CLAYTON • The budget ax that has been hovering for three months over St. Louis County government has finally come down, on the Parks and Public Works departments.
County Executive Charlie A. Dooley said Wednesday that he was laying off 20 full-time employees in the Parks Department and six in Public Works.
Other cuts will include closing the county's three public swimming pools two weeks earlier this summer.
Along with reductions in maintenance work and in capital purchases and projects, the move is designed to trim about $3.6 million out of the Parks Department.
The cuts rekindle the friction between Dooley, a Democrat, and the Democratic-controlled County Council that broke out last year over the budget.
Council Chairman Mike O'Mara, who played a key role in ending the impasse in December, reacted angrily Wednesday to news of the layoffs.
"Charlie and I had an agreement that there would not be any layoffs this year, and he broke it," O'Mara, D-Florissant, said Wednesday. "His promise was part of my sell (of the budget compromise) to my fellow council members. I don't know what happened since last month, but now I've lost my trust with my council members."
Dooley denied making such a promise.
"I told Mike whatever we could do with that budget, we'd do," Dooley said. "It's unfortunate, but we can't work within that budget without making some layoffs."
The council approved a $357 million budget in December. The administration projected a revenue gap of $24.5 million, to be made up from reserves and cuts.
Dooley will also eliminate four part-time positions in Parks, one full-time job in the Revenue Department and 25 funded positions that are now vacant.
The parks cuts call for moving up the closing day to Aug. 1 from Aug. 15 at the water park at St. Vincent Park in north St. Louis County and the pools at the North County and Kennedy (in South County) recreation complexes. This marks the second time in 10 years that the county has cut back on the pool schedule, which used to run until Labor Day.
Dooley said the goal is to require Parks to subsist solely on the $18.5 million it collects from taxes dedicated to the system, and without an annual infusion from the general fund. Last year, that was about $4 million.
CEASE-FIRE IS OVER
Just last month, the council had called a cease-fire in a conflict that began on Halloween night, when Dooley presented the council with his plan to close what he said was a $10 million budget gap.
Among the proposed cuts was the closing of Lone Elk, Greensfelder, George Winter, Fort Bellefontaine and 19 other parks, and cutting 173 jobs, most of them in Parks.
The council resisted.
Meanwhile, the public responded to the threatened park closures with petitions and demonstrations inside and outside the county administration building.
Last month, after Dooley admitted having mishandled the budget issue, he and O'Mara met in the county executive's ninth floor office in Clayton to reach a deal to pass the 2012 budget by the Dec. 31 deadline.
O'Mara said a deal was reached after Dooley backed down from closing the parks, shutting the West County Satellite Office, limiting snowplowing and threatening layoffs.
O'Mara said county parks director Lindsey Swanick attended the negotiations and said she could operate in her budget without making layoffs.
Dooley said that Swanick "misspoke" and that the layoffs proved necessary.
O'Mara said he fears that the layoffs will jeopardize a $100 million bond issue the council recently approved for the April 3 ballot to build a new Family Courts building.
"You think things have finally settled down, and we get this courts building on the ballot, and now a wrench gets thrown in the works again," O'Mara said. "We're going to lose the trust of the citizens over this."
Councilman Steve Stenger, D-South County, said Dooley should have first fired eight Democratic campaign workers who got county jobs last year in spite of a hiring freeze.
"Our parks and public works employees bring a real and measurable value to taxpayers," Stenger said. "But these political hires are just being carried on the payroll until the next election."
Dooley said that he had not considered firing the political appointees.
"I'm not going to pit one group of employees against another," he said. "It's never fair for any employee to be laid off who hasn't done anything wrong, but the constraints are what they are."