Raises for Justice Center guards and nurses on hold due to Prop P dispute

Raises+for+Justice+Center+guards+and+nurses+on+hold+due+to+Prop+P+dispute

Councilwoman Hazel Erby listens during the public comments portion of the council meeting July 24. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com

Both the County Council and County Executive Stenger say they want to give raises to Justice Center guards and nurses, but the raises are on hold over where the money will come from.

The issue has come up at nearly every council meeting this year, and again last week a Justice Center employee asked the council why she and her co-workers have not yet seen raises in their paychecks that the council approved in May.

Stenger attributed the dispute to “election-year politics” since he is up for re-election in the Democratic primary Aug. 7 against Ladue businessman Mark Mantovani.

The council accuses Stenger of not enforcing their bill to pay the guards and nurses. But he said that bill violates the Charter and accuses council members of intentionally stalling the raises by not taking up his own bills that would grant the raises from an alternate fund instead of Proposition P, the countywide sales tax voters overwhelmingly approved last year.

“I won’t write a check where we break the promise of Prop P to voters, I’m just not going to do it,” Stenger said. “We made a promise to voters that we would spend the funds on police and public safety, and unfortunately they’re asking for funds for employees who don’t fall into those categories.”

The council appropriated $600,000 in raises out of Proposition P, a move that the St. Louis County Police Association called the first Prop P “misappropriation.”

That’s because some of the raises go to nurses who work with inmates in the Justice Center but are technically employees of the county Department of Public Health.

“They were trying to pay non-Prop P employees with Prop P funds, and that violates the Charter and it violates our Prop P ordinance,” Stenger said. “In order for a health-care worker to be paid, the health-care worker has to be paid from the health fund.”

He has refused to enact the council’s bills but has offered two alternate bills with the same raises, one for jail guards using Prop P and one for nurses using the health fund.

Council members have said they don’t believe the health fund has enough money in it to support recurring salary hikes. But Stenger said future money-saving maneuvers make the raises feasible.

“The health fund does not have adequate funding to backfill money that’s owed through Prop P,” said council Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur.

Justice Center employee Erin Gonzalez told the council last week, “Why has there been no action on this since May 29? It just seems like this is a no-brainer.”

“I agree with you, I don’t understand how this council passes a bill and the county executive chooses not to acknowledge it,” said 1st District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City. “If it were me, I’d file a lawsuit. And I’d certainly vote Aug. 7.”

Prop P has infused cash for raises into the Police Department, the Department of Justice Services and the office of county Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, but it has also created a two-tiered system of employees in the county, with public-safety employees able to receive raises while non-public-safety employees don’t.

When Stenger spoke to the Tesson Ferry Democrats June 25, a health employee questioned why nurses weren’t getting much-needed raises while McCulloch’s secretaries did.

“Why not (the jail nurses) when people who have absolutely nothing to do with safety got them?” she asked Stenger.

But Stenger said he had his alternate bill for the nurses ready to go, waiting action from the council. The raises would take effect immediately if the council passed it.

A man in the crowd said, “Here you are wanting to help the nurses, and they’re not passing the bill because it’s your idea?”

“There is a real sentiment to that, I think you’re right,” Stenger said. “It’s there, and that money is available. And it could be passed tomorrow and it could become law, and the nurses would have their raise.”

But council members are insisting that the money come from Prop P.

“I want to be sure that the money for these raises is and will continue to come from the Prop P sales tax,” said 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville.