St. Louis County officials begin campaign for policing-related tax increase measure
St. Louis County voters are being tasked with another request for public funding, this time a half-cent sales tax increase for policing efforts in the April election.
Officials say they’re certain that the measure, which is estimated to bring in $80 million a year, is vital for public safety both in the county and in municipalities. But some communities aren’t sure they’ll benefit much.
As detailed Wednesday by County Executive Steve Stenger and Police Chief Jon Belmar, Proposition P would send about $46 million dollars annually to the county itself. The two said that money would go toward hiring more police officers, providing each officer a body camera and putting a dashboard camera in every police vehicle. County officers currently do not have either type of camera, the department said.
The money also would go to boosting officers’ salaries, which Stenger and Belmar said will help with officer retention. The average salary of a county patrolman is $51,334.
“Most importantly, Proposition P is not only an investment. Proposition P will save lives,” Belmar said.
The tax increase would provide municipalities with a total $34 million a year to be divvied up based on population. On the high end, Florissant would receive about $2.6 million a year compared to about $6,000 for Mackenzie.
That distribution raises questions for some communities, according to Pat Kelly, the executive director of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis.
Chesterfield would receive about $2.4 million, while Mackenzie would only get about $6,000 a year.
“I think there are some concerns from some of the other municipalities. Some don’t believe that the money is being directed to where it’s being needed the most,” Kelly said. “For instance, Chesterfield obviously would have a windfall of over $2 million, but the reality of it is does Chesterfield really need that money?”
But even Chesterfield’s mayor is skeptical. Bob Nation told St. Louis Public Radio that though his municipality is "extremely supportive of law enforcement," he believes the tax increase is "unjustifiable."
"In general, I just think more taxes and bigger government is not a healthy thing for our region," Nation siad. "Government and municipalities ... can always find a use for additional revenue, but whether it's really warranted and whether it's wise in the long run ... I think probably not."
Proposition P also doesn't hold favor with the St. Louis County Republican Central Committee. The committee voted unanimously Wednesday to oppose the measure. County GOP chairman Bruce Buwalda said there is a concern that the tax increase money will be used to replace what's already being spent on policing instead of bolstering law enforcement spending.
Republican leaders also are disturbed that the total sales tax in some municipalities could end up being 10 cents or more on the dollar, Buwalda said.
Stenger addressed such concerns at Wednesday’s news conference, saying that Proposition P is a collaborative effort among county leaders and law enforcement.
“ … (I)t always isn’t going to work out perfectly, but we have to realize that as a community, if we want to improve law enforcement, if we want to improve public safety throughout our community, we’re going to need this sales tax,” he said.
The Municipal League hasn’t taken a position on the measure yet, though Kelly noted the costs involved.
“The reality of it is that police departments are expensive,” he said. “Municipal services are expensive, and so, if we want to have the best and the most well-trained and the best equipment for our public safety employees, then it has to be funded somehow.”
Jo Mannies contributed to this report. Follow Erica on Twitter: @ehunzinger