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St. Louis city's budget gets initial approval

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

A $966 million budget for the city of St. Louis has made it through the first of many hurdles at City Hall.

Mayor Francis Slay, comptroller Darlene Green, and Board of Aldermen president Lewis Reed - who make up the Board of Estimate and Apportionment - all approved the budget on Friday. That sends it to the Board of Aldermen, who can shift money around but cannot add to the overall level of spending.

Overall, the budget represents a $30 million increase in spending over last year. But Slay says the rising costs of pensions, especially in the police and fire departments, is leading to cuts.

"The police force is going to be reduced by attrition," Slay said. "Even though the fire department is getting millions of dollars more, they're looking  at closing some firehouses. There's investment in recreation capital. Building demolition is something that's being reduced. We're taking money out of after school programs for kids."

Slay is pushing the Board of Aldermen to approve a reform proposal that would change benefits for all firefighters - retired, current and future. The first part - opting out of the current system - narrowly passed last week. But firefighters oppose the effort, and have promised to sue.

Slay says he's also having conversations with the Board of Police Commissioners, the Police Retirement System of St. Louis, and the St. Louis Police Officers Association about reform to the police pension system.

Some of the only increases in the budget will go toward raises for civil service employees, which Slay calls perfectly justified.

"The employees in every department, save for police and fire, have taken furloughs for a couple of years," he said. "They really have stuck it out. These other departments, police and fire in particular, have been sucking up a lot of the money, mostly through their pension system. We all felt, and I think my colleagues will agree here at City Hall, it's time we show them that we appreciate their hard work."

A budget must be approved by June 30.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.