Council chair once again standing up for taxpayers

\Call the Tune\ by Mike Anthony

\”Call the Tune\” by Mike Anthony

County Council Chairman Steve Stenger once again is standing up for county taxpayers.

As we noted several months ago, rarely have Call reporters seen a member of the County Council break ranks with his or her party.

At that time, we praised Stenger, a south county Democrat who was elected to the council in November 2008, for breaking party ranks by voting against legislation extending the duration of the county’s trash-district contracts. Stenger joined Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, last March in voting against the measure extending the term of new contracts for eight trash districts in unincorporated areas to five years from three years.

Now Stenger is taking the lead in opposing a proposal from County Executive Charlie Dooley to roll up the county’s property tax rate by 2.3 cents. Dooley, a Democrat, asked the council to increase the property-tax rate to 54.6 cents from 52.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The owner of a $140,000 home would pay an additional $6.14 per year with the increase.

Dooley has said the increase would allow the county to provide a 3-percent raise to its roughly 4,000 employees, who haven’t had one in three years.

But Stenger says a tax-rate increase at this time is out of the question.

“A property tax increase in this environment is not going to happen … There are too many people in the county that are seriously hurting,” Stenger told the Call’s Evan Young, noting he gets calls on a regular basis from unemployed constituents who can’t pay their bills.

“… How do we raise taxes on our citizens right now? We can’t.”

Furthermore, Stenger, an attorney and certified public accountant, took issue with recent comments Dooley made to media outlets that the county would face a “crisis” and be forced to lay off employees if the tax rate was not increased. Based on his review of county financial documents, Stenger contends no such crisis exists.

And Stenger is not the only councilman opposed to Dooley’s proposal to roll up the county’s property tax rate.

In fact, Stenger’s not the only Democratic council member opposed to Dooley’s proposal.

“I think we can … come up with another way to give the employees a raise,” said 1st District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City.

Given the opposition to Dooley’s proposal from members of his own party, we believe it’s dead in the water.