It will be up to St. Louis voters whether to increase the city's sales tax. Friday, the board of alderman approved a bill to put the measure on the November ballot. If approved, the city's sales tax will increase by half a cent. The money is set to go to public safety.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson says the tax will provide police officers with a much-needed raise. But the St. Louis Police Officer's Association is speaking out against the measure, saying there's no guarantee the money will go to its members.
The police union endorsed Krewson ahead of the April election. Her campaign pledged action on police pay and resources. Now the union is accusing her of going back on her word, but she says she’s doing exactly what she promised.
Both the union and Krewson say they agree St. Louis police deserve better.
“We have a police department that is underpaid and understaffed,” said Krewson.
Both parties cite an anticipated pay gap with St. Louis County Police. We verified that's true. After the first of the year, county officer salaries are set to increase to around $52,000 dollars. The city's starting officer salary is under $42,000.
“Our goal is to be able to attract and retain good police officers, so we have to be competitive,” said Krewson.
The mayor says a sales and business tax hike is a step in the right direction. Originally, the union expected the full amount the hike will raise for its members. We verified that won't happen. But in a letter to members it says "only about 1/3 of the money will be for police raises." We could not verify that claim.
An exhibit to the bill says just over half is set for the police department. The rest goes to the fire department, circuit attorney's office, and programs like building demolition and social work, which the union is calling the mayor's "pet projects."
“I don’t consider them any place close to a pet project. These are necessary things we have to do in our communities to have a safer community,” said Krewson. “I understand their point of view that every dollar should go to police raises. I just don't think that's a responsible position to take.”
The union letter also argues that there's no guarantee for them in the bill, saying "If the Mayor's office thinks that we are going to support a sales tax on the ballot without an enforceable agreement on competitive wages, she's simply lost touch with reality.”
The bill states board of alderman will appropriate the funds as it chooses. But the mayor says she won't sign off on anything other than the original intentions of the tax.
“Our interest is the same as the police officer's association. Our interest is to attract and retain talent in the police department. So there is no benefit for us to do anything else with that money,” said Krewson.
The St. Louis Police Officer's Association declined to a comment on this story. But in its letter, it warns city officers are planning to leave the department for the county. It also points out that the department is already short more than 100 officers. Friday, the mayor also cited concerns about the shortage and the possibility it could get worse.