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St. Louis County’s Priorities For Federal Dollars Begin To Take Shape

Members of the St. Louis County Council meet on June 1, 2021.
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the St. Louis County Council meet on June 1.

St. Louis County’s elected leaders are laying out their priorities on where tens of millions of dollars in federal relief funds should go.

The county is slated to receive $193 million from the federal American Rescue Plan over the next year. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told reporters on Wednesday that the county has three years to appropriate the money and five years to spend it.

Page said his priorities include:

  • $36 million for constructing a new health center in north St. Louis County that would include a substance abuse center.
  • $22 million for workforce development programs that are currently offered at the MET Center in Wellston.
  • Roughly $1.4 million to increase pay for employees at the St. Louis County Justice Center.
  • Undetermined amounts of money to close budget gaps that emerged during the COVID-19 economic downturn and for administrative-related costs to ensure that the county is complying with the Rescue Plan guidelines.

Page said he’s hoping Rescue Plan funds are directed to areas of the community that have been “disadvantaged and health disparities are largest.”

“I hope that the focus is on public health,” Page said. “I hope that there is some focus on humanitarian relief. The suggestions I sent to the council are for expansion of public health services in north county and workforce development and jobs programs in north county.”

Unlike 2020, when Page had control over where CARES Act funds could go, the St. Louis County Council will have to approve any appropriations of Rescue Plan money. Page will still play a major role in the process, since he’ll have veto power over any proposal he doesn’t like.

St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Rita Days, D-Bel Nor, noted that the council has held several work sessions thus far on how to divvy up Rescue Plan funds. She said there are two major areas that the council wants to focus on: public safety and economic development.

“When you talk about jobs, that aids in all the rest of these things,” Days said. “If you have a pretty good job, you can afford the good-quality food — nourishing food. You can afford good housing. And of course, your communities would be a lot safer with that.”

Days also noted that the St. Louis County Police Department’s leaders talked about spending some Rescue Plan funds on a new dispatch system. She said that’s a good example of using the money toward one-time projects, as opposed to spending the funds on salaried positions that would still need funding after the $193 million runs out.

“We need to spend this money on one-time expenditures where we can get the biggest bang for our buck,” Days said.

St. Louis County budget director Paul Kreidler said that the county currently has around $20 million in a reserve fund from a half-cent sales tax for public safety pursuits. Asked why money from what’s known as Prop P couldn’t be used for the new dispatch system, Days replied, “I have not had a clear understanding of what Prop P was or what we used it for.”

“We are in the process of hiring a new auditor,” Days said. “And I think that will help us understand better where our money is, what’s being spent, is it being spent efficiently? We have not had that before. And so, I think that would help us going forward looking at these expenditures.”

Follow Jason on Twitter:@jrosenbaum

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