Monday, June 5, 2017

Mayor Lyda Krewson Floats Tax Increase to Fund Police Pay Hike

Posted By on Mon, Jun 5, 2017 at 6:37 AM

PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
During the mayoral campaign, Mayor Lyda Krewson suggested that more city police officers need to be hired — and that existing officers need a pay raise. She estimated the effort would cost about $20 million, but, in the words of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "she would find the money somewhere inside the city's budget."

Now that Krewson has taken office, she's singing a different tune. At a hastily assembled press conference on Friday, she indicated not only that she sees raising officer salaries as key to addressing violent crime in the city, but that she's considering a tax increase to finance the $20 million needed to pay for it.

Krewson called the press conference on Friday after fielding numerous questions about a recent spate of violence in the city, including an incident in north St. Louis Thursday that left three adults dead and a seven-year-old wounded. (The little girl, Deniya Irving, is now brain dead.)

"Ultimately, I think our community has to decide if we're willing to pay more to have a competitively paid police department — and believe me, I know none of us wants to pay more taxes," Krewson said Friday, according to the Post-Dispatch.

If the new mayor has decided to spend her political capital on the issue, that's a major victory for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. The union endorsed her campaign for mayor — an endorsement that came with some baggage, as its spokesman/business manager Jeff Roorda is unpopular in many parts of the city.

How loathed is Roorda by city voters? It's not just that he's staked out numerous positions that are anathema to progressives. It's also his history of running his mouth. The mayoral candidate who finished second to Krewson in a crowded Democratic primary, City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, pointedly did not even seek the union's endorsement because of Roorda's past statements. (Among many other incidents, Roorda made national headlines for blaming then-President Barack Obama for the murder of police officers in Dallas.) Even Krewson ended up calling for Roorda's firing mid-way through the campaign after he referred to Jones as a "race baiter," a "cop hater" and "daughter of a felon."

Yet politically toxic as he may be in some parts of the city, Roorda nevertheless appears to be making some headway on getting his way. Since Krewson's election, the union has begun paying for a social media campaign pushing the idea that staffing has reached "dire" levels. It will only get worse, the union alleges, now that St. Louis County voters have said "yes" to a tax hike to increase the pay of its officers.

But while competition may increase for good candidates, FBI statistics show St. Louis is hardly at anything approaching dire staffing levels. In fact, the city currently has more police department employees per capita than all but two other cities in the nation— Washington, D.C., and New York City. (Looking solely at sworn officers, discounting the numerous support staffers employed by the department, St. Louis has 38.3 officers for every 10,000 residents. That makes St. Louis the seventh highest city in the nation for officers per capita, according to the FBI.)

And Krewson's call for a possible tax hike comes even though the new mayor is sitting on close to $5 million annually in unanticipated revenue. In March, city voters approved a tax increase tied to MetroLink in March (Prop 1) but — despite an expensive campaign urging them to say yes — rejected the corollary measure that would earmark the resulting business use tax increase to a pro soccer stadium (Prop 2). That leaves an additional $4 or $5 million within city coffers that neither Mayor Francis Slay had to play with, nor could the new mayor have been counting on.

Clearly, an increase could be a hard sell, even in a city worried about violence.
On Saturday, the city's interim chief, Lawrence O'Toole, spoke at a community meeting to discuss the recent spate of violence. That conversation did not focus on the need for pay increases; the Post-Dispatch reported that O'Toole acknowledged the role played by the community. "This is our problem," he reportedly told the north city crowd. "Solutions are going to come out of the neighborhoods."

In his remarks, O'Toole mentioned that the quadruple shooting that left Deniya Irving dead had yielded just one tip to police. And at one point in the meeting, some residents suggested that the police union's spokesman — the very guy leading the call for pay raises — might be part of the problem. Per the P-D, residents said that his comments "continue to create a divide between residents and the police."

Of Roorda's past comments, the chief acknowledged, “He makes it difficult for us."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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