ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has blamed a raise that the St. Louis County Council approved for Family Court employees as a reason why the Prop P fund is over budget – but the court disagrees, and pointed the finger back at Page.
Page has said he tried to cut the raises out of the court’s budget request, but that the council restored them. The move, he has said, put the Prop P fund between $1.3 and $1.5 million in the red.
But in Missouri, county officials can’t arbitrarily cut a court’s budget request.
Last fall, the council approved the court’s budget as state law requires. In October, Page reviewed the court’s budget and “summarily removed the raises,” said court spokeswoman Christine Bertleson.
State law requires county officials follow a process that involves filing a petition and going before a separate entity to argue if cuts are necessary – steps Bertelson says Page “ignored.”
“The county never filed such a petition, so, in December, the council restored the raises that Page tried to cut out,” she wrote.
Page's spokesman, Doug Moore, issued a statement in response to the court's allegations.
"Last year, the council decided that the Family Court should be included in Prop P. Page's proposed budget anticipated that a compromise might be reached to ensure that Prop P funds were responsibly spent. The courts and the council decided to move forward with the courts' original budget request.
"We have been assured by the county counselor that the proposed budget was consistent with Missouri law. That said, the county executive plans to meet with the judges soon to find the best way forward."
Bertelson also says Page’s estimates of $1.3 to $1.5 million are inaccurate.
The St. Louis Circuit Court cut about $1 million from its budget request “recognizing the county’s budget and revenue challenges,” Bertelson wrote.
In an August 2019 letter to the county’s budget director, Paul Kreidler, Court Administrator Paul Fox outlined 19 areas of cuts that ranged from a reduction of office supplies to significant cuts to programs geared toward juveniles.
The courts sought raises only for “mission-critical areas,” which included the family court and bailiffs, “whose compensation is well below the national average,” Bertelson wrote.
“This has resulted in chronically high staff turnover, jeopardizing our ability to serve families and protect public safety,” she wrote.
The net impact on the county budget for those raises is about $367,000 – not the $1.3 or $1.5 million “as has been suggested,” she wrote.
She added that bailiffs are ineligible for Prop P funding and that only the county council can designate the funding source for Family Court employee raises.
Questions about the status of Prop P funds arose after County Councilman Tim Fitch asked the county’s budget director why Page’s office seemed to be holding up negotiations with police civilian employees.
Kreidler told him in an email that Prop P – an annual $50 million sales tax increase voters approved in 2017 – had been “overbudgeted” and noted that the council had recently approved a contract with police officers that included raises in the “millions.”
That’s when Page began talking about the Family Court raises as the real issue.