Board of Aldermen Turn up the Heat

Dec 3, 2010 at 4:16 pm
Today's Board of Aldermen meeting kicked off with a complimentary Christmas concert by the Rosati-Kain High School choir. After the warblers finished their hymns about a poor baby shivering in a chilly night, the city's lawmakers voted to help ensure St. Louis children never go to bed cold. Coincidence? We think not.

The major bill taken to a vote today would give all city taxpayers the option of donating to a fund called Heat Up St. Louis, which provides heat and other utilities to the city's poorest residents. The opportunity to make such a donation would be made available through check-off boxes on residents' quarterly water and trash bills, as well as their real estate and personal property tax bills. That box would appear alongside another recently proposed check-off box -- that one for the St. Louis Hope for the Homeless Fund, which supports families of four making less than $13,000 annually.

The bill, which is expected to pass later this month, was perfected today despite the objections of Alderman Fred Wessels, who said that the creation of new check-off boxes in tax bills would cost the Collector of Revenues Office $9,000 apiece and would generate almost no money for the poor. He also complained that many charitable organizations desire to be represented on tax bills, and the city shouldn't pick and choose.

"At some point we gotta say no," said Wessels. "We can say we did a good deed today ... but the bottom line is that this isn't really doing much." Wessels went on to call the bill a PR incentive for his colleagues' future political campaigns.

His argument was called "callous" by Alderman Marlene E. Davis, a supporter of the bill, who cited the recent deaths of two children whose heaters had been turned off. However, in Wessels's defense, the existing check-off box system for voluntary donations isn't exactly run with precision. Currently, the city offers two check-off options -- but one of them actually supports the Animal House Fund, a one-time animal-shelter service that (drum roll!) no longer exists, as even the bill's sponsor acknowledges.

That sponsor, Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett, declined to comment on the Animal House issue, but said she was pleased that the bill will soon be bringing heat and other services to St. Louisans who need it.

The other highlight of the meeting occurred when Park Ranger Susan C. Lauritsen accepted a resolution for heroism after coming to the aid of a man who'd driven his car into the lake at Fairground Park and was likely minutes away from death.

In the early morning hours of November 22, Lauristen observed a car entering the park. After growing suspicious when the car never returned, she entered the park, aimed her spotlight toward the lake and noticed the vehicle partially submerged in the lake. Water was creeping up past the driver's shoulders.

Lauristen signaled for backup, but the rising water level outpaced the emergency relief. So she waded into the lake herself and pulled the man out of the car just as the water was rising past his chin.

Only then, apparently, did Lauristen realize that the only thing preventing the driver from extracting himself from the car was the fact that he was wasted. (According to one news report, the man continually cried to be saved from the water after he'd reached dry land.)

Talk about drowning yourself with booze.

In any case, upon receiving her resolution this morning, Lauristen called the honor "humbling" and accepted it on behalf of all city employees, "who are heroes every day."