Amendment 4 would ease restrictions on state storm water bonds

Sunday, October 26, 2008 | 8:30 p.m. CDT; updated 9:49 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposed constitutional amendment regarding storm water projects might not seem important at first glance, but a spokeswoman for the Boone County Public Works Department said it could help fix valuable infrastructure.

The amendment would expand the types of projects that could be covered by bonds the state sells to raise money for storm water projects.

Voters in 1998 authorized the General Assembly to sell bonds for storm water projects. The $200 million worth of bonds were intended to be used by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to help with local storm water projects, but a change in federal tax laws has kept the sale from moving forward. That leaves a potential $150 million in bond proceeds in limbo. The last bond sale was in 2002.

Supporters say Amendment 4 would make it easier for water and sewer districts to obtain tax-free grants and loans from the state. No organized public opposition has emerged.

Boone County Public Works Department spokeswoman Georganna Bowman said that if the amendment passes, the county could apply for a grant to fix failing infrastructure in subdivisions, some of which are 30 years old and lacked adequate storm-water control even when they were built.

"I would love to be able to apply those loans to the infrastructure cost," Bowman said, adding that the county has no designated storm water fund.

One provision the amendment would clarify is that only public water and sewer districts could receive loans or grants for the storm water control projects. The Missouri Constitution already prohibits the state from granting or lending public money to private individuals or corporations, so the change might be superfluous.

The proposal also would eliminate the restriction that state grants can pay for no more that 50 percent of a project's total cost. The existing requirement is that local governments or water and sewer districts must pay at least half. If the amendment passes, the state theoretically could cover the entire cost of local projects.

It also would eliminate the existing cap of $20 million per fiscal year on appropriations to the storm water control fund. The restriction that appropriated money must be divided evenly between loans and grants would be eliminated.

According to Missouri's official fair ballot language, the amendment would have no impact on taxes.

Because loans must be repaid, Bowman said Boone County would prefer to pursue grants.

"You always love grants over loans," she said.

Appropriated but unused money in the storm water fund would not revert back to state funds, as it does now. Instead it would remain in the fund and accrue interest.

Joy Reven, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said the amendment would allow the state to sell more bonds but would not guarantee it will do so. The sale of bonds, she said, would create new jobs within the agency.

Reven said she doesn't think there are any disadvantages to the amendment.

"If it doesn't pass, the $150 million will still be out there," she said.

Bruce Wylie, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineers, said that group supports the amendment because it would give more flexibility to entities that make decisions concerning storm water bonds and allow more flexibility to the balance of grants and loans.

"It gives them more control of financing storm water projects," Wylie said.

Official Ballot Title

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change provisions relating to the financing of storm-water control projects by:

  • limiting availability of grants and loans to public water and sewer districts only;
  • removing the cap on available funding and existing restrictions on disbursements;
  • requiring loan repayments to be used only for stormwater control projects?

It is estimated the cost to state governmental entities is $0 to $236,000 annually. It is estimated state governmental entities will save approximately $7,500 for each bond issuance. It is estimated local governmental entities participating in this program may experience savings; however the amount is unknown.

Fair ballot language excerpt:

A “yes” vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to change the provisions relating to the financing of storm-water control projects. Currently, the Missouri Constitution allows the legislature to issue bonds or other types of debt so that grants and loans may be provided to municipalities and water and sewer districts in certain counties and cities for storm water control.

This amendment will limit funding to only public water and sewer districts. It removes the current limitation on the amount of funds that can be made available for these projects and removes the restrictions on the method of disbursing these funds. It further provides that loan repayment funds shall be deposited into a specific fund to be used for storm-water control projects.

A “no” vote will not change the provisions relating to the financing of storm-water control projects.

If passed, this measure will not have an impact on taxes.

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