November 07, 2012 - County Executive Charlie Dooley's recommended 2013 budget for St. Louis County "is the budget that we should have had last year," according to 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton.
Dooley presented his proposed 2013 budget to the County Council last week. The proposed budget includes a 2.5-percent pay increase for county employees — their first pay hike since 2008.
Stenger, who served as council chairman last year, led the opposition to Dooley's recommended 2012 budget that called for closing 23 county parks, eliminating 175 jobs and not plowing streets of snow in unincorporated areas when accumulations are 2 inches or less, among other cuts.
During a public hearing in November 2011 on Dooley's recommended budget, nearly all of the roughly 60 speakers who addressed the County Council delivered the
same message: Do not close any county parks or lay off any Parks and Recreation Department employees.
After two meetings of a special budget committee appointed by Stenger, Dooley announced all county parks would remain open "at a reduced rate" under a compromise he reached with the council.
The county executive's recommended 2013 budget proposes expenditures for the county's general funds — general fund, special road and bridge fund, health fund and park maintenance fund — totaling $376,017,856, an increase of $7.9 million or 2.1 percent over this year.
As proposed, the county's tax rate of $52.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation would remain unchanged.
County officials project sales-tax revenue will increase to $307.5 million next year, up from roughly $301 million this year.
But property-tax revenue is expected to decrease by 0.1 percent next year, to roughly $111.6 million from $111.7 million.
In his budget message, Dooley wrote that from 2007 to 2009, "revenues dropped 10 percent … while our costs continued to grow. This required us, beginning in 2008, to work hard to keep expenditures in line with revenues …"
Among the cost-cutting measures were a pay freeze and deferred maintenance and capital-equipment replacement.
"In 2012, I made the difficult decision to make deeper cuts to our operations, eliminating 91 positions and reducing some service levels," Dooley wrote.
Reduced expenditures, improving revenues and a strong fund balance — including a nearly $6.5 million surplus in the general fund for 2012 — "allow us to begin to reinvest in the infrastructure of county government in 2013," he wrote. "Our biggest resource is our employees, and this budget provides for the first pay increase since 2008.
"I have included $5.4 million in this budget to provide employees with the opportunity for a long-overdue 2.5-percent pay increase, effective Jan. 1, 2013 …"
Of Dooley's recommended 2013 budget, Stenger told the Call, " … This is the budget we should have had last year and he did it this year after all of what we went through last year. I think it does a number of things. I mean, I think it validates our position last year, which was that there was no budget crisis — I think that's pretty clear — that there never was a budget crisis, that there never was a structural deficit of $25 million, that there never was any deficit of any millions and he (Dooley) admits in the budget document that he sent to the council members that they say they had a $7 million surplus.
"Now they say that the $7 million surplus came about as a result of cost-cutting measures that they instituted, which is almost comical because that is nothing of what happened ..."
In August 2011, Dooley proposed rolling up the county's tax rate by 2.3 cents, which would allow the county to provide a 3-percent raise to its roughly 4,000 employees.
But Dooley's proposal met with stiff resistance from the County Council, including Stenger, and Dooley later withdrew it.
"… This is the budget that we asked for last year and should have had last year, including the pay raise …," said Stenger, an attorney and certified public accountant. "Isn't it interesting that he says that the pay raise would require $5.4 million, but literally last year he was saying that the pay raise would cost $8 million and that they needed to raise taxes to the tune of about $8 million in order to give a pay raise.
"And remember last year, we were saying — I was saying, particularly — we can have a pay raise with no tax increase and the thing we have to do is basically X, Y, Z and we've got that done. It's no problem and nothing changed from this year to last year. There have been no major revenue increases. Revenue trended like I said it would trend last year and we wound up exactly where I said we would wind up, and then he did the raise we should have done last year."
County Council Chairman Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant, has appointed a committee to review Dooley's proposed budget. Members include O'Mara, Stenger and Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin.
"… There will be things, I'm sure, that will require additional examination, but all in all, I think that we're going to be able to work within what's been proposed because what has been proposed is exactly what we asked for last year," Stenger said.
Given the controversy over the budget last year, Stenger said he believes Dooley "knew he was going to get stiff resistance on a budget that included any cuts to parks or any tax increase … I think the best thing that came out of last year was that he learned that the council was not a rubber stamp and that we were going to stand up to him.
"And we just didn't stand up to him, I mean we were a wall that blocked him. He was not getting around us and he wasn't getting over us. So I think he figured that out, which is probably what led to the reasonableness this year, which is good. That is a good thing. So I can't say that nothing came out of last year. I think something very positive came out of last year, which is he learned he can't run the council over."