Sewer Infrastructure in Saint Louis May Get More Money
On April 5, voters in Saint Louis City and County will vote on two proposals for funding sewer infrastructure in the region. The first proposal, Proposition S, would impose a uniform taxing district for storm water service, with a tax (already in place) of $0.0197 per $100.00 of assessed valuation and an additional tax of $0.10 per $100.00 of assessed valuation. Should the proposal go into effect, some areas of the district would pay less in tax then they do now, while others (especially outside of I-270) would pay more. The second proposal, Proposition Y, would allow the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Division (MSD) to issue bonds to fund $900 million in sewer upgrades.
The fact that Saint Louis must make such costly repairs to its sewer system is the result of decades of putting capital improvements off into the future. Many of the pipes in Saint Louis City and County have long needed replacement, creating a safety hazard. For example, in 2014, a city street collapsed under the weight of fire truck due to aging sewer pipes. The region has been unwilling to raise water or sewer fees to the necessary level to make needed repairs, and too often there has been resistance to implementing pricing practices to better align the use of sewer services with what properties pay. For instance, MSD does not require water metering, and the region has been unable to implement an impervious surface tax.
While MSD’s policies may be questionable, the department must go forward with costly sewer upgrades, much of which is EPA mandated. Some critics of Proposition Y argue that Saint Louis should simply pay all the costs up front, instead of allowing MSD to take out bonds to make improvements. This, they argue, would eliminate any future financing costs. MSD claims that a pay-as-you-go model would require significant up-front sewer fee increases, while bonding would allow rates to slowly go up over time. That would allow those on a tight budget to adjust to the increased property taxes. In addition, interest rates are now at historic lows, meaning the cost of borrowing is at a minimum.
Whatever way residents vote on April 5, the region is going to pay more in return for long-overdue sewer upgrades.