Councilman proposes supplementing county police budget

CLAYTON, MO – A St. Louis County Council member proposed new legislation Tuesday (Jan. 8) to give the St. Louis County Police Department nearly $5 million to be put in its general fund. Last year, County Executive Steve Stenger proposed a budget of more than $600 million for 2019, but the County Council reduced it by $35 million across the board, aiming to retain 2018 spending levels.

At Tuesday's County Council meeting, Councilman Tim Fitch introduced a new plan to give $4,807,621 to the county police department's general fund after the council voted to reduce that amount from the county executive's proposed 2019 budget.

Fitch, a former chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, now represents the third district of the county. During his campaign for county council, Fitch said public safety would be his top priority because voters expressed concern over crime in the county.

"I want to have a robust discussion with the budget committee, have the police chief come in, have the budget folks come in, and talk about what the chief will have to do without," said Fitch.

Fitch said reducing the proposed budget for the county police department seems to contradict the wishes of county voters who voted overwhelmingly in favor of investing more money into the department when they passed Proposition P.

"You have this new pot of money that came in to support the police department with raises, two-officer cars, and those type of things," said Fitch, "but when we take money away from the general fund and supplement it with new Prop P funds, that's one of the things that voters were concerned about. They were concerned that this new money would come in and that we'd, the council would take the old money out the other end. That's what I’m trying to keep from happening."

Councilman Mark Harder said the police department was given a larger budget than last year but not as much as the county executive proposed. Harder said the police budget comes from the general fund which makes up about 90 percent of the county's budget.

"That general fund is running out of money, and so in order to stay balanced for a balanced budget, cuts in that number based on what the county executive gave us needed to be done to not run a deficit in that fund," said Harder.

The council approved funding for a new police station in south county paid for by Prop P. There are plans to also fund a new police station in north county and body cameras for all county officers.

"The Prop P budget is to be spent on items we, the voters, wanted it to be spent on," said Harder. "The other budget is their day-to-day working budget in the department.”

Since the introduction of Prop P, Police Chief Jon Belmar has said he would put two officers in each patrol car and hire more personnel. Belmar planned to hire 70 new officers in 2019, but the council approved funding for 50 officers.

Fitch said the next step will be for the proposal to go to the budget committee for discussion. The committee chairperson will decide when that discussion will happen.

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