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St. Louis County Council to Explore Tax Hike Alternatives

Michael Calhoun
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A speaker addresses members of the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011. (KMOX/Michael Calhoun)

A speaker addresses members of the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011. (KMOX/Michael Calhoun)

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CLAYTON (KMOX) – St. Louis County leaders are planning a strategy session on how to avoid lay-offs without raising property taxes.

County Executive Charlie Dooley agreed to have the county’s budget director talk with council members next Tuesday afternoon in a special committee of the whole meeting.

Dooley proposes a property tax rate increase, to off-set a projected $5 million revenue shortfall this year. Without it, he alleges employees will go without raises and some will lose their jobs altogether.

This, in a year when home values are falling and many property assessments have risen.

Democratic councilwoman Hazel Erby was among those saying the County Executive’s tax hike is the wrong way to go.

“I think we can come to an agreement, look at the budget and come up with another way to give the employees a raise,” Erby told reporters after Tuesday’s council meeting. “I just think we need to put our heads together.”

Republican councilman Greg Quinn agreed.

“A lot of people are struggling right now. They’re tightening their belts and I think that’s what county government should do also,” he said.

Dooley calls the plan, to raise the rate by 2.3 cents, a “roll up.” He requested, and received, an identical decrease in the rate in 2009, which was just before he launched his re-election campaign.

Council Chair Steve Stenger has said that the majority-Democratic council would assuredly reject any tax increase put before it.

While council members are focusing on ways to avoid issuing pink slips, public speakers at Tuesday’s meeting were less forgiving.

“There is no reason in the world why county employees of any kind, or government employees, should not share in the same pain that the private sector is feeling,” said Sarah Haenni. “The principle is that we’re all in the boat together, swimming in the same direction, or we’re not.”

Already, council members are holding off on routine plans to send $750,000 to economic development efforts.

In other business, the council Tuesday also dropped a proposed “project labor agreement,” covering construction of a new Emergency Communications Center.

The facility, funded by a sales tax passed by voters in 2009, must be completed by a hard-and-fast federal deadline. The labor agreement would have traded a no-strike promise for a commitment to only allow union labor on the project.

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