Lake Saint Louis residents will have the choice next April to live with some of the city's stormwater problems a little longer or to pass a sales tax to address them sooner.
At the Dec. 19 work session, the Lake Saint Louis board of aldermen and city staff discussed the to fund stormwater and parks improvements.
Ward 3 Alderman John Pellerito was the first to speak. "We’re spending taxpayer money on something that probably won’t pass," Pellerito said. He was also concerned that the bill as proposed did not state how the tax money would be divided between stormwater projects and parks.
"You have to be ethical and tell the voters what the money is going to be used for," Pellerito said.
Ward 1 Alderman Larry DeGroodt's response was short and to the point. "80/20 split, stormwater and parks, and make it public. End of discussion—in my humble opinion."
Ward 2 Alderman Kathy Schweikert suggested that the board plan a town hall meeting to present more information about the proposed sales tax to Lake Saint Louis residents, and Ward 1 Alderman Ralph Sidebottom was in agreement with both DeGroodt and Schweikert.
"Larry’s way is sensible, we’re just applying a percentage to each, and staff can make recommendations. I love the idea of having a town hall meeting for explanation. As we get closer to ballot time, we need to make sure that everybody’s clear on the issues before them, that they are knowledgeable voters," Sidebottom said.
Pellerito then brought up the tax's sunset clause, which would provide an automatic expiration date for the tax. "It’s enough burden on the taxpayers as it is," Pellerito said, and suggested four years.
Pellerito's fellow Ward 3 Alderman, George Rich, disagreed, saying that the addition of parks projects to the proposed tax would necessitate extending the sunset clause to five or six years in order to handle all the stormwater projects that needed to be done.
"Many of the stormwater projects in the budget have been around for some time. Let’s get them taken care of. Let’s count on not coming back to the voters for awhile," Rich said.
DeGroodt said that it might not be necessary to extend the tax that long. "If the economy doesn’t totally tank, we could see more commercial growth," he said. "We need to have a little faith in our prospects for growth."
"I’m not really wild about asking people for more tax money in this environment," DeGroodt said.
"This is probably not going to cover everything, but it will be more palatable to the voters to have the least number of years," Schweikert said. The board eventually agreed to go with the four-year sunset clause.
The board also discussed the language of the bill, with George Rich suggesting that the wording "two-tenths of one penny" be used instead of mixing decimals with percentages. City Attorney Jay Summerville later informed the board that the original wording was necessary for consistency with state statutes and to avoid potential challenges.
The word "public" was also inserted before "stormwater" to clarify that only public stormwater issues would be addressed by the tax.
The ordinance calling for the sales tax to go to voters on the April 3 ballot was passed with Pellerito casting the only "nay" vote.
Sidebottom spoke to Patch after the work session about bringing the issue of a new sales tax to a vote. "My reason to move it forward and put it on the ballot was to give people the choice if they want to move more quickly on stormwater projects, or just to address them as we have the money available. People have been coming to me for years to ask if there was a way to speed up these projects. I want them to have the choice."
"This is the most fair because it will draw tax revenue from outside the city as well," Sidebottom said.