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Chairman says he will ask council to again place parks tax on ballot


December 01, 2004 - By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

County Council Chairman Skip Mange told nearly 100 people pleading last week to keep the Jefferson Barracks Museum open that he would ask the council to put another parks tax on the ballot.

County voters last April rejected Prop-osition P, a one-eighth-cent sales-tax in-crease for parks, by 678 votes with more than 120,000 people casting ballots.

County officials repeatedly have cited the rejection when discussing the $1.7 million in cuts facing the county Department of Parks and Recreation under County Exec-utive Charlie Dooley's proposed fiscal 2005 budget.

"Political suicide is promoting higher taxes, I know, but ... if this county does not address the revenue side of the budget, one year from now we're going to be doing even worse things," Mange, R-Town and Coun-try, told those who traveled to Clayton last week for a public hearing on the fiscal 2005 budget proposal.

Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, promised to look for alternative ways to save the museum. He previously said he wouldn't support any tax-rate increase.

Meanwhile, Dooley said at least 10 volunteers are needed to keep the Jefferson Barracks Museum operating.

"The fact of the matter is this," Dooley said, "in the real world, there are issues we have to deal with in a balanced budget. If you stop anything that this county does, well heck yes it's going to hurt somebody. But the issue is this: How do we get someplace when we don't have the necessary funds to get us there?

"Volunteerism is going to bridge that gap for the museum," he continued. "This county does not provide the services we do at a high quality because of paid employees. It is the volunteerism in this county that truly makes the difference."

Bob Palmer of the Friends of Jefferson Barracks told the council he was "willing to sit down and do whatever it is we can do" to keep the museum open. The organization already volunteers some time to raise money for the park.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation would absorb a 16.5 percent cut in operating money under Dooley's budget proposal. As a result, the Jefferson Barracks Museum would lock its doors Jan. 1.

The museum's four buildings currently are open from noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednes-days through Sundays. Only the Visitors' Center would remain open.

Keeping the museum open would cost about $250,000, Mange said.

Those at last week's public hearing were outraged the county would even consider closing the historic museum at what they called the county's crown-jewel park.

"I hope I'm talking loud enough. I'm used to giving orders and commands," said Elmer Pottsman, a World War II D-Day veteran. "Do not cut anything at the museum down there."

Closing the museum "would be a slap in the face to all the ladies and gentlemen here tonight," said Steve Scholtz, a former Lemay firefighter, referring to the large number of military veterans in attendance. "Our kids need to know what our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-great-grand-fathers did to keep this country free."

County resident Rose Mary Davidson said, "I hope history would not die in St. Louis County under your watch."

Two residents also voiced concern on the proposed elimination of mental health care, a $1 million cut, saying there wasn't enough private care to support county patients. They also said not offering care to mental patients was discriminatory.

"For us to sit here and think we can continue to provide the same amount of services, quite frankly, with less money, is im-possible to think about,'' Dooley said.

"We're getting less money in the health department than we did seven years ago. We can't provide mental health for $1 million when we don't have $1 million ... I talked to those providers outside of county government. We made a commitment with them and they made a commitment with us,'' Dooley added.

Mange said he wouldn't support Dooley's budget proposal without the Family Men-tal Health Program included. He wants to divert debt-service tax revenue or scrap the health department's solid-waste management branch to generate money for mental health.

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