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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Council gives final OK to slimmed-down budget

Members of the St. Louis County Council gather for their last meeting of 2018 on Dec. 18, 2018.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the St. Louis County Council gather for their last meeting of 2018 on Dec. 18, 2018.

St. Louis County Council members ended their 2018 session by approving a budget that’s roughly $35 million less than what St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger recommended.

And while Stenger panned the council’s decision-making, he has little recourse.

Council Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, has said the $35 million in cuts are necessary to prevent the county reserves from getting too low in subsequent budget years.

“We’ve essentially asked them to live within the 2018 budget and spend the same as they did in 2018,” Page said.

A spokesman for Stenger said there is nothing within the county charter that allows the county executive to veto the budget. Therefore, it will go into effect for 2019.

Among other things, the council decided Tuesday to not fund 50 positions for the St. Louis County Police Department, contending it was unlikely that those vacancies would be filled in 2019.

And the council ended up giving itself about $500,000 more than what Stenger wanted. That brings the council’s budget roughly to where it was in 2018. It also decided to allocate money to the Economic Development Partnership on a quarterly basis — as opposed to all at once.

In a statement, Stenger said the council’s budget cuts “were unnecessary.” He added “most troubling to the public and to me are the cuts to our police.”

“As we heard tonight from police, the council’s actions jeopardize the lives of our officers and our citizens,” Stenger said.

Stenger was alluding to testimony in the public comment section that the cuts would make it more difficult to have two officers in a police car.

“The 50 positions that you want to cut are almost exactly equal to the last piece of the puzzle to have a permanent two-officer car program,” said Matt Crecelius, the business manager for the St. Louis County Police Association. “We have numerous officers’ pictures that hang on our memorial walls that would be alive today if they were in a two-officer car.”

After emphasizing during the meeting that the council strongly supported two-person police cars, Page told reporters that the council would give the police department more money next year if they need to hire more officers.

“If June gets here, and we have opportunities to hire more police officers, we certainly will,” Page said. “What the council doesn’t want to do is put money in the police budget for officers and positions that can’t be filled.”

The council won’t meet again until January when two new members — Democrat Lisa Clancy and Republican Tim Fitch — will be sworn into office.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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