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'Little reason' to support MSD's bond issue

To the editor:

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees recently approved a big increase in sewer rates.

Homeowners will see higher bills beginning next month. There is information surrounding the increase that the public should be aware of, especially because the MSD will have a $500 million bond issue on the November ballot.

To begin with, the 21 percent increase approved by the MSD Board of Trustees will provide $30 million of additional annual revenue for the sewer district.

As the result of rate increases imposed without voter approval since 1992, the MSD now will be taking in $120 million more each year.

The total amount of additional revenue collected from ratepayers over these years comes to nearly $900 million. Next year, the total will exceed $1 billion. Yet MSD officials, many of whom got big raises earlier this year and now have plush offices at the district's new downtown headquarters, always make it sound like the district is nearly broke.

In one news account about the rate increases, MSD board Chairman Robert Baer promised the district would be "good stewards of the public's money.'' The record of the new board, which was installed in March by Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive "Buzz'' Westfall, would not exactly support Baer's promise.

The board has taken some steps in the right direction, but continues with many bad practices of the past. Worst among them is handing out millions of dollars of no-bid consulting contracts for dubious purposes.

At the June board meeting alone, about $8 million of consulting contracts with various engineering firms was on the agenda.

Among the contracts were two $1 million contracts for more studies and a $1.5 million contract with Jacobs Civil Inc. for "engineering services for planning functions.'' The Jacobs' contract came up for final approval at the July 10 board meeting.

At the public comment section of the meeting, I asked Chairman Baer what projects Jacobs would be working on, how many of the firm's employees would be involved and what was the hourly rate Jacobs would charge. Incredibly, Baer said he didn't know. The same was probably true of the other board members, yet they approved the contract anyway.

When the new MSD board members were appointed in March, their main charge was to restore public confidence in the sewer district. Approving millions of dollars for questionable expenditures is not the way to go about it.

Voters have little reason at this point to support the MSD's bond issue.

Tom Sullivan

St. Louis

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