Pro & Con: Proposition P, a St. Louis County ballot measure, regarding police, public safety funding | St. Louis Public Radio

Pro & Con: Proposition P, a St. Louis County ballot measure, regarding police, public safety funding

Mar 24, 2017

On Friday, St. Louis on the Air hosted a moderated conversation about Proposition P, one of the ballot measures that St. Louis County voters will decide on during the April 4 election. On Friday's program, we also heard a discussion of Proposition 1, a St. Louis city ballot measure, which you can find here

The text of the proposition reads as follows:

Shall St. Louis County impose a one-half of one percent sales tax for the purpose of providing funds to improve police and public safety in St. Louis County and each of the municipalities within St. Louis County?

The sales tax is projected to raise $80 million in annual revenue. Over half of that revenue, $46 million, would go to funding the St. Louis County Police Department and the other $34 million would be distributed among municipal police departments, according to population size.

We heard from one proponent and one opponent of the measure in two separate segments:

  • St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger represented the “pro” side of the argument; he supports the measure.
  • Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation represented the “con” side of the argument; he does not support the measure.

We'll update the post below with summarize points from the discussion this afternoon. Listen to the full discussion here:

PRO: St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger wants you to vote “YES” on Proposition P.

Opening statement:

Prop P for St. Louis County is transformational, in a number of respects. The things it will allow us to do in St. Louis County are important for a number of reasons. First of all, it would allow us to have more officers. The general idea behind all of these things is that this is a measure that will keep our officers safe as they keep us safe: these things will greatly add to public safety in a direct way and an indirect way."

Major points from Stenger:

  • Proposition P will allow St. Louis County to add 110 officers to the force. This would allow two officers to some police cars (not all, to do that, the tax would be much higher), which would allow for greater officer safety.
  • The increase in the number of officers would also mean a greater degree of community policing because more officers would be able to get into the community safely, engage with the public and have conversations.
  • Proposition P will also allow St. Louis County to increase pay to county officers, which would improve attraction and retention of officers in the county.
  • Stenger believes that increased funding from Proposition P would aid St. Louis County’s ability to hire a police force that is more diverse, or at least demographically consistent with St. Louis County.
  • While Stenger said he could only speak for the St. Louis County Police Department, he said that when he spoke with municipal police departments who would benefit from the revenue from the tax, more officers, community policing and improved pay were of interest. Stenger said: “We’re receiving the majority of the money, so you can find some comfort in knowing this is where $46 million of the $80 million will be going.”
  • The $80 million raised through this tax can only go to police departments. Stenger said: “This is dedicated to police and public safety. This is a dedicated sales tax. It is dedicated; it can only go for those things. In the county, particularly, it will go to a particular fund.”
  • “We’ve made a request to the public that I think is reasonable, it is a half-cent,” Stenger said. “On every $100 purchase, you’re talking 50 cents. On every $10 purchase, that’s a nickel. That’s going toward public servants, our police.”
  • Stenger, responding to a question about the Prop P sales tax pushing municipalities over the 10 percent sales tax rate, said that unincorporated St. Louis County has a sales tax of 7.113 percent, which is relatively low. In incorporated areas, that percentage is slightly higher, in the 8 percent range. “There are a handful of municipalities, maybe 2 or 3, that are at that nine percent level. Some of the municipalities have small districts within them that have transportation districts or community improvement districts. Those cases might be already at 10 percent sales tax, but there might be five of those in the whole county. Those are shopping areas that chose to have those community improvement districts.”
  • The funds raised from Proposition P will be distributed to municipalities on a population basis. That means municipalities with the largest population will get the most money. Florissant will get $2.6 million and Chesterfield will get $2.3 million and it goes down from there. “A place like Champ, which has 13 residents, gets about $600,” Stenger said.
  • When asked if this was the fairest way to distribute funds, by population instead of by needs, Stenger said: “That may be the case but, in most cases, population tends to dictate need. With a higher population, public safety needs will be greater. For the record, this is not something we chose: this came from the state statute that authorizes the tax. We have limited vehicles in order to achieve the objective of trying to get more resources for public safety officers. This is one of two. We also have the property tax route, which would be a much more onerous tax. This is a situation where we can achieve this through a consumption tax, which allows visitors to pay for public safety as well.”

CON: Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation wants you to vote “NO” on Proposition P.

Opening statement:

“First of all, we are extremely supportive and respectful of law enforcement not only in Chesterfield but in the county and surround communities and the country. What this is all about is government looking for revenue to pay for services that are provided. I would like to point out that there’s an automatic built-in escalation feature whether it be in sales or property tax and government needs to learn to live within its own means. As the amount of goods and services increases or the price increases, there’s an automatic increase in sales tax that goes along with that.”

Major points:

  • The enabling statute for the tax is RSMO 67.547 and does not reference law enforcement or any purpose. It just gives a formula for the distribution of the revenue. “I wonder if this may be a special law that might not be constitutional,” Nation said.
  • The term “public safety” is a generic term, “applicable to much of what the government does. You muddy the waters of what the purpose of the revenues might be for.”
  • Nation is concerned that this rise in sales tax would reduce the county’s population:  “We’ve had a stagnant population growth for decades. I think much of that is due to natural urban sprawl but also lower cost of living in surrounding counties. This creates an unhealthy economic environment where you have fewer shoppers to pay for goods and services that generate sales taxes for government to pay for services. This would be another factor that continues to drive population out of the county.”
  • Nation, whose Chesterfield municipality would stand to gain $2.3 million for police and public safety, said the municipality doesn’t need it. “I’ve had a number of other mayors tell me that they don’t need the revenue and even if this thing were to pass and it were stipulated they would need to spend the additional revenues their municipalities would receive, they may do that, but the revenues they were spending on law enforcement beforehand, they would spend elsewhere.”
  • While Nation admitted he had not spoken at length with the Chesterfield Police Chief about the ballot measure, he said that Chesterfield already has plenty of revenue to pay for the police department. “We have over 100 police officers. We have the finest police department in the county, second in size only to St. Louis County. We spend $10 million on the police department and we think they are paid well and we provide excellent service. Without having explicitly talked to the chief, I think he’d say ‘we’re doing just fine, we would not need additional revenues.’ And I think that’s the same as other municipalities.”
  • Nation also pointed out to a “lopsided disproportionality of where revenues come from versus where they are going.” He said that only $16 million in sales tax would be generated from unincorporated St. Louis County, whereas the county would receive $46 million in taxes. “The majority of all the 90 municipalities will be taxed considerably more than what they’ll receive if the tax is passed,” Nation said. He said that revenue from sales tax from incorporated St. Louis County would be about $64, but those incorporated municipalities would receive $34 million back.
  • Nation also said he opposed the tax because some municipalities also have their own tax to fund the police on their April ballot. “This would be a tax on top of a tax on top of a tax,” Nation said.
  • Nation believes the revenue numbers generated by the tax don’t add up to what the revenue from the tax would be spent on. “If the county were to receive $46 million on top of the $106 million that it currently spends on its 875-man law enforcement, that’s a 43 percent increase of the entire operating budget in one fell swoop. St. Louis County Police Chief Belmar wants 120 officers, Stenger said 110. Pay each one $100,000 a year; that would only use $11 million of the $46 million. What would you do with the other $35 million? … I don’t believe additional equipment would need to be purchased each and every year. I would say: where is the money going? Has this been discussed with county government? Why hasn’t that been shared with the public? What other intentions do you have beyond police? Public safety is a general term. Specify. If you say two officers per car, how many cars? Let’s do the math.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.