Prop P Meetings Draws a Crowd, Questions
The first informational meeting about the proposed sales tax took place on Tuesday in St. Peters.
A crowd of nearly 20 people came out to the park for the informational meeting. Before the Aug. 7, vote, the city of St. Peters is trying to make sure voters are informed about the proposed sales tax increase.
Guests at the forum were shown a video about the background on Prop P and why the city says it needs the money. The Clean Water act is forcing the city to clean up storm water and drainage basins to make sure by the time it empties into the waterways, it is both fishable and swimmable. If the problems aren't fixed, the city faces daily fines.
The video also broke down how Proposition P came to be. With the city needing $119 million to fund more than 100 storm water projects, an increase of revenue was needed. With a storm water fund of $600,000 a year needing to be closer to $3.9 million to fund the projects; St. Peters needed to close the gap. City staff considered three options: a property tax increase, an additional fee on utility bills or the sales tax increase. The city decided a four-tenths of a cent sales tax would be the way to go.
After the video, City Administrator Bill Charnisky and St. Peters Director of Parks Operations Vicki Phillips took questions from the crowd. Some questions were curious, while others were more pointed.
One resident was concerned that the city would take over her neighborhood lake, thus making it a public lake. Charnisky said that wouldn't be the case. The city would get an easement and would take over the lake on a maintenance level, but the neighborhood would still own the lake.
Unlike in other states where lake, creeks and streams are the domain of the government, Missouri, and St. Peters, have homeowners associations and property owners in charge of maintaining the waterways. Charnisky said that, under the Clean Water act, those neighborhoods and property owners would be required to pay for the mandatory fixes. If they didn't, the city would be forced to sue to make sure the work gets down.
Instead of facing what he termed an "uncomfortable situation," Charnisky said the city would work out contracts to maintain and fix the problems—much like a power company can come on your property to fix a power line. Charnisky said this actually could help out residents because many pay a tax in charter fees for water maintenance, something the city would now take over.
The issue of public money for private waterways didn't sell well with Warren Nauman. The St. Peters resident was an outspoken critic at the meeting, challenging everything Charnisky and Phillips said. At one point, Nauman wondered if the sales tax would be too much of a burden on local businesses and would cause consumers to go elsewhere.
Charnisky said that wouldn't be an issue. While the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce hasn't endorsed Prop P, Charnisky said they're not coming out against the sales tax. He said that the tax rate in St. Peters would still be low—lower than places like Wentzville. In addition, Charnisky said the sales tax is the best alternative for businesses.
If a storm water fee was added to utility bills, Charnisky said big buildings likes schools and Mid Rivers Mall, would face the heaviest burden because of how they're classified. Charnisky said under a fee, Fort Zumwalt schools could face a bill near $100,000.
Charnisky repeatedly said that the city was looking at a long-term fix that wouldn't just be a Band-Aid.
Ward 3 Alderman Tommy Roberts was also at the meeting. He said the sales tax puts the least amount of burden on residents. He gave an example of someone owning a $100,000 house in the city. If a property tax increase were applied, only a temporary solution, the resident would pay $164. To pay that much in sales tax, the resident would need to spend north of $37,000 in the city.
Nauman asked more questions about tax rates. He said he thought residents were taxed enough. After a series of questions, another attendee at the forum stood up and told Nauman to just shut up. After the meeting Nauman said his mind wasn't changed.
"No not really," he said. "I still had more questions, but I was told to stop asking. ... I strongly oppose using public money for private things."
Nauman said he plans to attend more of the scheduled meetings. After Tuesday, five more meetings remain. All meetings start at 7 p.m. The dates are:
- July 12—St. Peters Senior Center
- July 17—St. Peters Golf Course
- July 19—Spencer Creek Park
- July 31—Woodlands Sports Park
- Aug. 2—Rabbit Run Park
In the end, Phillips said she was pleased by the turnout, and the questions.
"I like that people had a chance to ask controversial questions," Phillips said. "It gives us a chance to dispel rumors and diffuse some of the silliness."