St. Louis County takes first vote on approving $35 million in budget cuts

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CLAYTON, MO - Public services including the St. Louis County Police Department could be impacted by yet another round of major budget cuts for the county. Tuesday at its council meeting, members voted on the first round of bills that are part of the proposed $35 million in budget cuts.

It was the second straight year that the council has scrutinized County Executive, Steve Stenger’s spending plan. A year ago, the council slashed Stenger's proposed budget by $31 million.

Among some of the other public services that could be impacted are county parks, and the health department.

“If we approve the county executive’s budget then we are headed for a train wreck,” said council chairman, Sam Page, “we would be running out of reserves by the end of 2019 and perhaps we could roll over into 2020 and that would force steep cuts, force layoffs and it would be an uncontrolled trajectory of county government.”

The council argues that Stenger’s appropriation request is an ongoing structural deficit, adding that the county executive, who was not present at Tuesday’s council meeting, has not offered any plans to fix the budget problem.

His office counter-argued that the millions of dollars in proposed cuts are being applied across the board but don’t apply to the council.

“Health and human services, parks, transportation,” said Cordell Whitlock, director of communications for Stenger’s office. “When you look at the spreadsheet, it’s across the board and if you want to cut folks and you say you need to do this to balance the budget then that’s fine, but why is it that you’re the only department that’s getting their budget increased by 22 percent? What message does that send?”

The council proposed $4.8 million to be cut from the police department.

“I’m anxious to find out what $4.8 million means,” said police chief, Jon Belmar, “and it was mentioned 50 officers, well I had not heard that from anybody on the council since the 19th when I testified. It’s critical for the safety of our officers, the special response unit, the two-man cars, those are vital to make sure that we do what we need to do in St. Louis County and our voters supported us.”

The council is expected to take a final vote on the proposed budget cuts next week. Then it heads to Stenger who will either approve or veto the decision.

“I don’t anticipate any cuts in services beyond what was offered in 2018 because we are asking them to live within the same budget,” said Page.

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