St. Louis County debates budget shortfall, park closures
St. Louis County Council members gather tonight at 6:00 p.m. to discuss County Executive Charlie Dooley’s proposed budget for 2012. Facing flat revenues and a budget shortfall, Dooley has proposed $10 million in spending cuts that would close 23 county parks and eliminate up to 133 Parks & Recreation Department employees.
The budget has been under fire from council members, citizens, and environmental groups, many of whom are calling for more equitable cuts across county departments.
Former County Park Ranger Marty Koch joined Dooley’s Senior Policy Advisor Mike Jones today on St. Louis on the Air.
Koch wondered, “Why is over 80 percent of the budget shortfall coming out one department…and why haven’t we the citizens been given the opportunity to find other funding sources? Why has this come out of the blue?”
Koch pointed to past funding problems with Forest Park and to the successful public/private partnership that has funded Forest Park Forever and said he felt confident that county residents would support parks, but that they need more time to organize.
Jones agreed that alternative funding sources may ultimately have to be found, but urged that in the short term, the budget reality calls for shrinking the size of county government:
The county park system that we have now is the result of a different era…These are still important assets and they have to be maintained, but the only responsible thing to do is figure out what you can keep and do well, and what you can hand off, coordinate with other public entities that can still maintain this footprint for the people of St. Louis County and the State of Missouri. There is nothing written in stone that says the county has to be the manager of these public assets. ”
Trying to dispel the notion that the County Executive is using parks to gain leverage on tax increases, Jones said that from Dooley’s perspective, “a tax increase is off the table as far as him proposing that as an option. We tried to have that conversation in August and here we are. ”
Listen to the whole conversation in the St. Louis on the Air archives, and tomorrow, look for reporting from tonight’s meeting from St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman.