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Government, Politics & Issues

Latest Effort To Eliminate Workhouse Funding Fails, City Budget Advances

The city plans to cut funding for the Workhouse from $16 million to $8.8 million due to declining inmate counts.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The city plans to cut funding for the Workhouse from $16 million to $8.8 million due to declining inmate counts.

Updated at 1 p.m., June 18, with committee budget vote

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen committee responsible for overseeing the city’s finances voted Thursday to approve next year’s spending plan.

The city’s Ways and Means Committee approved the $1.1 billion city budget by a margin of 10 to 1.

The sole dissenting voice, Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, tried unsuccessfully to introduce an amendment that would have eliminated funding for the north city jail known as the Workhouse.

But committee Chair Joe Vollmer, D-10th Ward, dismissed Spencer’s call for an amendment, calling the budget a “time-sensitive document” that “has to be on the mayor’s desk.”

“The only motion I’m entertaining today is a motion to approve,” Vollmer said, just prior to the vote.

The city had already planned to cut the jail’s budget next year from $16 million to $8.8 million due to declining inmate counts. The Board of Apportionment voted Wednesday to further reduce its funding by $860,000 and direct the money to a program that pairs police officers and social workers.

Activists have campaigned for years to close the jail, formally known as the Workhouse, arguing its conditions are inhumane. 

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson told St. Louis on the Air in January that she was committed to eventually closing the jail and had spoken to her cabinet about potential ways to repurpose it.

Original story from June 17:

Police in St. Louis will soon be equipped with body and dashboard cameras.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed voted Wednesday to approve a five-year, $5.7 million contract with Georgia-based Utility Associates. The contract includes the equipment, technological support and updates to officer uniforms to accommodate the cameras.

“It is a large expense, but it is something I feel like, and I think you all agree, is a very necessary expense,” Krewson said.

Reed, who has been lobbying for body cameras since 2014, was elated to finally take a vote.  

Credit File photo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis police will begin rolling out body and dashboard cameras in July. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment on Wednesday signed a five-year, $5.7 million contract for 800 body cameras and 200 dashboard cameras.

“We need to find ways to heal the divide that exists between law enforcement and the community,” he said. “Body cameras have been one of those things that have at least helped a little across the country.”

The rollout of the 800 body cameras and 200 vehicle cameras will start in July.

Budget update

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a larger-than-expected gap in next year’s spending plan, which must be approved by July 1.

The best-case scenario for the fiscal 2021 budget was closing a $50 million deficit. That gap has now widened to $67 million, because tax collections are projected to take longer to get back to normal. 

So far, the proposal to bridge the difference between revenues and expenditures does not involve laying off or furloughing city employees. But budget director Paul Payne told Krewson, Reed and Green, who collectively make up the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, that such moves could be needed mid-year.

“The continued economic uncertainty is out there,” Payne said Wednesday. "And we will be needing to continue to monitor this budget and provide contingency planning.”

Also on Wednesday, the E&A board approved budget amendments to transfer:

  • $860,000 from the budget for the Medium Security Institution, the jail also known the Workhouse, in north St. Louis to fund another year of a program called Cops and Clinicians, which pairs police with social workers. 
  • $2.6 million from the police overtime budget to neighborhood revitalization and workforce development programs. Unspent dollars in those areas had previously been directed to cover the costs of debt payments on the convention center.

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