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County Council jumping into battle against opioid abuse

The St. Louis Council at its meeting on June 26, 2018. The empty chair belongs to County Executive Steve Stenger, who has skipped most of the meetings this year.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council is planning to set up a special task force to tackle the region’s opioid problem, and is offering up to $1 million in grants to encourage people to come up with solutions.

In a rare show of solidarity, the council voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of the plan.

The county already has a prescription drug monitoring program. But Councilman Mark Harder, a Republican from Ballwin, said the 11-member task force is a necessary addition.

“The people of St. Louis County need to know that there are leaders who care about this issue, and it’s only going to get worse. And we can do nothing, or we can go forward and try to come up with some solutions.”

The seven council members would each name one person to the task force, while County Executive Steve Stenger could name four.

Stenger spokesman Cordell Whitlock said the county executive was open to any push to battle opioid abuse, and cited Stenger’s longstanding efforts in that regard.

Council chairman Sam Page, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, said the council wants the task force members to be chosen by next week, and hopes to have a report from the group by late August.

County vote on county parks?

Meanwhile, Page – a strong Stenger critic – introduced a bill Tuesday that seeks a change to the county’s charter to require that county voters must approve any sale or lease of county park property.

Page said his aim was to avoid a replay of last year’s dispute over Creve Coeur Park, where Stenger led an effort to build a new ice rink practice facility for the St. Louis Blues hockey team. Controversy led to the Blues putting their practice site elsewhere.

If the council goes along, Page is aiming to put the proposal on the November ballot.

New police stations move ahead

The council gave final approval to a bill authorizing $1.4 million to design two new county police stations.

The panel wants to see the design plans before giving final approval to construction.

One of the new stations would be in North County just off Dunn Road, near Christian Northeast Hospital. The second would be in Affton in South County.

In a related move, the council also gave final approval to a bill that requires Stenger to select new members to the county Port Authority. Page is among the council members critical of how the authority handled land acquisition for the south county site.

All of the authority members currently are serving after their terms expired; all had been appointed by Stenger’s predecessor, fellow Democrat Charlie Dooley, who left office in January 2015.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.