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St. Louis County Council resolution tries, but can’t actually dictate how Prop P money spent

The St. Louis County Council passed a resolution Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, asking municipalities to spend Proposition P solely on policing. The resolution is non-binding.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis County Council passed a resolution Tuesday asking municipalities to spend Proposition P solely on policing. The resolution is non-binding.

In an effort to block municipalities from using a recently passed “public safety” tax increase on things like potholes and snow removal, the St. Louis County Council passed a resolution Tuesday asking for the money be strictly spent on policing.

Problem is, the resolution doesn’t actually do anything.

Councilman Mark Harder said the resolution, which he sponsored, is meant to make clear “when the voters voted on this, they knew that this was supposed to go to law enforcement and to help our police.”

But Harder, R-Ballwin, said the council would have to go back to voters in order to be able to dictate how the 89 municipalities spend their share of the roughly $36 million that’ll start coming in in early October. 

“From a legal standpoint, nothing’s going to happen because the St. Louis County Council doesn’t govern Chesterfield,” Harder said Monday. “They can do what they want with this money even today. What we’re trying to do and what I’m trying to do is this resolution is to remind everyone of the original intent. And 95 percent of the municipalities are going to use this the way they intended.”

While Harder's resolution passed without opposition, several councilmembers, including Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-St. Louis County, and Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, said they almost voted against it because it didn't force cities to spend the money on policing.

Voters could recall local elected officials that spend Prop P money on non-law enforcement related items, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement earlier this month.

But Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul said Stenger and the council should have written more specific language when they sent Prop P to voters in April.

“Ballot language is very, very important. And words have meanings. And when it says ‘public safety,’ that is a broad stroke terminology to cover a lot of different areas,” said Paul, who ran against Harder three years ago when the council seat was open.

Both Paul and Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said their cities plan to use their Prop P funds to raise police salaries. But Knowles agreed with other mayors that the plan wasn’t well thought-out, especially since a town’s share of the Prop P money is determined by population — not crime.

“It is kind of ill-conceived because what we’ve done here is communities like Chesterfield and Wildwood ...They’ve been given this money,” Knowles said. “People would love to say it blanketly ‘Well, give it to police,’ but as it’s been said are you going to give cops $80,000, $90,000 or $100,000 salaries?”

About $46 million from Proposition P is slated to go to the St. Louis County Police Department for officer raises and equipment upgrades. Harder said he's drafting an ordinance specifying how the county can spend that money. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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

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