CLAYTON — St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell's 2020 budget proposal includes $1.59 million more to expand his roster of lawyers focused on court diversion programs, the central tenet of his reform agenda.
On Thursday, Bell and his top staffers pitched an estimated $13.4 million budget for 2020 to members of the County Council, saying that the office is woefully understaffed compared to other prosecutors offices across the country.
Bell wants the additional money to fund 21 positions, including seven for diversion, five trial attorneys and at least two more lawyers dedicated to the warrant office, plus the purchase of 60 iPads for all attorneys at an estimated $84,000. Giving tablets to all prosecutors, he said, would allow the office to transition to a more paperless system and ultimately cut costs and time spent printing and managing paper court files.
The office has about 600 cases in or designated for diversion programs, which are designed at keeping those with nonviolent and less serious felony cases out of jail, he said. Bell's office believes expanding such programs will keep people out of jail, save tax money and give defendants access to mental health, drug treatment and job training.
Next year, his office is also getting a portion of a 3-year, $1.2 million federal grant toward combatting opioid abuse.
Bell's 2019 budget was $11.9 million.
During Thursday's meeting, Bell was asked by Councilman Mark Harder about Bell's parking tickets on his take-home county SUV and travel and meal spending that have been the subject of TV and newspaper stories this year.
Bell said he paid the parking tickets from his own pocket and reiterated that he anticipated higher discretionary spending as part of building relationships with city officials in St. Louis County and elsewhere.