Wide Sentiment For Closing County Parks Didn’t Come From North County

 Sioux Passage Park is enjoyed year round by county residents. Bob Lindsey photo  

By Michael Fetters

While citizens’ opposition to closing half of St. Louis County parks has resonated from West County and South County residents, hardly anyone at last week’s county council hearing spoke up about closing any of  North County’s parks.

Over 500 citizens huddled together outside the Clayton government building last week (Nov. 15) to protest a proposal by County Executive Charles Dooley to close half of St. Louis County parks throughout the county. About 90 had signed up to speak at the annual  county budget meeting and they  carried a message to Dooley and the County Council: Save our parks.

Two weeks ago, Dooley sent a message to the County Council and to St. Louis County residents that  either the council approves a tax increase of two percent, or it closes almost half of its 50 parks and lay off 175 people—140 of them would come directly from the parks department. Of the 90 residents speaking at the meeting, not a single person agreed with Dooley’s proposal.

With the exception of Dooley himself, not a single councilman or councilwoman agreed with Dooley either, unanimously voicing their support for the parks. “I will not support a budget that cuts parks or that requires mass layoffs and unnecessary service cuts,” said Councilman Steve Stenger. Speaking last, Dooley iterated, “We cannot do what we used to do with the same amount of money.” Both are Democrats.

Dooley’s view struck a chord that reverberated through the hearts of the people assembled. One woman speaking on the stoppage of snow removal in unincorporated St. Louis County referred to the parks being “just like precious heirlooms.” Following on her thoughts, George Weber implored the council, “Find a way to keep our kids looking to the future.”

Dooley made a plea for ideas from the people, that we work together to solve these problems during these hard times.

There was no lack of ideas to save the parks without raising taxes. “We need more transparency for our money, more understanding.” said Cory Westcot. “We need sustainability in our parks, utilizing zoned mowing, solar powered shelters and lights, the creation of local foundations to support the parks. Even a toll gate where feasible.”

Kevin Ganley, a retired parks supervisor from Florissant, pleaded with the council for fairness. “Of the 175 layoffs proposed by this budget, the majority of them come from the parks maintenance. I ask that the cuts be made across the board. Be fair about the layoffs.”

Eva Brinner of West County pointed out that in closing the parks, not only would St. Louis County be losing the jewels of state, but also millions of dollars in revenues that are brought into the state, much of it in the St. Louis County area, by the equestrian society’s use of such parks. A woman identified as Miss Soleman, speaking after Brinner, quoted the equestrian society as bringing in over $623 million dollars annually.

The message for the council was clear this evening. “We resent these political ploys and manipulations,” said Brinner.

“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,” echoed Marty Koch.

Stenger and Dooley indicated that the residents’ comments will be taken seriously before any decisions are made on actual legislation.

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