City to eliminate SRO program

    With uncertainty in the city budget due fear of lower sales tax revenue from the impact of COVID-19, the St. James City Council chose to eliminate one of the two School Resource Officer (SRO) positions on Monday night. The council voiced their support of the program and would be willing to revisit it when the city is in a better financial position.

    “Calculating the cost of two School Resource Officers, the total is $87,260 annually. We talked last (month) when we presented the budget; we just don’t have it,” City Administrator Jim Fleming explained.
    Fleming said the city has received the final numbers through April and it is not in a strong position going into the new fiscal year. “The general fund has $523,310. The municipal court lost $21,399. The police department costs us $610,000,” he explained. The pool, parks, and cemetery cost the city a combined $30,000 even after the stormwater tax was used, allowing for no new stormwater improvement projects this year.
    Additionally, the library cost $19,000, which will be paid out of the reserve fund. He told the council the street department, which receives funds through the Transportation Sales Tax, would still have $450,000 in their account to make the planned road improvement project to Springfield Street, leading from downtown, traveling past Nelson Hart Park, to the city limits. Sanitation made $53,000, but most other city departments did not make money and the current lack of sales tax due to citizens staying at home throughout the pandemic is expected to continue to negatively impact the city’s revenues.
    “The challenge is, how do we fund our SRO officers. I did talk to the Superintendent (Dr. Merlyn Johnson) and, in their budget, they have enough to support, basically, one officer, which is what they have been doing. We split it 50-50. So, our challenge would be to come up with the money to support the second officer, or $43,630,” Fleming said.
    He told the council the local use tax, which was passed last year, has already started generating money, which could be used to fund the officer, but there is uncertainty in how much the tax will generate based on early numbers. The tax is applied to online purchases from out-of-state retailers with a presence in Missouri. “We did pass the use tax and we anticipated $35,000 in income from the use tax. We did earmark some portion of that to be used for the (animal) shelter, the question would be for the council, what portion,” he explained.
    “For April, we received a check from the use tax for $3,900. In March, we received a check for $1,900. And then we had a huge jump in May, since everyone was buying online. That was $15,000,” he said. “So, we almost made $20,000 in three months of the use tax. I don’t know if that is going to continue if we open up the economy and people can shop in big box stores again,” Fleming explained, adding he is skeptical the city will collect as much as was brought in May. “Plus, as our economy tries to get back up to speed. A lot of this was panic buying and stocking up and may not continue as things become available,” he said.
    The city could also increase the amount charged for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), to help fund the officer, but the council was hesitant to touch those funds as an increase could be necessary to help with the general fund should sales tax generation continue to negatively impact city revenues, making it difficult to meet the budget. A half percent increase on the utility PILOT would add an average $1.25 per month per customer.
    After much discussion, the council chose not to fund the officers, but would allow the school district to fund one, as they are currently doing, should they choose to. The other officer would remain with the police department, as there are currently two vacant positions open. “We would supply the officer so they would get city retirement and insurance and all of that,” Fleming said.
    “The SRO is a great program, but right now, with our finances, it’s not possible,” Fleming said. “Until we see the impact of what this COVID thing is going to do to our revenues, it doesn’t make sense.”
    The city will work with the school district should they want to continue to support one officer. Fleming said they too are in a position where there is budget uncertainty and the program may have to be put on hold until both are in a better financial situation. Members of the council voiced their support of the program, but added the financial security of the city had to take priority right now.

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