CITY HALL – St. Louis officials are looking at saving $4 million by dropping funding for 98 police officer positions they haven’t been able to fill.
The Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted 2-1 on Thursday to eliminate that amount and shift the money to the city’s Affordable Housing Commission, human services and other programs.
After approving that amendment to the proposed $1.153 billion operating budget for the year starting July 1, the E&A board voted unanimously to approve the whole package and send it on to the Board of Aldermen for further consideration. The E&A board consists of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen.
The 98 eliminated positions are among about 150 the city has funded but hasn’t been able to fill in the past several years. Traditionally, the money allocated for those positions wound up being used for police overtime that exceeded the budget. In the 2019-2020 year, for example, police overtime went over budget by $4.3 million.
“If the salaries weren’t there, you would have been over budget,” said Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who voted against dropping the 98 positions.
“You’re going to have to be more diligent on overtime, only because if you don’t have that slack within your personal services, you cannot have that kind of slack within your personal services going forward,” Budget Director Paul Payne said.
Police Chief John Hayden said the change wouldn’t affect current police operations at all because it eliminates positions he doesn’t have.
“At the end of the day, I support the mayor’s notion that jobs or positions not actually realized yet is really something that could be utilized elsewhere,” Hayden said.
A statement from the mayor’s office said that the budget didn’t reflect the fact that there was a decline in the number of police officers working for the city in the past two decades.
“For many years, the budget has not supported the needs of the people, and that’s why we’re seeing record numbers of homicides and other acts of violence,” Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said in the statement. “What we’ve been doing doesn’t work. This revised budget will start St. Louis on a new path to tackling some of the root causes of crime.”
The statement said that no city police officers would lose their jobs with the change, which still leaves room to fill more than 50 vacancies.
Here is how the city would spend the $4 million in savings from the elimination of the 98 positions:
● $1.5 million would go to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides subsidies to homebuyers who need extra help. A number of those who spoke at a budget hearing last week criticized proposals to cut the fund.
● $1 million for victim support services, including funeral expenses, medical needs, child care, mental health support, case and crisis management and other concerns.
● $1 million to the city Department of Health & Human Services to provide more help for the unhoused.
● $.5 million to enable the city counselor’s office to provide legal support to the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency (CREA). That agency looks into fair housing, equal employment and public accommodation complaints.