By ROBERT CHALUPNY
Public confidence, education and voter turnout were among the reasons cited by Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Chairman Robert J. Baer in postponing a November vote on a $500 million bond issue.
The MSD Board of Trustees voted last week to postpone a vote on the $500 million bond issue, withdrawing their intention to place the proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot and tentatively placing the proposal on the Feb. 3 ballot.
This is the second time the Board of Trustees has postponed voter consideration of the $500 million bond issue that would fund $647 million in capital-improvement projects over three years.
The bond issue originally had been placed on the April 8 ballot, but the election was postponed after St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive George R. "Buzz'' Westfall appointed five new members to the six-member board.
In recommending the April bond issue vote be postponed, Slay and Westfall cited a lack of public confidence in the MSD as the primary reason for delaying the vote.
During the Aug. 26 meeting, Baer said, "There are a number of issues that have to be considered, No. 1 one is voter turnout. We believe as far as we know that this will be the only item on the ballot for November. We think that the voter turnout will be less rather than more and we think that that's an important issue that needs to be considered.
"We also believe that we need additional time for the public to assess how they think we are doing. We intend to issue a six month progress report in the near future citing what we think have been improvements within the district. We will make that known to the media as to the fact that we've had such press conference or press releases whatever the case may be.
"We also think that can save anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 in election costs. If we are the only issue on the ballot, we have to pay the entire share of the election both city and county. We do not want to spend money that we don't have to ...,'' he emphasized.
"At our request, the state auditor is in MSD ... In fact ,we are paying a portion of that audit she is doing a year after review. We're not sure when that report will be released, but we think it should be released prior to the bond issue. Once it is released we need time to review it and react to it to assure that we are complying to the best of our ability that is certainly our intent.
"We want to be sure that many of our key management positions are filled. As some of you know, we have a number of positions that are vacant, (acting) Executive Director (Charles Etwert) has declared his intention to resign, retire I should say, at the end of September. The director of engineering position is being recruited for, director of environmental compliance ... So there are a number of positions that we want to have filled, because those would be integral in carrying out a work program associated with the bond issue.
"Also we are anticipating a lock box approach, so that we can say to the public here is how the money will be spent, here's where it will be spent. We want to be sure that we clearly define that and we want advanced time to create a piece of data for the public so that they have assurance that they know exactly how the money will be spent. Some previous governmental entities have been criticized for getting money for one issue and spending it someplace else, we don't want that to be the case. We want a situation in a lock box approach.
"If we are to move this which is a matter for the full board to approve, it will still allow us to meet our schedule with the Missouri Department of natural resources. and the environmental protection agency."
Vice Chairman Claude Brown said he believes the board should have originally slated the issue for February.
The issue that Brown believes is most important about going to the voters in February is because of turnout.
"It would give the public an opportunity to give us a message one way or the other," he said.
Trustee Bart Margiotta said that public education was his primary reason for wanting to postpone the bond issue.
"We have not had an opportunity to get this message out to everyone and I feel that time related it's just too constrictive so this gives us a little bit more time to get our message out ...," Margiotta said.
Secretary/Treasurer Karl Tyminski said that the district still would be able to meet its funding requirements for the Lower Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oakville that must be completed by December 2006 to meet deadlines set forth by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The funding levels are such to carry us through February. We're looking at a bond issue in January anyway that's when we would be receiving the monies,'' he said. "Now we were able to get some federal grants, the grant monies matter of fact just came in today, $8 million of it and that will be able to move us to a future month.
"So it's the combination of, one; slowing down a little bit of the construction for a month, coupled with the grant proceeds coming in earlier than anticipated," Ty-minski said.