Parks to stay open with compromise on budget between Dooley, council

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

All St. Louis County parks will remain open under a compromise reached between County Executive Charlie Dooley and the County Council on the 2012 budget.

Dooley announced the compromise on the budget at last week’s County Council meeting during his county executive’s report. All of the county’s parks will remain open “at a reduced rate,” he said.

Dooley also said the West County Satellite Office, which had been set to close Dec. 16, will remain open.

In addition, a proposal to not plow streets in unincorporated areas of snow when accumulations are 2 inches or less has been rescinded, the county executive said.

“… I’ve been talking to council members and I believe that we have a compromise that we all can agree on,” Dooley said. “And the things that we compromised on is that we’re going to leave all our park systems open — at a reduced rate, but it will be left open.

“We will keep the West County Satellite Office open as well and we will keep the plowing in unincorporated St. Louis County. But there still will be layoffs, unfortunately, and that’s the sad part about this. That’s something we can’t get away from. That’s still going to be a situation we have to address in the coming months on the layoffs …” he added.

Dooley’s recommended 2012 budget had 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.

South county parks that had been targeted for closing were Bohrer Park, Black Forest and Ohlendorf. In addition, the Kennedy Recreation Complex pool would have been closed under Dooley’s original budget.

Regarding the compromise budget, Dooley said, “… I think the council and myself are all on the same page and we’ve given ourselves 12 months to work through this process for a long-term fix … I’m just thankful that we can get together and work together as a team.

“Again, my remorse is that still leaves some people that are going to be impacted by this decision and that’s the worst part of it,” he continued. “The part that concerns me is these individuals come to work every single day, do what’s asked of them and yet at the same time, you have to make a cut and those individuals will be impacted. We don’t know who those individuals are right now …”

County Council Vice Chairman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, served as chairman of a Special Budget Committee appointed by County Council Chairman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, to review Dooley’s recommended budget.

The committee met twice last month. A third meeting set for Dec. 6 was canceled.

O’Mara said at the council meeting that roughly 40 jobs would be eliminated under the compromise budget — far less than the 175 positions originally proposed.

“… They’re still trying to find some spaces for those 40 individuals. So we have knocked those numbers down greatly and I appreciate your efforts, county executive, in working with us and getting through the 2012 year …,” said O’Mara, who represents the 4th District.

Stenger said, “Charlie, as chair, thank you for all your effort and I know it’s been quite a debate that we’ve all had up here.

“Thank you for working with us. We really do appreciate it. It’s true … We’re all on the same page on this.”

Dooley said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Seventh District County Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, said, “I guess I’d say the same thing. I know these are difficult questions for everybody and I’d like to thank everybody involved — County Executive Dooley and the council members. Everybody discussed this and came to I think a very amicable conclusion with it … I appreciate all the help.”

Third District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, said, “But most importantly I know I look forward to addressing these difficult questions together and reasonable minds can differ about where we are going to make cuts … but I know the spirit of the debate will be a good one. But hopefully we’ll be the better for it and the county can still benefit from receiving the good services that we do now.”

She also thanked Dooley for amending his 2012 budget.

“I really appreciate it and I know most certainly the residents do, too,” Wasinger said.

Second District Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, said, “… I’m glad to see this happen. I’m sorry that there’s going to be layoffs. That’s not something that any of us like to do or have to experience. But as I’ve said before I’ve been on the council — this will be going into my 10th year and I’ve watched this budget process go from here down and we really, really need to come up with some solutions because we can’t do this again next year. It’s just not going to be a doable thing without some real hard cuts being made.

“So I agree with Councilman Wasinger. We need to look long and hard at what we can do to make this better. And it may involve the citizenry helping us out on this and they may have to look at some hard facts, too,” she added.

Fifth District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, said, “… Thank you, county executive, I know it’s not an easy position you’re in by any means. Councilman O’Mara, your budget committee did a great job, and most importantly the department heads for doing what they can to try to make this budget the best they could. I know it’s never easy and I know I’m in the construction industry and there’s a lot of people out of work. Some people have been out for a couple years with no jobs.

“It’s not an easy time, but it’s the reality of the situation and I think the council and the county executive did everything we could to eliminate or minimize the damage if that’s any consequence. I know it’s not to anybody who’s going to lose a job, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. I mean everybody’s done their part in trying to help out and I do want to thank the department heads obviously, but the citizens, too, because there’s been a lot of input that I think is going to help us in making some decisions and it all goes together. So it was great to see the passion and loyalty everybody has to St. Louis County and I hope that continues …,” he added.

First District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, was absent from the Dec. 6 meeting.

Stenger told the Call he was pleased with the outcome because St. Louis County citizens are the winners.

“The winner out of all this is St. Louis County, the people of St. Louis County win,” he said. “Charlie Dooley did not close the parks and we’re going to have our snow removal in our district and for those two things, I’m very happy. I’m very happy with the way it turned out.”