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Dooley budget proposal includes raises for county employees

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 1, 2012 - St. Louis County employees would receive a 2.5 percent raise under St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley's 2013 budget, the first such boost since 2008.

And the Democratic officeholder is also recommending that funding for the county’s parks system – the source of immense ire last year – remain essentially flat.

Those are just a couple of takeaways from Dooley’s proposal, which was formally submitted to the St. Louis County Council on Thursday. At a press briefing, Dooley said the pay raise for employees was needed after the economic downturn prompted years of cutbacks.

He noted that previous budgets froze employee pay, eliminated travel and training and deferred maintenance and capital equipment replacements.

“We tried our best to look at what’s in our best interest as we move forward,” Dooley said. “We cannot keep our competitive edge if we don’t give something to our employees. And [a 2.5 percent raise] is not a lot of money. But it’s going in the right direction. It’s the right thing to do at the right time. And you say ‘Charlie, it could have been more.’ There’s no question about it.”

“It’s the right size for us as we go forward,” he added. “We knew there was a need to do something for our employees. And we did it.”

Dooley proposed about $22.9 million for the Department of Parks and Recreation, a 0.1 percent increase from 2012’s adjusted budget. Last year, Dooley came under immense public criticism after proposing making deep cuts to the county's parks system. Although he changed course after the council threatened to defeat his budget, Dooley still made reductions to staff and services.

“We spent less than our appropriation in the parks system,” said Garry Earls, St. Louis County’s chief operating officer. “So they’ve saved substantial money in parks. … So instead of spending their entire $22.5 or $23 million, they saved some of that money by being conservative. So that provides an input for the 2013 budget.”

“So the way we’ve managed to do it is by managing our spending so that we don’t spend more than we absolutely have to in order to generate the services that have been promised by the government,” he added.

Earls emphasized that there would be no layoffs or parks closures, adding “there should be no substantial difference in service levels in any of the 47 parks.” He also said there would no increases in services.

Dooley proposed appropriating roughly $376 million to the county’s “general funds,” which incorporate the county’s primary operating fund, road and bridge fund, health fund and parks maintenance fund. That’s a roughly 2.1 percent increase from 2012’s adjusted budget, which was about $368 million.

Some other items in the budget singled out by Dooley include:

  • $8 million to fund “higher actuarially required contributions to the retirement plans,” as well as $2 million to fund employee health insurance costs.
  • About $650,000 to demolish vacant homes and commercial buildings in unincorporated St. Louis County. Dooley noted this expenditure was evidence that St. Louis County was an “urban county,” adding that sometimes “just taking down a bad house on a block can really raise that block up quite a bit.”
  • Roughly $1.5 million to allow the St. Louis County Police Department a chance to replace vehicles and computer equipment.
  • About $360,800 to “develop a supplier diversity program to encourage the participation of minority, women and disadvantaged companies to bid on County business.”

“It’s a very conservative budget, it’s a tight budget,” Dooley said. “But it’s a very workable budget. I think overall, I’m extremely proud of this budget. “
The St. Louis County Council is expected to hold a public hearing on Dooley’s budget later this month. Council members can only accept or reject the budget, although they can push for Dooley to make changes.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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