ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Showing strong support for local police, St. Louis County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a sales tax increase to boost officers’ pay, hire more of them and make other public safety upgrades.
Final unofficial returns showed the measure — Proposition P — was supported by 63 percent of voters.
Among other plans for revenue from the half-cent tax hike: increasing the number of two-person police cars and the use of dashboard and body cameras.
“I don’t think this is new support” from the public, said County Police Chief Jon Belmar, a main advocate of the proposal. “This is support that’s been there before. Frankly, it’s humbling.”
He cited citizen backing police here received last year after officers were ambushed and killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La. and following incidents here such as the shooting which left Ballwin Officer Michael Flamion paralyzed.
County Executive Steve Stenger, another key backer of the tax plan, said the results showed that residents see public safety as their top priority.
“The purpose of the proposition is to keep officers safe as they keep us safe,” Stenger said. “This is probably the most transformational initiative for policing we have seen in this region for decades.”
The measure was promoted by a $650,000-plus ad campaign funded heavily by major area corporations. That included television commercials and mailings.
The tax increase will generate an estimated $80 million a year.
About $46 million is earmarked for St. Louis County government — the police department, the prosecutor’s office and corrections. The remaining $34 million will go to the county’s 90 municipalities, based on their population.
County officials and other supporters say there’s an urgent need to keep county police salaries competitive and to add more police to reduce the burden on current officers.
Opponents, including the county Republican Central Committee, complained that there was nothing in the ballot proposal that prevents leaders from reducing existing budgets and replacing spending with the new tax money. Stenger said that won’t happen.
One committee member, Ken Newhouse, said he and others opposed to the sales tax hike support the police as well but disagree about the way to do that. But with no money for an ad campaign of their own, he said, it was difficult to get their arguments against the sales tax before voters.
“People were so pro-police this time, whether they were Republican, Democrat, independent, you name it,” said Newhouse, who helped organize an anti-sales tax group.
Belmar says the measure would allow the hiring of about 110 more officers for his county department, which now has about 890.
The tax hike will boost the overall sales tax in most unincorporated areas to 7.613 cents from 7.113 cents. The tax in many cities would be higher depending on their own municipal sales tax rate.
The Proposition P campaign committee, STL Citizens for Safety, got its biggest donation from Clayton-based Centene Corp., which kicked in $250,000.
Two major business groups — Civic Progress and the Regional Business Council — provided $150,000 and $100,000, respectively. And $200,000 came from retired investor Rex Sinquefield, a prolific donor to various causes he favors. Overall, the committee reported raising $710,000. An opposition group said it raised $140.
Meanwhile, voters in St. Ann and Moline Acres approved property tax and sales tax increases, respectively, to help maintain their municipal police services. Also passing was a property tax increase in Crestwood, part of which will aid city police.
But Overland voters rejected a property tax hike to bolster the city police pension fund.