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St. Louis County Council backs 2024 budget that cuts services, delays senior tax cut

County resident Jean Loemcar addresses members of the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building. During the meeting, Loemcar spoke in favor of a bill that would freeze property taxes for seniors, but would reduce future funding for schools.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis County Council, shown at an August meeting, approved the 2024 budget on Tuesday night.

The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday approved a budget for 2024 that had more than $14 million cut from St. Louis County Executive Sam Page's proposal.

Page said the cuts will mean a reduction or elimination of some county services like sending tax bills through the mail and delay a property tax freeze for seniors. But backers of the plan say the cuts are necessary to get a gap between revenues and expenses under control.

Council members provided final approval of the bills that make up the roughly $1.01 billion budget. The majority of council members backed reductions to certain departments, including:

  • $8.2 million for the Department of Health.
  • $2.1 million for the Department of Public Works.
  • $1.6 million for the Department of Administration.
  • $904,000 to the Department of Revenue.
  • $697,000 to the county executive’s office.
  • $570,000 to the county counselor’s office.

Council members have sought to bridge a budget deficit of about $40 million that’s depleting the county’s reserves. Page spokesman Doug Moore said the general fund’s reserve will have about $65.5 million left if the cuts are fully implemented.

Councilman Dennis Hancock, R-Fenton, said, “While the proposed budget reductions are not as large as I personally would have hoped for, this budget represents the first step in what will be a long journey back to fiscal responsibility.”

Page said in a letter to council members last week that the cuts will result in a slew of service reductions. He also said the cuts to the county executive’s office will place projects funded through the American Rescue Plan on hold “until we determine we have appropriate staff to administer these projects in compliance with Treasury guidelines.”

“With this level of cuts, we simply cannot do everything we are doing now,” Page said in a statement after the budget passed. “We are in this together and I look forward to working with the council to find sustainable, new revenue streams.”

Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, said he was disappointed by Page’s letter and contended the comments amounted to scare tactics.

“If we're going to make any kind of dent in this huge deficit in the next two to three years, we're going to have to make some really hard decisions,” Harder said. “And this is an easy decision compared to what we're going to have to make in the years to come.”

Council Chairwoman Shalonda Webb, D-St. Louis County, added that county policymakers should “stop trying to legislate with headlines and threats and cheap shots.”

“St. Louis County residents don't have time for it. I don't have time for it,” Webb said. “The members of this council, most of us, don't have time for it. Because we're trying to move the needle and become solvent financially in the county.”

The bill that doled out what’s known as the general fund that pays for significant portions of county government passed 6-1. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, was the lone no vote.

“We are being asked to reduce the budgets in many of our county departments,” Clancy said. “But we still have not addressed the disconnect between what all of us want to see in our communities and what we're willing to pay for in those communities. Our decisions here mean something — yet we seem unwilling to talk about the very real human consequences of those decisions.”

She pointed out that a “modest increase” in taxes was stripped out of another budget bill.

“If we're going to have an honest conversation about what services we need to provide, we can't do so without also talking about how we will pay for those services,” she said.

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