City officials blame budget shortfall; refuse to hold a town hall or open city’s books
By TIM ROWDEN
Bel-Ridge, MO – Laborers Local 42’s Law Enforcement Division is calling on city officials here to open the city’s books and hold a town hall with residents before proceeding with plans to defund and outsource the city’s police department and other public works.
The union, individual officers, business leaders and residents have voiced concerns about the proposed cuts.
“At the April 13 Board of Aldermen meeting Mayor Willie Fair and the aldermen agreed to hold a town hall meeting where residents could discuss proposed cuts,” said David Reagan, field representative for Local 42’s Law Enforcement Division. “To date there has not been a town hall and the matter of cuts has only been deliberated behind closed doors.
“The City of Bel-Ridge is trying to take away vital services, such as the police department, out of the citizens’ hands,” Reagan said. “They keep putting blame on the previous administration, but this council and this administration has been in place for three years.”
TROUBLING FINANCES, HIRES AND RAISES
The City of Bel-Ridge has approximately 2,700 residents and is currently facing a $300,000 budget shortfall that Reagan says stems from a lack of foresight and poor management by the city.
He says city leaders are using TIF funds to pay city debts instead of using the funds for their intended purpose. The city recently created three new high-salaried positions and granted all city personnel $2-an-hour raises. Police officers got the raise too, about a month after other city employees.
“Giving raises to all staff was another puzzling move,” Reagan said. “They already knew, or claimed, the budget was in dire straits, so why give everyone a raise and hire more employees? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Reagan says the city is currently paying two attorneys, a high-priced city manager, and an accountant to manage the city’s finances and services.
The Board of Aldermen met on May 4 and heard from citizens, police officers and the union, but city officials refused to answer any questions about when a town hall meeting would be held or when a decision might be made about the proposal to defund and outsource the police department.
“We are asking the mayor and the Board of Aldermen to honor their promise to hold a town hall meeting, open to the public, before considering this extreme measure to defund and outsource the police,” Reagan said.
“This affects the whole community,” he said. “Without seeing any of the numbers of what these others would charge to take over, I can’t imagine they’re going to charge the city less than what they’re already spending.
“Bel-Ridge officers aren’t making top dollar, but they’re a bunch of dedicated people,” Reagan said. “They love their jobs and their co-workers and the community. They’re always involved in the community, doing fishing derbies and things for the community. You can’t tell me that another community is going to come in here and do the same job and be as involved as these officers are at the same price.”
Laborers’ Local 42 Law Enforcement Division was created specifically for law enforcement personnel in Missouri. The union’s advisory board is comprised of current and retired officers from across the state of Missouri committed to improving the lives of law enforcement members by fighting for better wages, better working conditions, and better benefits.
The union currently represents about eight officers in Bel-Ridge. Reagan says the city’s financial picture and uncertainty about the future have already prompted some police officers to leave the department in search of more stable employment.
“Some of the guys, thinking they see the writing on the wall, have already moved on to other departments,” Reagan said. “It’s a shame, but it’s a very unstable environment.”