ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOX) – Helena Webb stepped to the microphone in the St. Louis County Council chambers Tuesday night and explained why she voted in favor of Prop P on the April ballot.
“Our understanding was that it was for the police departments and for how they operate,” she said. “As a voter, that’s what I thought.”
But inclusion of the words “public safety” in that ballot measure have led some local government leaders to ponder using the funds they receive from the half-cent sales tax increase on things not directly police-related.
“If you think about it, you know, I think it falls within the realm of public safety,” Chesterfield mayor Bob Nation suggested during a meeting Monday night. “You know, if there’s a pothole that may cause an accident.”
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The Rev. Susan Sneed with Metropolitan Congregations United told council members that when she cast her vote in April, where the money was supposed to be spent was a lot clearer than it is today.
“From the over 50 churches that we represent in the city and the county, nobody imagined potholes being a part of this conversation,” Sneed explained. “People very clearly felt like they wanted their police to be served by this.”
Renee Hartman said this kind of confusion wasn’t completely unpredictable, even before the first ballot was cast.
“You were warned that some governments in the county would interpret ‘public safety’ in broad terms and use the funds for almost anything,” she told council members.
Several speakers suggested that Prop P be repealed and replaced with a measure that specifically states the money must be spent in support of police, under threat of legal action against municipalities that use those funds on things like fixing potholes.
“If we want to keep the trust of county residents so that they’d be willing to support future funding proposals,” suggested county resident Ben Senturia, “then the key question is, ‘What did the electorate understand and intend when they voted for Proposition P?'”
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St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who signed off on the wording of the April ballot measure, was not in attendance Tuesday night.
Recently he’s suggested that spending Prop P dollars on anything other than supporting police could be considered official misconduct.
“To do otherwise is to violate the law, as well as the trust of County resident who voted overwhelmingly to pass this proposition,” read a statement issued by Stenger’s office.
Those advocating for repeal and replacement of the current measure suggested the “new” Prop P would narrowly define expenditures for the funds on things such as police salaries and benefits, facilities, equipment, prosecutors and courts.
“That’s what ‘public safety’ truly is,” Hartman said.