Cops, Taxes, and Trash in St. Louis County
While the Jackson County Council is doling out taxpayer money to selected assistants, last night the St. Louis County Council held its annual public meeting on the budget. The best news out of the meeting, which was covered here in the Post-Dispatch (link via Combest), is that the council will not approve the tax increase sought by County Executive Dooley. Because the council chose not to roll back tax rates in response to reassessment, this was the least they could do for us. Honestly, though, Chairman O’Mara and the rest of the council deserve credit for killing this tax increase before it got going.
The main reason for the tax increase, cited by this article and prior ones, was to hire 25 more county police officers. Now, I know conventional wisdom would disagree with me, but I don’t think St. Louis County needs any more officers. Let’s be honest, here St. Louis County is a very low-crime area for the most part, and the areas within it that have more crime are generally patrolled by municipal police departments (Wellston, Jennings, and Kinloch, for example), rather than the county. So those new officers would not go where they are most needed. I know there are unincorporated areas of the county that have issues with crime, such as Castlepoint and sections of Lemay, but the county police are able to properly patrol those areas with existing resources.
I certainly agree that the residents of areas in near-north county would be better served by the county police, rather than their own, small departments. The same goes for tiny municipalities throughout the county. (Hello, St. George, I am looking at you as I drive the speed limit through your little village.) But under the present system, if the county were to take over the policing in those towns, the towns would pay the county to do so, and hence there would be no need for a countywide tax increase. I am all for changing the system to give more authority to the county police in these tiny municipalities, but let’s change the system first, and then we can talk about a tax increase.
On the related note of a pay increase for existing county officers, I am in full agreement that the officers in the county’s primary police department deserve a fair pay increase. Their request seems reasonable. But after the substantial increase in tax money from reassessment alone, the county does not need to raise taxes further to give its employees a raise.
Finally, I want to commend a proposal by Councilmember Fraser regarding the trash hauling that was on the agenda for last night’s regular meeting:
Fraser would limit haulers to contracts in two trash districts rather than seven as the administration has proposed. The change would help small trash haulers stay in business, she said.
This is a great idea, and one that addresses the primary concern I have had about this proposal from the beginning. I am still torn on the overall plan, but this proposal, if adopted, makes it much better.