 2013 data (a street condition rating of 6.2 out of 10) to show the need for this proposition, but that data is out of date. Over the last two years, we have spent around $5M from our Reserve funds to improve our streets and sidewalks, but these upgrades are not included in the street condition rating.
During a recent City Council meeting, one of the three men participating in the secret meetings on the bond issues stated that if we passed the bond issue for the streets, we would free up $1.5 - $2 million dollars currently used for street maintenance to be used for other purposes. Why not use that sales tax money as it was intended, instead of playing a shell game with taxpayer money?
We, also, have over $11 million in reserves (unassigned fund balance of the General Fund), more than twice the amount required. Approximately half of these funds could be used for street and park improvements if the City Manager cannot or will not make the funding of street and park work a priority in his budgets. You have been told that $7 million of these reserve funds have been “earmarked” for the renovation or building of a new Police Station. Those funds can only be committed by a resolution passed by the City Council and to date, there are no resolutions committing funds for the Police Station. Without a resolution committing funds from the Reserves for a specific purpose, the funds remain available for use so long as the Reserves are maintained at a level of at least 17% of annual expenditures.
Debt is expensive, regardless of how low the interest rates are. How many of you would incur the extra expense of interest payments on borrowing if you could pay for something as you go? Shouldn’t we borrow only for those extraordinary items, which last longer than the life of the debt and cannot be financed by our current revenues? Past Councils have made that our written policy. We are being asked to support $25 million in bonds which will cost us as much as $10 million in interest. Many of these proposed improvements are maintenance, and we will be paying for them long after they need to be replaced or upgraded. Only about 65 cents on the dollar will actually go to improving streets and parks and the rest will go toward paying the interest, legal and underwriting fees. What will happen at the end of the 20 years? Will we once again ask our children and future generations to finance those things we should have been paying for out of the existing, dedicated sales taxes we collect specifically for those purposes?
The City administration often compares University City to Clayton, but it should be noted that prior to approving a bond issue for their streets, Clayton held numerous public meetings. University City, on the other hand, did not seek any public input and excluded two of its elected Councilmembers from the entire process! Many of the questions that are currently being raised by citizens and the excluded Councilmembers could have and should have been raised during the planning stages, and through public hearings and public engagement.
Finally, though some characterize the actual yearly dollar amount of the tax increases as small; these tax increases fall most heavily on our seniors and others with fixed incomes who are least able to afford these tax increases. If increasing our population with permanent residents is an important goal as many on Council assert, then raising our taxes and fees to the point where living here is unaffordable runs counter to that goal.
The burden lies with those who want to increase our city property taxes by over 40% to convince you that their approach is the best approach:
❖ Has the process been inclusive, open and transparent?
❖ Do the goals and priorities chosen to be funded reflect your goals and priorities?
❖ Are the real estate and personal property tax increases associated with these bond issues the best way to
accomplish these goals or can we use existing sales taxes for these purposes?
❖ Do the numbers make sense when considering the projects selected?
Each of us must determine whether the advocates for the bond issues have met this burden. I, along with many others, do not believe they have. We support University City, but we cannot support Propositions S & P.
If you or your neighbors have any questions please go to UCityBonds.com or call (314) 266-9265.
As many of you know, my roots are in citizen advocacy. I am moved by the level of citizen involvement during the campaign leading up to the election. We have received four separate city mailings - over 70,000 pieces of literature - on these bond issues, paid for with your tax dollars. Our neighbors are delivering flyers with the missing information to your doors. The city is awash in signs and sentiments, but those signs and sentiments do not vote. This election is just too important for residents to sit this one out. Please call, talk to, or email your friends and neighbors and encourage them to vote. The controlling majority on the Council rushed these bond issues to the ballot, stating that they wanted the voters to make this decision—a decision that will encumber us all for the next 20 years. It is my hope that you will join me, along with other thoughtful and involved citizens, and Vote NO on Propositions S & P on Tuesday, April 7th.