Citing ‘difficult time,’ Dooley proposes pay freeze for county employees

County executive projecting a 4-percent drop in revenue

By BURKE WASSON

Citing a “difficult time for everybody” in the region’s economy, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley last week proposed a salary freeze in 2009 for all county employees.

County officials said this move will cut an estimated $3 million from the county’s originally budgeted $452.3 million in 2009 operating-fund expenses. That $452.3 million budgeted expense for 2009 was $15.1 million more than the county’s 2008 adjusted budget expenses.

The 2009 county budget’s executive summary shows that $420 million to $440 million is expected in operating-fund revenue. This represents a slight revenue decrease of 2.1 percent less than 2008.

For all funds, the originally proposed 2009 budget included $518.2 million in expenses, an increase of $11.6 million over the 2008 adjusted budget. But while that original budget forecast a 2-percent drop in revenue, Dooley last week told the County Council that he now expects revenue to drop by as much as 4 percent in 2009.

With the county’s operating funds currently projecting more expenses than revenue in 2009, Dooley said he was forced to make a “difficult” decision and recommend that no raises be given to any county employee, including the administration, in 2009.

“I’m going to make a recommendation that there be no 3-percent increase or merit increase for all employees for this year going into 2009,” Dooley said. “It is very difficult for me. We on Oct. 1 had offered this (original 2009 budget) proposal.

“Within the last six weeks, things have gotten really bad. It’s just very difficult. And next year, we believe, will not be a good year for us as well. We are trying our best to keep the services at the present levels without laying anyone off. So it will be my recommendation that we forego the 3-percent increase for all county employees. This is unfortunate, but I think it’s something that we have to do to be fiscally responsible for the county’s budget.”

Dooley added that he would ask county officials to study the county’s finances midway through 2009 to determine if raises would then be possible.

“It is unfortunate,” Dooley said. “But I think it’s something that’s very much necessary as we look forward to planning for 2009. And I will suggest that we do make a review in 2009 … at six months … We’ll see if we continue on at that process.”

“You said the revenues are down 4 percent,” said 3rd District County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country. “Is that for sales? Are sales going down?”

“It’s across the board on a lot of things,” Dooley said. “Everything is down. Next year, you may or may not know it, but next year, property tax is going to be even less money than we received this year … All our revenues are down across the board. Our costs and expenses are up. And we just don’t see that next year is going to be any better than this year. We hoped that it would be.

“That’s what we submitted Oct. 1 and we gave the budget a careful review and looked at what the budget is.”

Dooley said he realizes that other agencies are having financial troubles and referenced the Metro transit agency, which received $10 million less from the county in 2008 than 2007.

“There might be some issues with Metro,” Dooley said. “They might come back to the county. But there’s some stress on the county’s budget.

“We recognize this is a very difficult time for everybody. It’s not an easy thing to say, but I think our goal for 2009 is to maintain the level of service that we’re now providing for St. Louis County and, if possible, keep individuals that are employed by the county not laid off. That’s our goal. And if we can maintain that goal, we will review this in six months and make sure we have targeted those goals.”

In the Nov. 4 election, county voters rejected two of three tax measures that would have provided money to the county.

While the $120 million bond issue Proposition I received 252,968 “yes” votes and 244,830 “no” votes, the measure failed as it required a four-sevenths approval, or 57.15 percent.

Proposition I would have funded such capital projects as a new family courts building, renovations to the county’s court building, construction of a new animal shelter and expansion of the county’s crime and health labs.

More than 55 percent of county voters also rejected Proposition H, a proposed 1.85-percent use tax on all out-of-state purchases of more than $2,000 for the purposes of “enhancing county and municipal public safety, parks and job creation and enhancing local government services.”

On the flip side, more than 61 percent of county voters approved Proposition 1, which will levy a quarter-cent sales tax “for the purpose of establishing a community children’s services fund for the purpose of providing services to protect the well-being and safety of children and youth 19 years of age or less and to strengthen families.”