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County mayors: Prop P funds should be funneled to high-crime areas, not high population

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar (center) listens to remarks by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (03/31/17, Eagleton courthouse)
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis County Police Department will see $46 million a year for policing, while municipalities will split about $34 million.

Some of St. Louis County’s mayors say money from a recently enacted sales tax increase may not make the region safer — especially because cities with high crime rates aren’t necessarily getting the most money.

The half-cent sales tax, which takes effect later fall and is widely known as Proposition P, was billed as to be used on public safety. The breakdown of the money gives about $46 million a year to the St. Louis County Police Department, with roughly $34 million from the tax will be split among the county’s 89 municipalities.

Because the cities’ share of the tax increase is determined by population, larger municipalities will get the most money. Take, for example, Florissant, which is the biggest city in St. Louis County and will get $2.6 million a year, according to the St. Louis County Municipal League. A smaller city, like Hillsdale, would get $73,977 annually.

Normandy Mayor Patrick Green said the system doesn’t make a lot of sense, even though his city will get $250,000, which will be put toward police officer salaries. He said he wishes “the legislation and the law had been written different to accommodate and say ‘where do we put this to highest use?’ Well, how about the areas where the crime exists?” 

Normandy Mayor Patrick Green (center) speaks to the media during a news conference last year. Green says it doesn't make much sense to spread out Proposition P money based on population.
Credit File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Normandy Mayor Patrick Green (center) speaks to the media during a news conference last year. Green says it doesn't make much sense to spread out Proposition P money based on population.

At least nine of the year’s 23 homicides in St. Louis County occurred in northern municipalities, like as Bellefontaine Neighbors. That’s only a partial tally, because some municipalities don’t report crime data to the county police department.

“I think to say ‘Let’s drop $2 million in some of these outer cities’ pockets, but they’re not experiencing any crime,’ I don’t understand how that helps us all as a collective group in the region,” Green said.

At least one mayor of a west-county municipality agrees with Green. Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul said his city will use all of its roughly $457,000 on police salaries and body camera equipment.

But with that much coming in every year, he said, Ellisville may run out of things to put it toward. After all, Ellisville’s police budget before Prop P was around $500,000.

“We can’t exactly crome-plate our police vehicles,” Paul said. “At least from the municipalities’ side of things, I know some of them desperately need that money. But the city of Ellisville, we were doing just fine without it.”

‘A high level of service’

Some mayors of larger communities believe they’re entitled to the share agreed on by voters, especially because more Prop P money will be generated within their borders.

Creve Coeur Mayor Barry Glantz said the city plans to use that money for police officer training and raises in salaries and pensions.

“And we will be respectful stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We are trying to do what our residents expect us to do.”

University City Mayor Shelley Welsch said the extra money for the county police department may benefit cities, especially because the agency patrols 15 municipalities and unincorporated communities, like Spanish Lake.

Welsch, whose city will receive around $1.8 million, said Prop P likely would have faced a tougher reception among voters if larger cities didn’t receive some sort of benefit. Yet, she acknowledged that dozens of municipalities helped create “a lot of discrepancies” and “what some may see as unfairness or inequities.”

“The distribution of the tax is an example of how perhaps we are doing something — but not really viewing it on what’s best for the whole region,” Welsch said. “It’s passed. I will be glad to have that money in U. City’s coffers. But whether this was the best way to do this for the benefit of the whole St. Louis region, I don’t know.”

Steve Ables of the St. Louis County Municipal League said, “most cities are probably pleased to have additional revenue to bolster public safety.” An exception, he said, is Chesterfield, whose mayor suggested Prop P’s language is broad enough for cities to spend money on street repairs. Chesterfield is slated to receive $2.37 million a year from the tax increase.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.