South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Proposed sales tax would be used for ‘police and public safety’

Council votes unanimously to put tax hike before voters
Steve Stenger
Steve Stenger

Every city in the county, along with the county itself, would receive new funds for “police and public safety” if voters approve a countywide sales tax in April.

The County Council voted unanimously last week to ap-prove legislation placing the half-cent sales tax proposed by County Executive Steve Stenger on the April 4 ballot.

Under the county ordinance, the county would take three-eighths of the estimated annual $80 million raised by the tax, and all cities in the county and the unincorporated areas would split the rest. In a letter to the council, Stenger estimated the county would receive $46 million a year from the tax and the cities would receive $34 million, divided by population.

Most of the money would go to the St. Louis County Police Department to add two-officer cars, increase salaries and training and fund dash cams and body cameras.

“I wouldn’t ask for this if I didn’t feel like it was necessary,” county police Chief Jon Belmar told the Call. “It’s not one of those things, ‘Well, it would be nice to have.’ I feel like it’s necessary, and I’ve felt that way for certainly my tenure as the chief.”

But the proposed ballot language appears to allow cities to spend their new line of money on broader areas, including fire de-partments. The county will not tell cities what to spend the money on, as long as it is for public safety, Belmar said.

Locally, Crestwood and Sunset Hills have their own police departments, while Green Park and Grantwood Village contract with the county for police services. Crestwood also has a fire department, while the other cities are part of fire districts.

Crestwood would benefit from the tax, Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby told the Call, and he supports it.

“If you think about it, the amount of money that they’re talking about having for the municipalities is large enough that it should mean several hundred thousand dollars for each municipality, minimum,” he said.

With that type of money directed to the Crestwood Police Department, if the city’s April 4 ballot measure, a 45-cent tax-rate increase, passes, the city could potentially roll back three to five cents of that tax hike every year, he said.

Although the county will not mandate what the funds can be spent on, the intention and need is for the money to be spent on law enforcement, Belmar said.

“What it actually says is it’s a police public safety sales tax,” the chief said. “So certainly we’re looking at it in that narrow band. I’m not going to be in the business necessarily of telling other police chiefs and other cities of how they need to craft what the money that comes into their city is for, but again, I feel like the need (is) for law enforcement. I see that every day with my partner chiefs out there. So I think what the public needs to understand out of this is that silo of public safety/police is really going to define how the money’s going to be spent.”

Sunset Hills Mayor Pat Fribis said she has to know more about the tax before she can throw her support behind it.

“I don’t really have an opinion at this point because of the unknowns,” she said, noting that she met with Sunset Hills police Chief William LaGrand to review some aspects of what city officials know so far about the tax.

“We were going to do more research on it before I make an opinion,” she said.

Questions such as how the money can be spent and how it will be divvied up are some of the reasons that 5th District County Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, plans to meet in January with Stenger and the mayors of cities in the 5th District, which includes Crestwood and Grantwood Village.

Roby expects that many of the questions around the city side of the tax will be cleared up at that meeting.

All the city police chiefs Belmar has talked to are behind the tax, and their support will be key to getting voters on board.

“I think it’s safe to say that this has broad support among the municipalities — certainly the chiefs that I’ve talked to are in support of it,” Belmar said.

The unanimous green light from the council for the tax is also a “big deal” for the ultimate success of the sales tax, he said.

The council’s two Republicans, 3rd Dis-trict Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, op-posed the Proposition S senior property tax that voters defeated Nov. 8.

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