Museum to remain open, two council members say

By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

The Jefferson Barracks Historical Museum has survived St. Louis County’s fiscal 2005 chopping block, County Council Chair-man Skip Mange and Councilman John Campisi told the Call.

Legislation hit the County Council agenda last week to adopt County Executive Charlie Dooley’s fiscal 2005 budget proposal. Dooley’s other contentious cut, the family mental health program, still lacks funding, but the museum may be spared.

“We have a commitment from the administration that the JB Museum will be kept open,” said Mange, R-Town and Country. “Parks department officials have decided they can move people around (within the department) to keep that open without needing additional funding. Now, they’re going to need volunteers to do that also.”

Regarding the staffing shifts and volunteers needed to keep the museum open, Campisi, R-south county, said the council planned to meet with parks department officials Tuesday — after the Call went to press — to discuss the details, including potential changes in operating hours.

The museum’s four buildings currently are open from noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednes-days through Sundays.

A $1 million solution for the mental health program remains elusive, however.

Councilmen have been meeting with De-partment of Health officials to search for a cure to cutting the program, which treats 500 “cases,” or more than 1,000 patients, many of whom are low income.

Discussions are ongoing, Mange said, but the legislation introduced last week would gut mental health. He hopes to introduce substitute legislation to include funding for the program.

“There is a potential for substitute bills on that one,” said Mange, who has said he would not support any budget without mental health. “We’re talking with the health department. We’re talking with the administration to see what we can do.”

Meanwhile, 18 budget bills now are inching through the approval system. Mange introduced them last week and they could be adopted as early as next Tuesday.

Dooley’s fiscal 2005 budget proposal seeks to slash spending by more than $8 million to $439.3 million. Every county department faces cuts — most more than 5 percent — except the Police Department, which would see a 4.5 percent increase to $70.87 million. Nearly 95 county employees are facing layoffs and the Missouri De-partment of Economic Development has been working with them to find new jobs.

Included in the budget legislation introduced last week is $191.53 million in the general fund budget, which includes the police budget. Public works, human services, justice services, judicial administration and elected officials’ budgets also are included in the general fund.

Other budget items include $26.52 million for parks, $56 million for the Special Road and Bridge Fund, $46.79 million for health, $14.6 million for debt service, $16.29 million for the Spirit of St. Louis Airport and $8.9 million for capital construction, among several other smaller budget items.

Most of the other proposed cuts have received little opposition from councilmen or the public. The mental health cut and the possible closing of the Jefferson Barracks Museum have been the center of most discussions.

At the council’s only public hearing on the budget last month, scores of Jefferson Barracks Museum supporters spoke and a few mental health supporters also urged the council to reconsider Dooley’s proposal. They were the only two budget issues brought up.

Councilmen also have had problems with the proposed fiscal 2005 budgets of the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Health, which would quit offering mental health.

The health department would absorb the largest hit on jobs, losing 68 employees, 17 of whom worked for mental health.

The mental health cut particularly irked Campisi and Mange after they learned the program’s 17 employees left work 30 days early but received the same pay and benefits while patients were without care, waiting to be shuffled into private care agencies.

Mange suggested saving the family mental health program by shuffling the county’s property tax rate of 58 cents per $100 of assessed valuation or scrapping the health department’s solid-waste management branch and letting the state assume responsibility of issuing land-use permits.

The county last year diverted 1 cent of the debt service tax to the health department, generating $1.7 million, more than enough to spare mental health. Currently, Dooley’s proposal restores the debt-service tax-rate to its regular 8.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Also, the parks department would absorb a $1.7 million cut under Dooley’s budget proposal, including a 16.5 percent cut in operating money. The department would have to eliminate 47 positions, including 15 park maintenance personnel, reducing upkeep and recreation activities at the county’s 69 parks.

Mange said the Jefferson Barracks Mu-seum, however, could be spared without adding money to the parks budget.