CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOX) — St. Louis County voters approved Proposition P on the sales pitch that higher sales taxes would fund higher police salaries.
Fast forward to this fall and a war of words has broken out between two of the county’s political leaders with police officers’ paychecks in the middle.
County Executive Steve Stenger is urging swift approval at Tuesday night’s regular county council meeting. He calls any delay “particularly troubling,” and blames County Council chairman Sam Page.
“Why Sam Page is holding this I couldn’t answer,” Stenger told KMOX. “It seems somewhat irrational to me.”
The two Democrats haven’t been on the friendliest of terms lately.
Page tells us he’s held the issue because he doesn’t believe the county is prepared for raise-related pension increases.
“We have to have these hard discussions about pension liability or we’ll be like Illinois,” he said.
In a letter to Page dated October 16, 2017, Stenger says in May he submitted a plan to stabilize the county’s pensions.
Page says Stenger’s proposal would’ve addressed existing obligations, but not new ones from the raises.
“What I’m trying to do is make sure that we save some of the Proposition P money for an expected need on the pension side and we don’t appropriate that money to other items,” Page explained.
Stenger accused Page of holding “overdue police raises hostage.”
Part of the problem is that the raises need to be passed quickly so officers see higher pay starting January 1, but the county won’t have a new pension estimate until early next year.
KMOX asked two of Page’s colleagues about the accusation that he’s playing politics with police paychecks.
“I see no reason not to move forward with this bill,” councilman Pat Dolan, a Democrat from mid-county, replied. “If tonight, if it’s held or it’s not presented for us to perfect, then I’d believe, yes, it is political.”
“I would say that it’s probably very suspect if this doesn’t move forward. All the necessary safeguards have been put into place,” Councilman Mark Harder, Republican from west county, said. “I’m not going to insult the peoples’ intelligence by acting like this isn’t going on.”
RAISES “MAKING STENGER LOOK LIKE A HERO?”
KMOX obtained a screenshot of a text message that County Parks Director Gary Bess says he received from Page. In the image of the text message, Page appears to say he will move at the council meeting to set aside 15 percent of Prop P money for those pensions.
“That’s probably all I can do. Otherwise we are just making Stenger look like a hero,” the text says.
Page did not want to address the text, but told KMOX: “‘Political’ is a label you put on something when someone doesn’t agree with you. That’s unfortunate.”
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the County Council chambers in Clayton.