Council cuts $31 million from 2018 county budget


County Executive Steve Stenger, second from left, listens to Rep. Bob Burns, D-Affton, address the council last year, left to right: 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, 1st District Councilwoman Hazel Erby and 4th District Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

By Gloria Lloyd
Staff Reporter

The County Council finalized a 2018 county budget last week that cuts $31 million from the $696 million budget requested by County Executive Steve Stenger — a move more about governing style than actual budget cuts.
The council passed the series of budget bills 6-1, with 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, dissenting.
The council changes held most county departments, but not the Police Department, to their 2017 budget plus 5 percent.
Stenger had promised the week before to say something about the budget changes after the final vote. But he was uncharacteristically silent instead, leaving the meeting before the votes took place and declining to issue a statement or make himself available to the media after the meeting.
In a statement to the Call the day before the vote, he said the council’s chosen budget would affect “vital services.” The council said they needed to make the move to prevent $6 million in deficit spending in the general fund this year, adding up to $18 million taken out of the reserve in the next two years.
Rather than cuts, most of the money slashed affected rollover funds controlled by department heads from year to year if they come in under budget in a given year.
Stenger’s contention that the cuts would hit county services was echoed by Dolan, who worried that county employees could lose their jobs, or their job security.
Speaking to department heads, he said, “I think you’re fiscally responsible with what you do with your departments and you understand we’re wanting to tighten our belt, and you presented a budget trying to do that.”
But if county officials aren’t able to get immediate funding for county needs, “then the citizens suffer because of that simply by the fact that they have to wait another month or so … and sometimes that’s costly and it’s burdensome for the residents, not to mention for the employees, the uncertainty that they’re going to have a job all year,” Dolan said.
However, 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, noted that county agencies would get all the money they had this year, so no one should lose their job.
“The idea that any county employee’s job is in jeopardy is misleading at best,” he said.