St. Louis County officials proposing lay-offs in new budget

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KMOV.com

Posted on October 31, 2011 at 5:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 11:10 AM

(KMOV) -- St. Louis County officials on Monday will present a budget to the County Council that will call for cuts throughout county operations.

Mac Scott, spokesman for County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, said Friday that "all options will be on the table," including possible layoffs and closing of facilities.

Read Charlie Dooley's letter to the council

Indications are that the County Council will not receive the budget happily, and that it will probably exacerbate the rift between the Democratic administration and the council, which has a Democratic majority.

In August, Dooley proposed a 2.8-cent property tax hike to avoid layoffs and end a county pay freeze. But most of the council rejected the idea, saying the administration was misreading the revenue numbers. Dooley backed down a week later.
Scott said Friday: "Because our request for a tax roll-up got blown up, the alternative is cuts."

"We have revenue projections and expenditure projections that are pulling in the wrong direction. Everything is being scrutinized. We don't have a choice. We have to have a balanced budget."

County Council chairman Steve Stenger, who in August led the opposition to the property tax hike, said Friday the administration was "continuing to play games" with the budget with the intent of putting the blame for possible cuts on the council.

"County administrators are talking about either laying people off or giving them a raise?" said Stenger, a Democrat. "I don't find those choices to be logically congruent."

In recent weeks, county Parks Department supervisors have warned their employees to prepare for the worst, said a county employee who declined to be identified.

In meetings, supervisors have asserted that the county faces a $4 million deficit, the employee said. Among the options that have been discussed for dealing with it have been the closing of some parks facilities, including the Greensfelder Recreation Complex at Queeny Park and the North County Recreation Complex at Veterans Memorial Park, the employee said.

However, the employee said that closing those complexes may not be as painful as many might imagine.
"Using Greensfelder as an example, to be bluntly honest with you, if you closed it tomorrow, few people would miss it," the employee said. "Since it opened (in 1974), a lot of municipalities have gotten their own recreation centers and so people don't use Greensfelder all that much. Once you take away the few hours a week that it's used for hockey, there's just not a lot of traffic in there."

The parks department currently employs eight full-time staff members at Greensfelder and 37 part-time and seasonal workers, including summer camp counselors. At the North County complex, there are eight full-time staffers and 33 part-timers.

Parks department director Lindsey Swanick declined to comment on the budget until it was presented to the County Council.

Scott said the budget "was pretty well completed" but declined to discuss its details.

"We still have time to tweak it if we can figure out a way to make it better than it already is," Scott said.

He denied that political maneuvering played any role in the budget's formulation.

"Why would you cut jobs and services and reduce county services for political purposes?" he said.
But Stenger said new threats of layoffs or other cuts reflected a lingering resentment among Dooley and his staff over the tax increase issue.
"Sounds to me like this is sour grapes," Stenger said. "Because we didn't go along with a tax increase, the Dooley administration is trying to make it look like there are problems with the budget. They're doing this to save face."

He referred to county budget documents that showed the county was on pace to produce just $1.6 million less revenue than last year.
In seeking the tax increase in August, Dooley said the 2.8-cent property tax increase would generate about $8.6 million over the next two years. Dooley said most of that money would have gone toward giving the county's 3,700 employees their first pay raise in more than three years.

Dooley had first said the county faced a $10 million shortfall compared to last year. Days later, he revised that figure, saying the county faced a $5 million deficit.

Six of the seven County Council members balked at the tax increase.

The council will begin meeting with department heads in December to discuss the budget.

Council member Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, said she expected the council to take an especially active role in scrutinizing the budget.
"The county administration's spending priorities or expense cuts may not be in line with those of the council," she said. "We may offer several viable alternatives that the administration should consider."

For more details on the upcoming changes visit The St. Louis Post-Dispatch website.

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