Vote NO on Prop S and Y April 5

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook280Share on Reddit0Print this pageEmail this to someone

Two propositions by the Metropolitan Sewer District are on the April 5 ballot. As I outlined last year both are a bad idea.

Prop S would replace current stormwater property taxes and fees which are different in three areas of the district with a 0.1% per $100 assessed value property tax. Currently much of the outer reaches of the district have no tax, a quarter of the people and half the miles of stormwater sewers- a sure sign of long-term insolvency that is emblematic of post-WWII development patterns. It would provide a revenue stream for mounting maintenance needs for that area.

The problem is that it’s taxing the wrong thing. MSD should be seeking an impervious surface tax. After all that is what creates stormwater runoff, not the value of a property. This creates a subsidy for parking lots, big boxes, and other low-productivity land uses. Also, exempt, abated, and TIF’d property is off the hook. If passed, Prop S will set a bad precedent. As the system ages, costs will rise and increases to the property tax will be sought, further subsidizing poor land use choices. Vote NO on Prop S.

Prop Y is a $900M bond issue for the $4.7B in improvements mandated by the Federal government to stop sewage from overflowing into the rivers when there is heavy rain. Many older systems across the nation are coping with similar mandates. St. Louis’ is the biggest. The state and Federal government are providing no significant assistance. The mandate is just that – the work will happen whether the bonds are issued or not. I’d rather just pay for the work than pay for the work plus interest and underwriting fees. Slate covered how governments are routinely charged large fees for underwriting debt – Wall Street’s taxpayer scam: How local governments get fleeced — and so do you.

MoDOT Bond Financing{We authorized MoDOT to issue $3.8B in bonds starting in 2001 instead of just raising the gas tax or some other revenue source. As of 2013 we still had $3.7B to pay in principal and interest. It looks like we had paid about $2B up to that point}

The bonds would spread the cost of the work, interest, and fees out over the term of the bonds so sewer bills will be lower in the near-term but over the length of the bonds they will be higher. There are other things we could spend $100Ms on in St. Louis rather than send it out of the region in interest and fees. MoDOT is experiencing this now. It expanded roads via a bond issue last decade and now the interest payments are crowding out needed maintenance and replacements.

MoDOT Spending 2014{You can see in MoDOT’s 2014 expenditures how the principal and interest payments are crowding out needed maintenance. But for the debt and interest payments we’d be able to rebuild I-70 today.}

Unless you plan on moving away or dying soon, think there will be high inflation in the future, or just can’t handle steeper increases in bills in the near-term, I implore you to think for the long-term – vote NO on Prop Y.

Some helpful infographics:

Prop S Parking Subsidy

Prop S Pay More Delmar Loop

Prop S 9x More Home Depot v Metro Lofts

Prop S TIF Away Taxes Orion Menards

Prop S exempt 6210 Delmar

Prop S Abate Away 5700 McPherson and Aventura

Prop Y Keep It Here

Prop Y Interest

Prop Y More Interest

MSD Interest and Fee Expenditures

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook280Share on Reddit0Print this pageEmail this to someone
  • Pingback: Tuesday Election: 7th Ward Independent Democrats Recommends | 7TH WARD ST LOUIS - HOME OF THE LIBERALS()

  • NiteClerk

    Didn’t MSD get a hundred million dollar bond issue passed a few years ago to fund this? I thought the previous bond issue was to pay for the entire project. Anyone have the facts? Thanks.

  • T-Leb

    I didn’t see above or in comments any mention of MCE – Missouri Coalition For The Environment.

    Pretty cool interactive map on the first link
    http://moenvironment.org/component/tags/tag/66-consent-decree
    http://www.stlmsd.com/our-organization/organization-overview/consent-decree

  • gmichaud

    The design of the watersheds is an important factor no matter to consider. The first thing that comes to mind are canals. There are other possibilities, a few years back an architect and some other designers proposed the rebuilding of historic Chouteau’s Pond.

    The design use of storm water runoff is likely to end up as smaller scale water features such as fountains and ponds. With the amount of open land available, agriculture uses including fish farming could be possible. In other words there are potentially greater benefits than simply engineer water through concrete tubes. There is an excellent short paper on the subject, it is a pdf file that includes a few drawings http://www.northinlet.sc.edu/training/media/resources/Eight-Step%20Approach%20to%20Stormwater%20Retrofitting.pdf

    The design of the environment should reflect this concern for watersheds There should be debate on what is possible. The amounts of money to be spent make it imperative that changes also improve the daily living environment of the public.

    These are the type of discussions that should be already in place, but are not. This is worrisome and an indication MSD is only going to continue the organizational fiasco that has brought St. Louis to this expensive crisis point.

  • gmichaud

    Privatization of MSD is likely the best solution. At a minimum bids should be taken from corporations to perform the needed work in the consent decree. Proposals to replace MSD with a private company should also be requested.

    Normally I would not advocate replacement of a public utility with private ownership, but MSD as it sits is unaccountable and has allowed these problems to fester for decades, including in the past decades when the federal government was contributing money to pay for these type of problems.

    A private firm owning a public utility would have to be subject to regulatory oversight and transparency making sure the public is treated fairly. Also a public process should be guaranteed (not one and done public hearings) to insure decision making is in the public interest. MSD does neither one now, so this would be a step up.

    In any case, I’m not sure how anyone can have any confidence in MSD, first because they have created this multi billion dollar problem and now the same people are being asked to fix it, but also how can the public even know their current estimates and planning aren’t just as messed up.

    Competitive bidding a good way to air out the best, most efficient solutions.

    To further illustrate how MSD is unresponsive, on Channel 9 Donnybrook tonight a caller complained about street closures in Rock Hill by MSD for 2 months without any workers showing up. He said he could not get a response from MSD, even the Mayor of Rock Hill couldn’t get a response. And how long did MSD close Southwest ave near Manchester, was it a year?
    It is hard to see how anyone can have confidence in this organization.

    Privatization is a clean slate, that is what is needed.

    • rgbose

      MSD had public meetings last year about the possibility of the bonds and the stormwater property tax. I went o one on Clayton.

      • gmichaud

        Do you think that’s enough? With the internet it is possible to create ongoing dialogues, as you see. I really don’t think they are interested in an process of inclusion. The horrid situation St. Louis is living with right now illustrates clearly that MSD has a terrible public process, clueless management and poor implementation.
        The ones that created the problem and allowed it to linger for decades are now going to solve it? Unbelievable.

  • Lance LeComb

    As I indicated last week, I was away for several days. Since then, there have been several comments. I’ll address the comments directed to me specifically. (Alex, I have the interest information and will post that within our earlier conversation thread.)

    Q: Could you explain again the uncertainty of the impervious surface fee/tax that you all want settled before bringing it to voters?
    A: In the rate commission’s rate recommendation report @ http://tinyurl.com/htq7rt6, you will find that the commission believes an impervious fee of some sort is more equitable than taxes. The rub is that when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the impervious fee, they left it an open question of whether a voter approved fee would apply to non-profits. The time between when the Supreme Court ruled and the time by when we had to start on the rate change request didn’t allow MSD staff enough time to gain clarity about the non-profit applicability. This is a very important point and we felt it would be irresponsible to put something before voters that could potentially be invalidated again in court. Thus – and to use a football analogy – if the impervious fee was a long pass downfield to solve the issue of stormwater funding, then Proposition S is switching to a ground game.

    The issue with leaving non-profits out of the impervious fee is that they usually have large parking lots, buildings, and other impervious surfaces on their property – I believe everyone reading this blog understands that point. Specific to the above mention of the question the State Supreme Court left open, if a fee is voter approved, then is it not a tax? And if a fee is a tax, aren’t non-profits exempt from that tax? That’s the problem – does a fee turn into a tax once it is voter approved? If non-profits end up being exempted from the impervious fee, then they won’t pay for their share of stormwater management. Additionally, if the non-profits are left out of the impervious rate, then we need to reconfigure how the overall cost of stormwater is spread amongst our different classes of customers. Thus, if we don’t have clarity on what the Supreme Court ruled, then it’s not as simple as taking the impervious fee system that was struck down and voting on it.

    However, the rate commission did instruct MSD staff to resolve the issue of non-profits and an impervious charge. Furthermore, if we go back to the rate commission with additional stormwater funding changes in the future, the commission instructed that those changes should be developed with an impervious fee in mind. (Believe me, we at MSD are big believers in imperviousness being the basis for a stormwater charge. We just aren’t in a position to do that in 2016.)

    Q: Did I hear right that you all don’t need specific authority granted by the legislature to propose one?
    A: MSD was created under a provision to the State Constitution and our Charter was first approved in 1954. In the 1990s, MSD litigated to establish that we could set our own rates. We won that litigation. Before implementing the result of that litigation, in 2000, we presented to voters a ballot measure that would create the rate commission. (More information on the rate commission is available at http://tinyurl.com/htu3gfv, but it was created to serve as the public’s voice in our rate setting process.) Thus, we have authority to set and enact our own rates, without legislative approval.

    That being said, after the impervious rate was implemented in 2008, the State Legislature voted to exempt non-wastewater customers from the impervious fee, even if they had been paying stormwater taxes to MSD.

    Again, I would encourage anyone with questions not addressed here to reach out to me directly about Propositions Y and S.

    Lance LeComb
    Manager of Public Information & Spokesperson
    Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD)
    (314) 768-6237
    [email protected]

    • rgbose

      I think you’re OK on fee brought to voters not becoming a tax upon approval. Florissant has two fees on the April 5 ballot and they’ll stay fees if passed.

      It would definitely be best that non-profits pay an impervious fee. They don’t get free electricity or trash pickup, etc. Though with a property tax in addition to tax-exempt property not paying it, abated properties won’t and for TIF’d ones it’ll be diverted. So even if an impervious fee couldn’t be applied to tax-exempt property, it’d reach more stormwater producers than the property tax. And the worst is the low-yielding property like big boxes and their parking lots which don’t pull their weight in many ways.

      Hope an impervious fee that applies to all makes the ballot soon.

      Thanks again for helping informing us.

  • Pingback: What Brentwood, Maplewood, Richmond Heights will vote on: sample ballots | 40 South News()

  • Keith Stephens

    All of these are great ideas . I however believe like many do the problem is management. We saw them take money every month and do what with it? the infrastructure in some areas of the city is over 100 years old . I believe we have a failure to maintain and improve the existing systems. Gross negligence to a point that the federal government and other intervening bodies had to sue them. MSD’s policy is to do as little as they have to to keep the Poo flowing. Furthermore, have you seen their employees in your neighborhood? I know that I have and I’ve been watching. Their work habits and ethics would never fly in the private sector. They would all be without jobs. I believe this is why they are subcontracting, to the private sector. Many improvements in my neighborhood have been passed off to other corporations and I for one am grateful. As long as there’s oversight, I believe the private sector would be innovative instead of stagnant. High time they realize the people are not an endless supply of money, especially in the face of gross negligence. 5 years ago my bill was 30 now it’s 60 with an estimated or projected rate of 120 to 150 over the next 10 years. That’s insanity. I see the same tendencies with Laclede gas and Missouri American. Although Missouri American does improve and upgrade systems as needed . Amren is proactive. Laclede is the worst. they waited until the deadline to fix a leak in my front yard. A government imposed deadline of 4 years!

  • gmichaud

    Something I just realized illustrates how poorly the management of MSD is really performing. Rather than demo buildings, MSD should be spending money to support transit and help eliminate surface parking.
    The support of transit should be a top priority
    I have previously cited the example of Helsinki and its Olympic Stadium about the size of Busch. I communicated to the Helsinki planning department who told me that there is only parking for 1850 cars, everyone else comes by transit, bicycle or walk.
    If you look at Google maps, the area surrounding Olympic Stadium, in addition to other sports venues, is largely park space. Helsinki is about the same size metro area as St. Louis (population).
    There are no fresh ideas in St. Louis. All the powers to be can do is destroy, to tear down buildings, they don’t know how to build.
    Where’s the discussions of positive forces instead of more, lazy ass, destruction.
    And then they raise the price of the sewer bill to pay for their follies.
    Sorry for the rant, but I am not happy with these people and what they are doing, I think they are getting away with far too much.

    • rgbose

      MSD can’t fund transit.

      I support an impervious surface fee/tax because it’ll charge parking an appropriate amount. I worry passing Prop S makes an impervious surface fee/tax less likely to pass in the future if MSD proposes one.

      I give them a break on the development piece, other than tearing down buildings in walkable areas, because the Federal, state, and regional governments encourage, mandate, and subsidize poor land uses. Our fragmented munis take whatever they can get and mistakingly think it’s success. Over the decades munis approved and developers built systems not meant to last and those developments are dumped onto MSD (the rest of us rate payers).

      This happens to all utilities. Notice there’s no charge for frontage on your electric, gas, water, and cable bills? So we pay the same no matter how many feet of pipe or wire it takes to serve us. This is yet another way spread out areas siphon wealth from those in productive areas.

      MSD should discourage poor land uses to the extent they can, but the villain there is the munis. We need to tear down fragmentation. After all that’s why we have MSD. It’s impractical to have 92 sewer entities, Sh!t runs downhill and ignores muni boundaries.

      • gmichaud

        I realize MSD doesn’t fund transit, but they found a way to fund demolition.
        I can’t defend MSD. This is not the fault of the muni’s.
        How could MSD be so far off of what are best practices as defined by the EPA. Something is way off when MSD can be in this kind of hole. Like lead in water or other practices that can harm communities, MSD has a duty to present the case of why muni’s need to follow best practices in land use.
        That is the role of government with the consent of the people.
        And then according to comments Philadelphia is solving problems differently. It is almost as if MSD management doesn’t care about the rate payers, its not their money, so they apparently don’t care. I guess this means they way be able to give big contracts to their buddies, is that it? Is that why the rate payer is being extorted?
        The problem here is with MSD itself and its management. The operation needs to be audited, dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up, including the board of directors.
        It is simply inexcusable to have an error of this magnitude. Who is MSD accountable to? All the evidence points to them not doing their job the first time (over decades). Handing yet more money to MSD after they screwed up royally does not seem to me to be a good plan.

  • gmichaud

    The truth is I have wondered about MSD for quite awhile. I appreciate the critique of bond issues. Still something is fundamentally wrong that we have ended up in this place. There are real questions of management at MSD. I have tried to look at rates in other cities, not always easy because sewer is often bundled with water or other services. There is no question though that MSD is at the higher end of billing expenses in the nation even without the purposed hikes.
    Then there is this whole sprawl thing and how everything is so random. I have tried to find an analysis of how expenses are cited in relation to sprawl, but I can’t find a breakdown. Yet urban sprawl has to be the most costly part of the system.
    I believe there are other solutions, as cited in other comments, including limiting the need for storm off remedies by making the city absorb more of the water.
    I could go on, but the one thing bothers me is MSD demolishing buildings to cut back hard surfaces. I guess this means MSD is anti development, except if it is the suburbs and supports sprawl of course.
    This is what I mean about management problems. It seems to me the whole approach of MSD is flawed. St. Louis would be far better served with the citizens negotiating a settlement with EPA.
    The fact those who contribute the most in impervious surfaces pay the least is yet another indication of failed MSD management. Management is a problem that has not been addressed. Certainly the mainstream press is no longer interested or capable of looking at the whole of MSD.
    MSD as a failed organization, pretty well unaccountable to anyone. The bond issues on the ballot are only the tip of the problem.
    Thanks again for your analysis, that plus the discussion in the comments have been a real help for me in understanding how I will vote.

  • Lance LeComb

    I don’t normally weigh in on message boards, but this has been a very intellectually honest debate here and I appreciate the comments, both personally and professionally. Couple of points I will inject here, as I believe it may help clarify why MSD placed these two items on the April 5th ballot.

    MSD staff can’t insitute rate changes on its own. In 2000, voters approved the creation of an MSD rate commission. The commission is meant to provide the public with a voice in our rate setting process. (More information on the rate commission is @ http://tinyurl.com/htu3gfv.) Short version, the rate commission recommended that Propositions Y and S be placed on the ballot.

    Prop Y: Both the “pay cash now” versus the “pay interest/principal over time” points are valid. However, we should keep in mind the rate differences we are talking about. If Proposition Y passes, the average single family rate will go from today’s $40.72 per month to $60.44 per month in four years. If Proposition Y fails, that same monthly rate will increase to $95.13 per month.

    The thinking of staff and the rate commission is summarized in the analogy of home buying. Not everyone has the the cash to buy a home in one payment or a few payments. Thus, mortgages exist to pay for a large purchase over time. Additionally, given that voters have overwhelmingly approved the use of bonds three times in the past 12 years for this same type of work, we believe we would be remiss not to offer voters the same choice.

    Prop S: If you read the rate commission’s rate recommendation report @ http://tinyurl.com/htq7rt6, you will find that the commission believes an impervious fee of some sort is more equitable than taxes. However, they also believe that taxes are a fair way to pay for stormwater services as well. The rub is that when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the impervious fee, they left it an open question of whether a voter approved fee would apply to non-profits. The time between when the Supreme Court ruled and the time by when we had to start on the rate change request didn’t allow MSD staff enough time to gain clarity about the non-profit applicability. This is a very important point and we felt it would be irresponsible to put something before voters that could potentially be invalidated again in court. Thus – and to use a football analogy – if the impervious fee was a long pass downfield to solve the issue of stormwater funding, then Proposition S is switching to a ground game.

    Regardless of the path we take, the solution we wish to arrive at is to have comprehensive and equal stormwater services for all of our customers. Thus, if Proposition S passes, MSD will begin the steps this year to start work on a long-term funding solution for the stormwater issues that aren’t covered by Prop S. And the rate commission instructed staff to clear up the impervious applicability issue for that solution. They issued those instructions, because they believe impervious is fairer than taxes – but legally, we aren’t yet in a sound position to ask voters for approval of that method.

    The stormwater question is very complex. For the sake of brevity, I did gloss over other important points and didn’t address a few points made in the below comments. However, if anyone wishes to discuss further, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or (314) 768-6237. (MSD cannot, and I will not, advocate for a “yes” or “no” vote on either proposition; but I’m happy to discuss the ins and outs of both with anyone.) For those that haven’t, I also recommend checking out http://tinyurl.com/hv77rvl. This is a page on our website devoted to the two Propositions.

    Please note: I will be out of the office until March 30th. However, my direct line gives out my cell number and I will make myself available for anyone wishing to discuss the propositions.

    Lance LeComb
    Manager of Public Information & Spokesperson
    Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD)
    (314) 768-6237
    [email protected]

    • Alex Ihnen

      “If Proposition Y passes, the average single family rate will go from today’s $40.72 per month to $60.44 per month in four years. If Proposition Y fails, that same monthly rate will increase to $95.13 per month.”

      This is the heart of the matter, and in my opinion these numbers shouldn’t be shared without also always offering the total cost. Some people may die or move away and save money long term, the rest of the population will pay more over time.

      The home-buying analogy is apt, but also highlights to downside of the approach being offered. Living on credit can be positive and necessary, but has also led to financial waste (and personal & civic ruin) time and time again.

      • Lance LeComb

        Alex, fair point. I will look up the interest projections that were presented during the rate commission process and post them in the next few days.

        However, off the top of my head: The general rule of thumb is for every dollar we borrow, we pay back two dollars in principal and interest. We have a AAA and two AA+ ratings from the three major credit rating agencies, which allows us to realize lower interest rates. Of the bonds we have issued, we generally pay an interest rate of 3% to 4%. We layer the issuances in 20 to 30 year terms. If Proposition Y passes, we have $477 million in debt service budgeted for our fiscal years 2017 through 2020 (we are currently in fiscal year 2016, which ends on June 30 of this year).

        Interestingly enough, staff did propose the use of no bonds in our 2008 rate proposal. We felt it was best to keep our “powder dry” in terms of being able to finance what would come out of the lawsuit with EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the environment. (We were sued in 2007 and the agreement we are operating under was approved by the court in 2012.) It was during the 2008 rate setting process where the issues you mentioned came up in force – people passing away, moving, etc. – and the equality of paying now or paying later. In spite of staff’s belief, the members of the public that came forward overwhelming wanted to use bonds… I say this not to counter any point you are making, but to share our thinking and how MSD has responded to the feedback we have received over the years.

        • Lance LeComb

          Alex, here is the interest information: Through the 2004, 2008, 2012 voter approved bond authorizations, we have issued ~$1.4 billion in bonds. (We still have ~$290 million in bonds to be issued from those authorizations.) Over the life of the ~$1.4 billion in bonds, we will pay ~$1.12 billion in interest and fees.

          If Proposition Y passes, I can’t provide the same type of numbers, because it is dependent on market conditions at the time of sale. However, given current market conditions and projections of how changes might affect us, we still expect to pay $1 in interest for every $1 that we borrow. Thus, and assuming Proposition Y is approved, we will issue ~$1.19 billion in bonds over the next several years. Accordingly, it is fair to assume we will pay ~$1.19 billion in interest/fees (maybe somewhat less, given our experience to date).

          • Alex Ihnen

            Thanks. IMO – this is pretty scary:

            “Over the life of the ~$1.4 billion in bonds, we will pay ~$1.12 billion in interest and fees.”

    • rgbose

      Good to talk to you on the phone today. Could you explain again the uncertainty of the impervious surface fee/tax that you all want settled before bringing it to voters? Did I hear right that you all don’t need specific authority granted by the legislature to propose one?

  • Tim E

    Yes, agree with the principle of an impervious surface tax but believe it was already shot down in the courts when it was going to be applied as a fee a few years back but was ruled as a tax and therefore had to be voted on. I think MSD should try it on the ballot but I think people are afraid in the unknown and would most likely fail in their surveys.

    I think the point everyone has to understand is that MSD is under mandate by EPA and State to make changes for the better but will be a significant cost. Question now is, it will be big rate hikes or bonds with payments spread over several years. Yes, bonds will mean interest and finance charges just as you have with a mortgage. So vote No and you will have big increases in MSD or a long drawn out process.
    ..
    Myself, I’m a St. Louis home owner & MSD rate as well as property tax payer but don’t reside. Therefore won’t be able to vote my two cent. Good luck as I can’t make up my mind as I travel and work in states that are pay as you for infrastructure projects go such as Alabama. The projects get started, become piecemeal and then take forever with real costs of time added including inflation.

    • rgbose

      Yes, MSD tried an impervious surface fee, the right policy, and it was ruled illegal because the MO Supreme Court saw it as a tax that should have been voted on. That doesn’t change the fact that an impervious surface tax is the right policy, and that’s what we should be voting on. We had to vote down a bad policy in Amendment 7 to move the discussion to a better one, a gas tax increase.

      As for the bonds MSD can and will increase rates to raise the funds to pay for the mandated work. So I don’t think there’s a risk of a scenario like Alabama.

      • MSD isn’t authorized by state law to attempt an impervious surface tax. It would have to be approved by the legislature- and that is not going to happen, not in this decade, anyway. it’s property taxes or nothing.

        • rgbose

          MoLeg authorized the 3/16% sales tax for GRG/parks/CityArchRiver at the drop of a hat. So maybe it’s not as hard as you suggest. Regardless the right policy is worth the wait. If we took the more expediant approach, Wed be paying sales taxes for state roads. Now MoLeg is seriously considering raising the gas tax.

          • Brian

            However, the proposed 2 cents-a-gallon increase failed to gain support in the autumn legislative session. It might still get passed this year, but it really is a drop in the bucket. If the tax is increased by 2 cents, it will increase the Mo tax to 19.3 cents, which is just ahead of Missi-F***ing-sssippi’s tax of 18.8 cents. (You know your state is in bad shape when it lives in the same neighborhood as Mississippi.) It seems that the 2 cent increase is really just a defensive move (probably floated by the gasoline retailers) to prevent the passage of an even higher tax, say 13 cents a gallon (which would bring the Missouri rate up to the national average).

          • rgbose

            The legislature doesn’t meet in the fall. The bill that passed the senate this session has a 1.5 cent increase for gas and 3.5 cent increase for diesel. It sounds unlikely to make it through the house this year. Probably because this is an election year, and they don’t want to own a tax increase, despite the fact the buying power of the fuel taxes erodes every year. Indeed it’s a drop in the bucket, but due to the Hancock Amendment that’s as much as the legislature can do on its own. Anything bigger has to go to the voters.

    • Steve S.

      Your MSD needs to appeal this ruling. The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has a similar fee on the books, for a similar reason and purpose. It is very well explained in the department’s literature, and is designed to punish most those with excessive amounts of large amounts of impervious surface (note that this is an achievement in a city where there are entire residential neighborhoods with minimal amounts of non-impervious surface — and by “minimal” I mean “the occasional tree on the block”).

      Anyway.

      How is St. Louis’ MSD approaching the challenge of the EPA mandate? PWD was quite clever — they decided to develop and deploy mitigating infrastructure at scale rather than attempting to break the bank borrowing money to build new interceptor lines paralleling the major waterways. I’d imagine that if voters vote NO on the bond measure, the MSD would be forced to live within their means.

      • rgbose

        The MO Supreme Court declared the fee a tax and we’re supposed to vote on taxes. The legislature and state Constitution set taxing policy. So there’s no one to appeal to, unless you tried to make a civil rights case out of sprawl subsidies. Has anyone ever done that?

        The main thing MSD is doing here is boring huge underground basins to buffer the rain/sewage to be treated after the rain stops. Yes there is a tunnel boring machine here, but not for Metrolink unfortunately.

        The Feds are mandating it so there’s no “living within its means.” MSD will get the money from the bonds then rate increases or rate increases.

        The other sad thing is they plan to use MSD money to demolish buildings in walkable neighborhoods in order to stop their stormwater runoff. Remember how runoff from potential rehabs in the city closed three interstates during flooding in December (sarcasm)?

        • Steve S.

          The MO Supreme Court declared the fee a tax and we’re supposed to vote on taxes. The legislature and state Constitution set taxing policy. So there’s no one to appeal to, unless you tried to make a civil rights case out of sprawl subsidies. Has anyone ever done that?

          Huh, I dunno. And of course the “no taxes” crowd would come out and muck up the vote, even though impervious surface fees disproportionately affect strip-mall and power-center landlords.

          The main thing MSD is doing here is boring huge underground basins to buffer the rain/sewage to be treated after the rain stops. Yes there is a tunnel boring machine here, but not for Metrolink unfortunately.

          The Feds are mandating it so there’s no “living within its means.” MSD will get the money from the bonds then rate increases or rate increases.

          You’re still referring to big concrete, though. Almost like St. Louis wants to replicate what Chicago’s doing.

          What I’m referring to instead is Philadelphia’s novel solution — you know, the one that regularly lands it at the top of greenest-city rankings: eliminate impervious surfaces at their source so that stormwater can percolate into the ground instead of ending up in the pipes. Developing the know-how to do this has taken time, but the idea is that if you do things like repave most of the city’s streets with permeable pavements, install bioretention features to deal with building runoff, and subsidize installation of property-level stormwater features, you don’t need to build more pipes or massive holding tanks, because the stormwater isn’t going into the pipes. Financially, this also means: lots of small projects, spread out over time, instead of one big project.

          And another benefit of this approach to the stormwater mandate is that much of the bioretention infrastructure also doubles as traffic-calming features such as bumpouts. It’s like … we’re having our cake and eating it too, over here, and the Midwestern cities all just want to put in more concrete to solve their problems.

          The other sad thing is they plan to use MSD money to demolish buildings in walkable neighborhoods in order to stop their stormwater runoff. Remember how runoff from potential rehabs in the city closed three interstates during flooding in December (sarcasm)?

          This kind of mentality is St. Louis’ biggest problem.

          • rgbose

            In Philly is the PWD under the umbrella of the city? In STL MSD is a separate government. Using MSD money to repave streets might be tricky. Yeah silos!

          • Steve S.

            The PWD is under the City’s umbrella … but getting different City departments to talk to each other was a difficult thing until relatively recently. When the previous administration created a department to further its transportation policy goals, it quickly turned out that half of its workload was simply getting its own departments to talk to each other. Before that, the city had a history of tearing up streets it had literally just paved to get at its own water and sewer and gas pipes … to say nothing of private infrastructure like the electric company’s.

  • stldoc

    Thanks Richard, I needed advice on these Props.

    • rgbose

      You’re welcome!

  • STLEnginerd

    Regarding PropS, you are right they are taxing the wrong thing. My question would be, is it realistic to think an impervious surface tax is the next proposed alternative. It doesn’t seem to me that would garner much more support.

    Regarding the PropY bonds. Isn’t bonds typically how you pay for one time costs. To say it get paid for either way is a little silly. It get paid for with real money and that money would come out of other budgets somehow. Where does the 900m come from. Also interest rates are near historic lows and the regions credit rating is still pretty good. It seems reasonable to bond this out.

    For the record, I’m on the fence on PropS and leaning yes on PropY. Y would get a no vote if I see any chance the impervious surface tax is implementable.

    • rgbose

      Usually you bond because you politically or legally can’t pay for it otherwise. That’s not the case here. Even with low rates we will end up paying $100Ms in interest. It’s not silly to consider what else we could do with that money. Also it’s a wealth transfer to people and institutions that buy the bonds that aren’t necessarily in the region. If the bonds aren’t passed our sewer bills go up more in the near term, less in the long -term. If the bonds pass our sewer bills go up less in the near term and more in the long term and overall higher than if the bonds aren’t used.

      As for prop S I’ll use the example of Amendment 7, the sales tax for roads. Voters defeated it soundly, among many reasons the fact that it taxed the wrong thing was obvious to voters. With that bad policy out of the way now we’re talking about a better way, the gas tax. I’d hope for that to happen in this case.

      For those of us who advocate for higher productivity land uses because we see that spread out ones aren’t paying the bills, Prop S amounts to a sprawl subsidy. As the maintenance bill outpaces those spread out development patterns’ ability to pay for it MSD will seek to raise the tax so the subsidy will grow.

      • STLEnginerd

        OK I am convinced NO on Y is the right vote. Structuring the tax correctly is important to get right because once its through its not going to get fixed down the road. We do have an opportunity to get it right if we can muster the political will. And MSD has already shown at least an inkling of the right way to do it, even if it wasn’t politically brave enough to propose it for a vote this time.

        I still think S, bonding the sewer upgrades, makes sense. Municipal bonds have long been the vehicle for long term system upgrades. Its not exactly like we are going to be hit with credit card interest rates. St. Louis area has relatively good credit rating.

        So I am now Yes on S, No on Y.

        • rgbose

          I think you mean you’re a yes for the bonds, Prop Y and no on the stormwater property tax, Prop S.

          • STLEnginerd

            umm yeah, important detail i guess 🙂

          • rgbose

            Added some charts from MoDOT to show my point about the bonds. Check them out

          • STLEnginerd

            I respect your point, and I applaud your efforts to bring the issue forward and take a stand for what you believe is the right choice.

            I thought about explaining my stance again but decided against it.

            On some level, I tend to wonder why we even have to vote on things like bond issues for infrastructure improvements. Theoretically we hire/vote for really smart people to determine how to best finance our government. Instead we get propositions that are written with an eye on getting them through a public vote. (i.e. impermeable surface tax couldn’t pass, lets ask for property tax hike instead)

            I wonder if the rate increase to pay for this wasn’t a subject to public vote, and assuming the financial minds at MSD would choose the best choice for the region, would they prefer to bond it out, or just raise rates enough to cover it…

          • rgbose

            My theory is MSD doesn’t want to make the choice even if it could without a vote.

            “Why are my rates going up, MSD?” “Well you have to pay for the bonds you passed for the mandated sewer improvements”

            “Why are my rates going up, MSD?” “Well you voted against the bonds and you have to pay for the mandated improvements.”