St. Louis County voters passed a measure this year that would offer raises to police officers.
Now, some county leaders want more information about how Proposition P will impact police pension plans.
Under Prop P, a sales tax increase would generate more than $80 million next year across all of St. Louis County to pay for more officers and public safety measures.
St. Louis County police officers expected to see an average raise around 30 percent. The nearly $19 million proposal to make that happen must still be approved by the county council as part of the budget for next year.
On Thursday, Councilman Dr. Sam Page called a special meeting, called “Committee of the Whole” to take a closer look at two bills within the greater county plan that spell out the funding plan for Prop P. Page, who says he supports pay raises for officers, wants more information about the impact on police pensions before moving forward.
“It’s just not responsible to pass a large pay increase, that we all want, without completely understanding the impact on the police pension, which is currently underfunded,” he said. “And it’s been underfunded for a while.”
“I’m not against giving the police a raise. I think they need a big raise. I think this raise is great,” he added. “But what I am against is not funding the pension appropriately enough to back that raise, and we're not doing that.”
Dozens of police officers crammed into the county council building for the meeting, where many of them and their supporters shared their concerns about a potential delay to moving forward on the raises.
“Not only have we lost time and money, we have lost damn good police officers. Especially minority police officers to outside agencies,” said Officer Derek Machens, who is also the second vice president for the St. Louis County Police Association.
“You have the opportunity to stop the hemorrhaging of quality police officers to outside agencies,” he continued. “And assure we recruit and retain only the very best police officers for our citizens.”
“I will ask you, what will you do to assure the police department and the voters that current funding levels will not be reduced,” said former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch. “These dedicated public servants deserve the support of the council. And this included ensuring they get 100 percent of the benefits of the Prop P funds and 100 percent of the current annual allocation of funds. Anything less is unacceptable, and not what we, the voters, decided on April 4.”
Regarding questions about the pension funding, County Executive Steve Stenger says budget officials have been thorough.
“We have utilized the same basic and simple formula, in regards to the pension, for decades in St. Louis County,” Stenger said.
Stenger, as well as several other people in the crowd Thursday, suggested the meeting and questions about the pension funding had less to do with number crunch and more about politics at play between county leaders.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar remains hopeful Prop P will go into effect, as planned, in January.
“I think we need to ask the hard questions, but I think at the same time I think we can’t do this in a manner where all of a sudden this jeopardizes these officers and their families,” he said.
A vote to recommend the measure to the full council failed during the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, but could have no consequence on Prop P moving forward.
The full council meets next week to talk about this issue again. All members present Thursday said they would like to see it go into effect by the original deadline.