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Proponents protest Chesterfield’s proposed use of Prop P funds

By: Jim Erickson

Featured items of business on the Chesterfield City Council’s July 31 special meeting agenda took a temporary back seat, when Proposition P supporters voiced their views for using revenue from the new half-cent sales tax solely for law enforcement purposes.

With banners and placards, the Prop P proponents were outside city hall before the meeting and gathered inside council chambers as the session began.

Group members appeared to be energized by recent news media coverage of Mayor Bob Nation’s earlier comments stating that the added revenue could be used for anything involving public safety, “a generic term … applicable to much of what municipal government does.”

At least one television newscast had described the special meeting as a public hearing on Prop P. However, the meeting had been announced two weeks earlier as a work session during which councilmembers could review a study of city employees’ wages and benefits, a proposed strategic planning effort, document retention issues and five-year financial projections.

The meeting agenda posted on the city’s website contained no mention of Prop P, but did include the traditional slot for “communications and petitions” when anyone can comment on city-related issues. A number of residents used that opportunity to speak out on the use of Prop P revenue.

Debbie Donnelly called for citizen input on Prop P spending, as well as separate budget entries identifying that revenue and how it is used. Warren Lantz said he found published comments about the city’s possible alternative uses of Prop P funds “disappointing and embarrassing.”

Noting that issues involving law enforcement are “near and dear to me,” Elizabeth Snyder, the widow of County Police Office Blake Snyder, said Prop P funds should be used for law enforcement and not to fix potholes, a reference to statements attributed to Nation. Snyder’s husband was shot and killed last year while investigating a disturbance call in South County.

Elizabeth Snyder comments before the Chesterfield City Council on the use of Proposition P revenue.

Wendy Geckeler said she voted for Prop P as something benefiting the entire region and that funds should be used, among other things, for body cameras, having two officers in patrol cars and higher paychecks “to show our appreciation.”

Jami Dolby said it is “morally wrong” to use the ballot proposal’s revenue for purposes other than law enforcement.

David Kaplan charged that the city’s new agreement to provide policing services to Clarkson Valley had left Chesterfield police shorthanded. However, Chesterfield police officials later said Clarkson Valley will pay the costs of officers providing 24/7 coverage to that community and that additional personnel have been hired to replace those assigned there. Likewise, school resource officers at Marquette and Crestview Middle [located within Clarkson Valley] are covered in an agreement with the Rockwood School District and the number of SROs assigned to Chesterfield elementary schools will remain at four.

Use of body cameras also will not be an immediate issue, because the city council approved an agreement in June with a company that will provide the devices without charge as part of a one-year trial.

Nation has said Chesterfield already provides salaries, benefits and equipment for its police that place the department at or near the top among area law enforcement agencies. While funds from Prop P will help the city maintain that position, it’s “unreasonable, unnecessary and unlikely” that prior spending will go up by the amount of additional revenue received, he observed.

The city employee wage-benefits study was the principle item on the published agenda. Handled by the CBIZ consulting firm, the analysis found the overall compensation of most Chesterfield personnel to be in line with market competition. A small number of jobs [31] at the lower end of the pay scale had compensation below the targeted level, but the cost to implement revisions would total just $53,732, or less than 1 percent of all payroll.

The study also concluded that the city spends less cumulatively per employee on benefits than public market peers, but slightly more than private market firms.

Councilmembers earlier had opted against budgeting funds for merit increases in 2017, pending results of the analysis. The council took no action on the report and plans to discuss it further at a later meeting.

A proposal for the council to proceed with a strategic planning effort to develop a common and easily communicated vision for the city wound up stirring debate over whether to spend $7,500 to $10,000 to hire a consultant to facilitate the process.

However, ultimately, the council approved, on a 4-3 vote, a motion to hire a professional facilitator, with the contract subject to council review and approval. Councilmembers Tom DeCampi [Ward 4], Michelle Ohley [Ward 4] and Ben Keathley [Ward 2] opposed the move. Councilmember Barry Flachsbart [Ward 1] arrived late and did not vote.

The council also received a staff report with email retention policy rules. An accompanying flowchart with “what if” scenarios governing how to handle various types of emails will be used to train staff on what needs to be saved and what can be discarded.

The policy and staff training are essential for managing the large volume of email traffic going to, from and among elected officials, staff, citizens and others, as well as for responding properly to Sunshine Law requests, Geisel said.

Also received and filed for future use and reference were five-year projections on the city’s financial position. Both Geisel and Craig White, the city’s finance director, emphasized that all assumptions used in the projections were made conservatively, due to revenue instabilities.

“We are in excellent fiscal condition now,” Geisel said, “but fundamental changes in the retail industry now underway will have an impact on our sales tax revenues.”

Sales taxes are a major source revenue source for Chesterfield, which has no property tax levy.

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