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Stenger says 2018 county budget will be balanced, swears off service cuts or tax hikes

With elections looming, tensions continue between the St. Louis County Council and County Executive Stenger.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is pledging that “county government will not increase taxes or cut services,’’ and accuses St. Louis County Council Chairman Sam Page of inaccurately asserting otherwise.

At issue is Stenger’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Jan. 1. Although it is a proposed balanced budget for 2018, Page is pointing to projections in the budget document that indicate the 2019 budget might face a deficit of $18 million.

Page said in an interview that he’s simply raising questions.

At a news conference Tuesday, Stenger said that his administration already has been taking steps to save money without cutting services or raising taxes — and accused Page of “election-year politics’’ to imply otherwise.

“We have, we can and we will live within our means,” Stenger said. He is seeking re-election next year.

Page said politics isn’t the issue. It’s the county’s finances.

Before the beginning of 2017, Stenger and Page — both Democrats — were political allies. But their relationship has deteriorated over a number of issues.

Other budget details

Stenger also promised that the county will commit all of the money from a new half-cent sales tax increase for law enforcement purposes. County voters passed the measure, known as Proposition P, in April. Stenger said he will not allow any cuts in existing county money that also goes to law enforcement.

Stenger noted that he already had proposed changing the county employee pension system for future hires, which he said could save tens of millions of dollars. In the short-term, Stenger said the county can cut some or all of the 400 employees who work on a contract basis.

Stenger circulated a letter he had received Monday from Page that the county executive believed was setting the stage for seeking a property tax increase.

“If Chairman Page attempts to increase taxes or add to the financial burden of county residents, I will shut him down,’’ Stenger said.

Page replied in an interview that his letter was simply raising questions about the $18 million projected deficit in 2019 and “an offer to help work’’ out a solution.

“I’m asking for clarification of what he wrote,’’ Page said.

The council must approve a new 2018 budget by the end of December, or next year's spending will be governed by the 2017 budget.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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