Committee’s recommendations close ‘alleged’ gap in budget, Stenger says

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Recommendations formulated by a committee appointed to review County Executive Charlie Dooley’s recommended 2012 county budget have “closed the alleged budget gap,” according to County Council Chairman Steve Stenger.

Four recommendations made by the Special Budget Committee would provide an additional $10 million for the proposed 2012 county budget, the panel stated in a Dec. 6 report submitted to Dooley.

Those recommendations are:

• Sales and casino taxes — “We recommend increasing sales-tax revenue to $750,000 or $1 million for 2011 and 2012 in light of our recent sales-tax projections. This number is both conservative and realistic,” the report states, noting the potential additional revenue to the budget would total $2 million.

• Salaries and wages — “The largest single expense for St. Louis County is the salaries and wages for employees. The proposal to cut employees is a very difficult one. Your recommended 2012 budget eliminates 173 positions, of which 49 are positions that are currently held by employees. It is our understanding that would leave 230 full-time vacant positions and 94 part-time positions.

“We recommend eliminating an additional 60 funded, but not filled positions — excluding police or other essential positions — and redistributing those job functions to current employees. This action would still allow you the flexibility to manage county operations with the remaining 264 open positions, although we recommend proceeding with any new hires if only absolutely necessary,” the report states, noting the potential savings totals $4 million.

• Proposed capital expenditures for 2012 — “Your recommended 2012 budget calls for capital expenditures of $8,551,095. We recommend delaying $4 million of those proposed expenditures, including $257,000 for the Department of Public Works to spend on tablet devices, $225,000 for a new voicemail system for county operations, decreasing expenditures of computer equipment and delaying other nonemergency capital expenditures,” the report states, noting the potential savings totals $4 million.

• Unspent, but appropriated 2011 funds — “Recently, the St. Louis County Economic Council requested $750,000 for an Asian trade desk, an interactive website and to make a bond payment. The amount that the council ultimately approved was only $250,000. The difference amounted to $500,000 and that amount should be available to include in the 2012 budget.”

“Historically, each county department strives to be under budget for its fiscal year. What amount do you expect each of your departments to return at the end of the year? We recommended that you include these amounts in each fund’s budget for 2012,” the report states.

“The foregoing recommendations would provide at least $10 million to the 2012 budget proposal,” the report continues. “In addition, a zero growth in property tax has been projected since this is a nonreassessment year. However, what effect will new construction have on the total assessed value and tax receipts? Are there any new anticipated property taxes that will arise from new construction?”

Stenger, a Democrat from Affton who represents the 6th District, appointed the Special Budget Committee early last month in response to Dooley’s original recommended county budget for 2012 that called for the closing of 23 county parks, eliminating 175 jobs and not plowing streets in unincorporated areas of snow when accumulations are 2 inches or less, among other things.

The committee was chaired by County Council Vice Chairman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant. Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, was vice chair of the committee, which also included Stenger and Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country.

Dooley announced last week he had reached a compromise with the County Council on the 2012 budget that will keep all of the county’s parks open. In addition, the proposal to not plow streets in unincorporated areas of snow when accumulations are 2 inches or less has been rescinded.

Asked about what led to the compromise budget, Stenger told the Call, “… I know the county executive was having conversations with the council members and I think it became extraordinarily clear that there was not going to be passage of a budget that included the closure of the parks. I think because that became a firm reality and because time was running out if a budget was going to be passed, he changed his mind about the parks.”

In his announcement, Dooley said some layoffs — roughly 40 — still will be required, but Stenger remains skeptical of the need for layoffs.

Regarding the layoffs, Stenger told the Call, “I don’t doubt that there is a risk of layoffs, but I am confident by knowing where we stand — if you look at our cost-cutting recommendations that we made. With those alone and there are more — we made the ones that would be the most palatable and the easiest to implement.

“With those, we closed the alleged budget gap,” he said, noting the biggest cost-cutting recommendation was reducing “fixed expenditures.”

Dooley’s recommended budget included more than $8.5 million in proposed capital expenditures for 2012.

“… One of the items was $90,000 worth of gym equipment for the parks that, of course, were going to be closed,” he said.