Friday, November 18, 2011

Residents Rally Outside County Government Headquarters in Support of County Parks

Paul Hampel of the Post Dispatch in his recent article advises a crowd spilled out of the St. Louis County Council chambers and into the hallway on Tuesday demanding that the county administration rescind its proposal to close 23 parks as part of a plan to balance next year's budget.

The crowd of about 500 people, 90 of whom signed up to speak at the special budget hearing, was the largest in memory for a meeting at the county administration building in Clayton.

The turnout proved that County Executive Charlie A. Dooley touched a collective nerve two weeks ago when he sent a budget recommendation to the council that calls for closing almost half of the county's 50 active parks, eliminating 175 jobs, cutting back on snow removal in unincorporated subdivisions and closing facilities such as the government's West County Satellite Center. About 140 of the jobs to be cut are in the parks department.

Dooley, a Democrat, said the cuts would save the county $10 million and balance the 2012 budget. Parks he marked for closure include Lone Elk, Greensfelder, Fort Bellefontaine and George Winter.

The council has balked at Dooley's proposal, vowing not to pass the budget without changes. Dooley, once again, may be suffering from foot-in-mouth disease.

"Speaking for myself, I will not support a budget proposal that seeks to sell or close parks," Council Chairman Steve Stenger, D-south St. Louis County, announced to loud applause at the start of the meeting. The other council members then took turns announcing that they, too, were adamantly opposed to park closures.

Stenger has said that he does not believe that park closures or layoffs are needed in order to balance the budget. He recently established a special budget committee to examine the issue.

Dooley vowed to work with the council and the public to mitigate painful budget cuts. "But we can't continue to do what we used to do with the same amount of money," he said. Dooley did promise that no county parks would be sold.

Among the many speakers to address Dooley and the council was Kevin Ganley, a retired parks supervisor. Ganley, whose son currently works in the parks department, asked that layoffs be spread more evenly. "If layoffs are required, I think a fairer implementation is needed, and all political appointees should be the first to go," he said.

Marty Koch, of the Affton area, told elected officials that voters would not tolerate threats to parks. "If this wonderful county park system, which took so long to assemble, is split up, or sold or turned over to other government entities, I don't care who you are or what party you're in, you won't be re-elected," Koch said.

Stenger has accused Dooley of using the parks issue and the threat of layoffs and cuts in services as leverage to force the council to approve a tax increase.

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