Local news, local politics and community events for St. Charles County Missouri.
10 I NEWS I March 7, 2018 MID RIVERS NEWSMAGAZINE @MIDRIVERSNEWS MIDRIVERSNEWSMAGAZINE.COM County outlook remains mostly sunny with some clouds on the horizon By BRIAN FLINCHPAUGH The state of St. Charles County remains good, according to its chief elected official, who struck a positive note throughout much of a nearly 30-page “state of the county” report released last week. However, even though the county continues to progress and its numbers stack up well compared to St. Louis City and County, the report also predicts some clouds on the horizon. County Executive Steve Ehlmann presented his report to the County Council at its Feb. 26 meeting. The county charter requires the county executive to prepare a “state of the county” report annually. It is available to residents online at sccmo.org. The report outlines an extensive list of projects and initiatives in transportation, public safety, parks, finances and economics that the county was involved with last year, along with a comparison to St. Louis City and County on some issues and numbers. Both paint a positive picture of the county. “What we have in St. Charles County is about the same average household income as St. Louis County, but we have fewer poor people and we also have fewer rich,” Ehlmann said at one point in his presentation. “We’re very much a middle-class county, especially compared to St. Louis County.” Councilmember John White [District 7], who chaired the meeting, said the report “proves once again that St. Charles County is a great place to live, work and raise a family.” But there are some clouds on the horizon that the council and Ehlmann began discussing during county budget deliberations in December 2017. The report notes that St. Charles County and St. Louis City and County have increased their spending per person in the last few years. St. Louis City and County spending increased $103.13 per person from 2012 to 2015 while their population decreased by 8,625 residents. St. Charles County increased spending by 3.8 percent during the same period but its population grew by 16,722. The report notes that the county was spending less per resident at the end of the period than at the beginning. Ehlmann noted some issues that may limit spending in the future. The county has no general fund property tax and there has been little growth in the state’s gasoline tax, which funds state transportation improvements. The county’s road and bridge, and dispatch taxes are controlled by statute. The county also is contributing $1.3 million annually to fund 911 services. But the most significant issue that may limit growth in services and spending is that sales tax revenues were up by just 1.66 percent in St. Charles County in 2017. Sales tax revenue accounts for more than The county police department was one of only three in the nation to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for cybercrime investigations. half the revenue available to fund services in the county’s general fund. County officials say increased shopping online has limited sales tax revenue because sales tax isn’t charged for many online purchases. “It will be harder and harder to keep up our income from sales tax if the rate of increase continues to decline,” Ehlmann said. “It [the 1.66 percent] doesn’t allow us to keep up with the rate of inflation.” On the positive side, the report noted that the county received $48 million last year in funding for transportation projects including improvements to Route 61 and a new interchange at Gutermuth Road at Route 364, which was approved last year by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, a regional planning agency that oversees federal and state transportation funding requests. The county also provided $2 million toward infrastructure improvements at the Route A interchange to support a new 1.3 million-square-foot logistics operation center near the General Motors plant in Wentzville. The county also supported a study by the Missouri Department of Transportation to improve Interstate 70 in the St. Louis region. The report states that the county remains active in fighting crime with the county police department increasing its efforts to arrest felons wanted for violent crimes, resulting in 948 fugitive arrests in 2017. Additionally, the turnover of 15,000 municipal and state traffic tickets cases to See COUNTY, page 27 Lake Saint Louis, St. Peters approve use tax measures for Aug. 7 ballot By BRIAN FLINCHPAUGH Like other municipalities throughout St. Charles County, Lake Saint Louis officials are asking the city’s residents to decide in August whether to impose a “use tax” on goods totaling $2,000 or more annually and purchased from outof-state vendors. The difference in Lake Saint Louis is that city officials have identified how the tax revenue will be used – specifically, to help pay for additional police department personnel. The city’s Board of Aldermen approved a bill, by a 5-1 vote at its Feb. 19 meeting, placing the use tax on the city’s Aug. 7 ballot. Alderman Jason Law [Ward 3] cast the lone no vote. Law questioned adding new taxes, saying if the city could find a way to save $100,000 and somehow give it back to taxpayers while pocketing $300,000 for police, he would be more supportive. The Missouri Municipal League has estimated that a use tax in Lake Saint Louis might generate $400,000 annually. However, Police Chief Chris DiGiuseppi and Lake Saint Louis City Administrator Paul Markworth were unsure if the city’s use tax would generate that amount. In earlier discussions, city officials said they wanted to let voters know how revenue from the tax would be used. If approved by a simple majority vote, revenue from the tax would allow Lake Saint Louis to add positions to the city’s police department. The main post would be a “professional standards position” – probably a lieutenant – who would serve as a compliance officer and work to update the city’s emergency operations plan and staff its emergency operations center. The city also would elevate one part-time dispatcher to full-time and add another fulltime dispatcher. “We want to prepare for future manpower and our immediate needs right now are to upgrade communications and emergency management and all of the things that fall under this professional standards position,” DiGiuseppi said. The city hasn’t updated its emergency operations plan since 2004. DiGiuseppi described the plan as largely “boilerplate.” He said he wants to have two dispatchers per 12-hour shift for safety reasons and to provide more backup. The city currently has one part-time and one full-time dispatcher. DiGiuseppi told the aldermen that the city’s patrol officer numbers are good right now. However, as the city experiences population growth in three to five years, he said it may want to revisit that issue to determine if it needs to add more patrol officers. On Feb. 22, St. Peters also joined in placing a use tax measure before its voters. At its regular meeting, the St. Peters City Council approved a bill, by 6-0 vote, placing a use tax measure on that city’s Aug. 7 ballot. Councilmembers Don Aytes [Ward 4] and Jerry Hollingsworth [Ward 2] were absent. Use taxes must be considered and voted on separately in each municipality; however, if approved, each city can impose the tax at the same rate as its local sales tax. The use tax must be reduced or raised to the same amount that any city sales tax is reduced or raised. If approved, St. Peters’ use tax rate would be 2 percent – the same as its current sales tax. City Administrator Russ Batzel said revenue from St. Peters’ use tax, if approved, may go toward public safety or the police. Currently, 45 states – and 105 municipalities in Missouri – have use taxes in place, including Foristell, Wentzville and St. Charles County. A use tax is meant mostly for business-to-business transactions and less for consumers. However, a use tax may have to be in place if local and state officials agree to impose a wider sales tax on internet purchases. The St. Charles City Council approved an ordinance at its Feb. 20 meeting placing a use tax on that city’s Aug. 7 ballot. If voters approve, revenue from the tax will be used for “public safety,” Public Information Manager Beth Norveil said.
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