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St. Louis County Council approves cybersecurity funding, weighs property tax increase

Members of the St. Louis County Council held a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building. Members are, from left, Dennis Hancock, District 3, Kelli Dunaway, District 2, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, Shalonda D. Webb, District 4, Mark Harder, District 7, and Rita Heard Days, District 1, with Councilwoman Lisa D. Clancy appearing remotely on the television screen at top left.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the St. Louis County Council during an August meeting. The council on Tuesday approved $5 million for cybersecurity improvements and moved a bill that would freeze property taxes for seniors forward.

The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday approved spending $5 million for government cybersecurity improvements.

The vote came about a month after a cyberattack shut down public safety computers and the Regional Justice Information System services used in Missouri and Illinois.

Officials said they can pay for the security measures with money from the county’s emergency fund. They plan to replenish the emergency fund in next year’s budget.

The money will cover software upgrades and the services of consultants, said Councilman Ernie Trakas, who introduced the resolution.

“What greater emergency do we have right now than a vulnerable IT system?” Trakas asked. “We’re facing a serious problem right now that’s going to take, if we had the money today, 10 months to correct. That’s what these funds are there for.”

Page presents proposed budget

Council members also are considering a $1 billion budget proposed by County Executive Sam Page that would increase property taxes to help trim the county’s $47 million deficit.

Under the proposal, homeowners next year would pay about 4 cents more per $100 in assessed value. On average, county homeowners would pay about $22 more.

Page said those changes, along with allocating 1.4 cents of the property tax levy from the debt service fund to the general revenue fund, would free more than $11 million in the county’s general revenue fund.

“We’ve had a mismatch between annual revenue and spending, and we continue to rely on the fund balance and on one-time revenue to close the gap,” Page said. “As you know, this can’t continue indefinitely.”

But Page said better-than-anticipated numbers from fiscal 2022 and additional one-time funding give the county time to consider significant budget changes.

The plan includes a $4.4 million pay program for workers who aren’t in a collective bargaining agreement, more than $8 million for police officer raises and vehicles determined by their union agreements, $1.1 million to hire 16 additional correctional officers and about $200 million toward Bi-State Development public transit projects, though the final amount depends on what the county approves for a separate budget dedicated to the transit agency.

It also includes a 4% cut for the Department of Public Health, resulting in a loss of 26 positions.

Page said that as the council considers the plan, the county should also look at ways to increase its revenue.

“We have the same inflationary pressures as other places, and we should respond in the same manner as other local governments,” Page said.

Senior tax breaks moves forward

Councilmembers also approved changes to a proposed property tax freeze for senior citizens, moving it forward to a final vote. The council could give final approval as early as next week.

Democrats on the council had opposed a similar bill earlier this summer because they feared it would take funding away from schools and public services.

In May, Missouri lawmakers approved a bill allowing counties to pass legislation that would freeze property taxes for seniors who qualified for Social Security. The state bill gave some councilmembers pause over whether they’re able to write legislation that would differ from the state legislation.

"I’d like to see some additional changes, but for tonight I think that this is a better baseline than before," Councilwoman Lisa Clancy said.

The bill includes a provision that would end the freeze after five years.

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.