January 23, 2013 - Sixth District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, says his vote to place a sales-tax increase on the April 2 ballot that would improve the Arch grounds and county parks should not be interpreted as his support for the proposal.
The County Council voted 7-0 last week to approve legislation placing Proposition P on the ballot. If approved by voters, the three-sixteenths of 1 percent sales tax would fund safety, security and improvements to county parks and the Arch grounds.
"... My vote (to put it on the ballot) just means basically that I want the people of my district to have the opportunity to vote for or against it. It's their choice," Stenger told the Call. "And that became really important to me just through my respect for the democratic process ..."
Sixty percent of revenue generated from the tax would go to the Great Rivers Greenway District, with the remaining 40 percent designated for county parks.
To go into effect, the sales tax must be approved in St. Louis County and either St. Louis City or St. Charles, all of which are members of the Great Rivers Greenway District.
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen last week voted to place the tax before voters, while St. Charles County officials indicated they will not put the tax on the April 2 ballot.
Roughly $38 million would be generated annually for the three jurisdictions, and roughly $6 million would be generated annually for St. Louis County parks.
The "chief complaint" Stenger's heard from residents about the county's trash-collection program is they were unable to vote on whether the program should be established, he said.
"... They didn't have a say in it. It was basically thrust upon them ...," he said of the trash-collection program. "I encourage people to come out and vote (on the sales tax) — for or against, but vote."
Noting that April elections traditionally have low turnout, Stenger said, "Their votes become very important. There will likely be fewer voters voting, so however they want to vote, I just encourage them to come out and vote. That's the main thing. Take part in the democratic process ..."
Stenger did offer this "guidance" to voters on the proposed sales tax.
"... St. Louis County does not need additional tax revenue to run our park system. It does not," he said. "We have proven it ... What better case can you have than in 2011 we met all the needs of the parks despite the claimed crisis and then crises. Then in 2012 we met all of our obligations and, in fact, we all enjoyed the parks just as we have enjoyed them for decades ...
"I would give this guidance: It's not a tax to save our parks. It's not a tax that is necessary for the operation of St. Louis County parks. If you want to vote for it for additional revenue for parks because you want a separate money source for parks, if that's what a resident wants to do, a taxpayer wants to do, then that's why they would vote for it. But it's not a necessary item.
"And if they want to improve the Arch grounds, if that's what a voter wants to do and they believe that that's important and they want to pay their tax dollars to do that — county tax dollars to improve the Arch in the city, federal property — they're free to do that ...," Stenger said.
"I mean that's the guidance I would give. I would neither encourage nor discourage. I leave this truly to a vote."