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Revised St. Louis County budget saves parks, reduces layoffs

(via Flickr/Trailnet)
A tour group in Fort Bellefontaine County Park. A compromise budget reached by the County Council last night will keep Fort Bellefontaine and 22 other parks open and reduce layoffs.

Members of the St. Louis County Council have reached a budget deal that avoids the closure of 23 county parks.

The two sides announced the compromise at a County Council meeting Tuesday night. The new 2012 budget keeps open all 50 of the county parks, and reduces the number of job cuts from 173 to about 40. It also maintains plowing in unincorporated areas that receive less than two inches of snow.

"I talked with each member of this council about what they need, about where we are. And we all gave a little bit," said county executive Charlie Dooley, who made the initial budget proposal. "We gave a little bit in that we still have twelve months to figure this out. They gave a little bit on that we still have to make some cuts. But more importantly, collectively, we're on the same page. I think that's the most important part."

Six of seven council members had refused to vote for Dooley's budget, including council chairman Steve Stenger, a fellow Democrat.  Stenger calls the compromise a victory, but said other issues still remain.

"I think it's going to be a recurring issue," he said. "I don't think it's going to be nearly as heated as this was because the parks are open - we were fighting to keep the parks open. That's what the fight was about and that fight is concluded. So, we don't need to fight any more."   

Stenger is leading a special committee that was drafting an alternate budget. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the committee released several cost-saving measures just hours before the County Council meeting, including:

  • Eliminating 60 unfilled but funded positions;
  • Increasing projected sales and casino tax revenue by $2 million for 2012;
  • Delaying about half of the proposed capital expenditures for next year;
  • Returning unspent but appropriated funds from the 2011 budget;
  • Reductions in the county's car fleet;
  • Putting liens on personal property if inmates do not pay booking fees at the county jail;
  • Looking at the third floor of the police headquarters, which council members say is heated and cooled even though it's rarely used.

Stenger says the compromise has enough votes to pass the council before the new year.

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