The St. Louis County Council gave final approval to its 2014 budget, keeping most of St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s recommendations.
But the council did make funding changes at the request of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Some money will go to adding staffers for a diversion program aimed at keeping first-time offenders out of prison.
The council gave final passage on Tuesday to the various pieces of legislation that constitute the county’s roughly $623 million budget. That means that the council passed the document before the Dec. 31 deadline required by the county’s charter.
Dooley proposed roughly $396 million for the county’s “general fund,” which incorporates the county’s primary operating fund, road and bridge fund, health fund and parks maintenance fund. That’s a roughly 3.9 percent increase from 2013’s adjusted budget of $381 million.
This year’s budget also includes more money for employee raises, public facility improvements and building demolition. It also has more than $6 million more for county parks made possible by Proposition P, a sales tax approved earlier this year. The bills generally passed without strong opposition.
But the council did end up approving a substitute version of the budget that added roughly $415,000 for McCulloch’s office. Roughly $265,000 of that money were for a program aimed at keeping individuals – particularly those arrested for drug-related crimes – out of prison.
In an interview on Wednesday, McCulloch said the diveresion program was something of a compromise.
"We have two options right now," he said. "One is I can ignore it. And the other is I can charge them and bring them into the criminal justice system. This is the third option. And that third option is not ignore it, but not bring him into the system too. If they're not so corrupted that we can put some order back into their life, then we'll do what we can for them."
McCulloch made a personal pitch on Tuesday during the council’s public forum section, stating that he would use the money to hire two prosecutors, an investigator and a clerical staffer for the program.
The additional staffers, he said, would make sure that people who qualify are working, studying in school or generally keeping out of trouble. He added that similar programs have worked well in other parts of the country.
“Hopefully that keeps them out of the system forever,” McCulloch said. “I’m not naïve enough to think they’re going to be 100 percent successful with that. But we have some operations in other parts of the country that are successful in terms of keeping people… at least kicking them back to the community and trying to keep them away.”