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St. Louis voters approve half-cent sales tax hike funding police and firefighter raises

Jeff Roorda, the St. Louis Police Officers' Association's business manager, and Alderman Joe Vaccaro, receive the news that Prop P passed. Nov. 7, 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Jeff Roorda, the St. Louis Police Officers' Association's business manager, and Alderman Joe Vaccaro, receive the news that Prop P passed.

Updated 12:15 a.m., Nov. 8, with additional comments — Police and firefighters in St. Louis will get a $6,000 raise in July, after voters on Tuesday easily approved a half-cent sales tax hike.

The tax increase measure, known as Proposition P, passed with close to 60 percent of the vote. It will kick in in early 2018, and is expected to generate about $20 million a year. Most of the money will go toward the raises, though the circuit attorney’s office will receive about $1.3 million.

The automatic increase in the use tax, which businesses pay on goods purchased out-of-state, is earmarked for building demolition, recreation programs and other social services, although all of the spending is contingent on aldermen approving the funds as part of the budget process.

Mayor Lyda Krewson greets attendees at an election night watch party at the St. Louis Police Officers' Association.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Lyda Krewson greets attendees at an election night watch party at the St. Louis Police Officers' Association.

“By passing Prop P we took a step toward making a safer St. Louis a reality,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a written statement. “I recognize that we can't arrest our way to a safer city, and I'm thrilled that voters agree. Passing Prop P means we can make significant investments on the prevention side, with funding for after-school and summer job programs, recreation, social and mental health services and also demolishing vacant buildings.” 

The vote on Proposition P came during a time of turmoil for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Its officers are under fire for the way they have handled the protests following the Sept. 15 verdict in the Jason Stockley case. A judge found the white former officer not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old black man. But the margin of victory wasn’t close — 60 percent to 40 percent in unofficial results.

“Proposition P was a referendum on the St. Louis City Police Department and the results were crystal clear.  Residents support the police!” Ed Clark, the president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association wrote in a statement.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Krewson said she was thrilled that voters had demonstrated their confidence with the police department. “It’s a convincing margin,” she said. "Making the police department better means investing in police officers and in our firefighters. We’ll be able to retain the good officers that we have now and we’ll be able to attract new officers.”

Activists had used the tax increase as a rallying cry in opposition of the tax increase, saying bad officers should not be rewarded with raises. They’ve also demanded a financial review of the city.

Opponents of Proposition P gather outside Gina's Bar and Grill in the St. Louis Place neighborhood on Nov. 7, 2017 after the sales tax increase passed with 60 percent of the vote.
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Opponents of Proposition P say they will be closely watching to see how money from the sales tax increase is spent.

Rasheen Aldridge, the Democratic committeeman of the 5th Ward and a familiar face at protests, said he was proud that opponents were able to start a conversation about the best way to reduce crime, despite being vastly outspent. Supporters raised $375,000 from business and labor groups.

“We won’t give up,” Aldridge said. “The last couple of years have brought a lot of opportunity to get involved in the city, and I think what took place unfortunately tonight will be another opportunity for people that feel like our city is constantly moving in a direction that isn’t bringing us to the 21st century.”

“It comes back down to accountability,” said Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward, and one of the few to publicly campaign against Proposition P. “We’re not going to stop fighting for police reform, we’re not going to stop fighting for more progressive taxation, we’re not going to stop fighting to make sure that City Hall uses resources in a way that voters actually intended those resources to be used.”

2nd Ward election

In the only other issue on the ballot in St. Louis, Lisa Middlebrook, the Democratic candidate, beat out two other candidates to become the new alderman in the 2nd Ward, which stretches along the city’s northeast side. The seat opened up in August when Dionne Flowers resigned to become the register, the city’s top record keeper.

“I’m really excited,” said Middlebrook, who received about 49 percent of the vote. “This is a new chapter in my life, so I’m just ready to take it head-on.”

Middlebrook said her first priority is boosting police presence in the 2nd Ward, and then focusing on programs for the area’s youth.

The earliest she can take her seat is Nov. 17.

St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum contributed information to this story.

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Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.