Budget Debate Heats Up Between County Executive, Council Chair
The 2012 budget must be passed before Dec. 31.
Tensions rose Tuesday at the St. Louis County Council’s second special budget committee meeting as County Executive Charlie Dooley stood by his 2012 proposed budget, which includes the closure of 23 St. Louis County parks.
The budget, which has been largely criticized by County Council Chairman Steve Stenger, also included laying off 173 employees in both the parks and code enforcement division.
“Being the chairman of the county council does not give you the knowledge of the county budget in one year,” Dooley said. “You can’t know what you need to know.”
Dooley said he hasn’t received anything from Stenger as the chairman. Stenger asked Dooley to elaborate on what he hasn’t provided to Dooley.
“I haven’t received a plan from the chair about anything,” Dooley said.
Stenger interrupted: “It’s not my responsibility... it’s your responsibility to provide a budget, and you provided us a budget that had half of the parks in St. Louis County closed.”
Dooley said the only message he's heard from the council is don’t close the parks, don't lay off employees and don't raise taxes.
“In my mind, that cannot be done,” he said.
“These are the most trying times in this country’s history in my lifetime,” he said. "This will be the fourth year this council has indicated no increase in salaries. That is a red flag to anybody that there are problems with the budget as you move forward, a clear indication that there needs to be some restructuring or downsizing.”
District 2 Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett agreed with Dooley.
“I hate the thought of doing away with any parks, doing away with any service that the county has been providing, I hate to see that happen, but I’m also a realist,” she said.
Burkett also said that Stenger promised to show her where the money in the budget was to keep the parks open.
“I didn’t realize that his thought was, that he would… rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “That doesn’t satisfy me, that doesn’t satisfy me at all.”
Burkett was referring to the suggestion to move one or two pennies from the health fund tax levy to the parks fund to keep the parks open. The suggestion was originally made by District 3 Rep. Colleen Wasinger at the first budget committee meeting.
Stenger said he never suggested moving over funds, but said he was focusing on the unfilled, funded positions the county had.
"We have 323 funded, unfilled positions. That’s $21 million dollars right there,” he said, adding another $10 to $12 million could have been saved by not filling 241 full-time positions last year.
"So I’ve just racked up $33 million dollars for you," he said. "To say I haven’t shown you the money…”
“You just did, thank you,” Burkett said.
The committee will meet again Tuesday before the County Council meeting.
“Our idea is to gather all the information that we can and if we have some suggestions that might help the budget, that’s the route we’re going to take,” said District 4 Councilman Mike O’Mara, who chairs the budget committee.