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County police officers to see 30 percent raise while city mulls funding options for its officers

St. Louis County officers join Clayton police in Februrary at a protest outside of Sen. Roy Blunt's office in downtown Clayton.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County officers join Clayton police in Februrary at a protest outside of Sen. Roy Blunt's office in downtown Clayton.

Officers with the St. Louis County Police Department will see, on average, a 30 percent pay raise on Jan. 1, 2018,  thanks to revenue from a new sales tax that voters approved in April.

The news, announced Thursday by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, puts even more pressure on officials in the city of St. Louis to find money for their own police pay raises.

Starting next year, a first-year officer in the county will be paid $52,208. The yearly increases will total about 3 percent.

“We are pleased to be able to provide this level of compensation for the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every single day,” Stenger said. “They deserve it and our public deserves it.”

The raises are among the results of a successful Proposition P, which will also be used to hire more officers and add body and dashboard cameras for all county officers. St. Louis County will receive about $46 million a year from the higher sales tax — the remaining $34 million is distributed among the various municipal departments.

“We have made the single most important public safety advancement in the history of the state of Missouri,” St. Louis County Police Association President Joe Patterson said of Proposition P. “These raises mean that officers can once again build a long and rewarding career in the St. Louis County Police Department. At the same time, the St. Louis County Police Department will now retain and recruit the finest officers our region has to offer.”

The new pay scale means a first-year officer in St. Louis County will make about $10,000 more than a first-year officer in the city of St. Louis. That could speed up an exodus of experienced St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers who are looking for better pay.

St. Louis County Police acknowledge that the passage of Proposition P boosted the number of experienced officers applying for jobs in the county, though spokesman Benjamin Granda said the number is “not extraordinary” for the SLMPD compared to others.

Chief Jon Belmar acknowledged that the raises could erode other departments, and that the county would be working to make sure that didn’t happen.

“But we’ve really set an example here,” Belmar said. “This kind of describes that success and winning looks like as we support the police officers out on the street.”

City debates its own raises

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson testifies before the Board of Aldermen's Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. Krewson provided aldermen with information about a half-cent sales tax hike for law enforcement.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson on Thursday testifies before the Board of Aldermen's Ways and Means Committee. Krewson provided aldermen with information about a half-cent sales tax increase for law enforcement.

As Stenger held his conference Thursday, St. Louis aldermen held a committee meeting for two tax increases aimed at bringing in more money for police officers. One asks for a half-cent sales tax increase, similar to Proposition P in St. Louis County, where voters in April approved $80 million for public safety. Another asks city voters to lift the payroll tax exemption on nonprofits and religious institutions. (Groups with fewer than 20 employees would still not have to pay the tax.)

During the meeting of the Ways and Means Committee, Krewson broke down where the proceeds from the tax would be directed. The majority (about $13 million) would go to the police department, while the remaining money would go to the fire department (roughly $5.5 million) and the circuit attorney’s office ($1.2 million).

“We don’t want to train our officers, get them a few years and lose them to other departments to pay,” Krewson said. “And let’s face it: For most of us, our pay does influence where we work somewhat. I think every reporter would say that, most of the public would say that too.”

City sales taxes are slated to go up later this year, bringing the rates in some parts of St. Louis to over 11 percent. Krewson acknowledged that boosting the sales tax up won't be an easy sell.

“Nobody wants to pay more in sales tax, I don’t want to pay more in sales tax. Nobody wants to pay more in property tax. But we do have to have a competitively paid police department. And we have to have these other services if we want to have a safer city. So I understand the objection to that. But it’s one of those things we need to do.”

If voters approve the sales tax, it would also boost the use taxes that businesses pay on out-of-state purchases. Krewson wants the $3.9 million from the use tax to go toward after-school programs and summer jobs, public defenders, recreational programs, and social and mental health workers.

Stenger said he had spoken to Krewson a number of times about the police pay issue.

“We’ve been helpful, and we’ll continue to be helpful,” Stenger said. “We all want to see the very best we can with respect to public safety, and in particular police pay.”

Nonprofit proposal faces pushback

Meanwhile, Alderman Stephen Conway presented his proposal to remove the payroll tax exemption for certain nonprofits. Conway, D-8th Ward, has said that removing the exemption is preferable to increasing already high sales taxes.

“The public safety services, streets services, park services — all of the things we provide as a city benefit these institutions,” Conway said. “And they’ve realized they are a big part of the expenditures.”

But scores of nonprofit groups spoke out against the proposal, contending it would provide them with less money to serve people who are struggling.

“It would impact us by providing an additional stressor for budgets that are already tight,” said Tom Buckley, general counsel for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “What it means is you either got to cut services, which means more homeless people on the streets, less battered women you can shelter, less students you can educate.”

Neither the sales tax nor the nonprofit exemption bill received a vote on Thursday. Conway said earlier this year either increase would raise enough money to boost salaries and hire more officers, and that he would recommend the Board of Aldermen only place one on the ballot. City voters would need to approve either proposal.

Aldermen ended up passing the city’s 2018 fiscal year budget out of committee. Krewson must sign the document by July 1.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.