The future of the St. Mary Police Department was discussed during a sometimes-heated gathering at St. Mary City Hall last Thursday.
The meeting was called to address a blown engine with the department’s vehicle and possibly liquidate more certificates of deposit if needed to get the car running again.
However, the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce, represented by former mayor Carl Wyatt, made an offer to pay the repairs in order to help keep the police department — which consists of one officer, currently police chief Tim Maurice — in operation.
The board could take no action on the proposal since the meeting was not official anyway, with only Jennifer Weiss and Brian Helms in attendance from the Board of Aldermen along with Mayor Gloria Bader, city clerk David Woods and the police chief.
Board president Cody Myers and newly elected Alderwoman Jennifer Schwartz were unable to attend due to other obligations, which also was a point of contention during the meeting.
Woods provided the board with estimates on two replacement options, ranging from $8,950 for a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria to $13,950 for a 2015 Ford Explorer.
But Wyatt, the chamber’s vice president, opened the meeting by making the organization’s offer to pay for repairs to the engine.
“The only provision I’ve got,” Wyatt said, “is that if you don’t have a police department if you sell the car, you reimburse [the chamber], which will be in the neighborhood of $1,000. … We want a police department.”
He said he had found a motor from someone he had gone to school with.
“I found one with 60,000 miles on it made for that car,” Wyatt said.
Helms, who had been board president for a year before Myers was voted in 3-2 last meeting, opened a larger discussion of where the department stands in the city’s budget.
Woods said the general revenue fund in the budget will be $53,000 short this year, and the city’s water and sewer collections do not cover those departments’ operations.
The city has liquidated money from certificates of deposit (CDs) the last two months in order to pay the bills.
“This is a big consideration, because, of course, if we’re short, eventually we’ll have to cash some more CDs in if we’re not getting any other income from any place else,” Helms said. “We have a bigger issue than just water/sewer. We’ve got a city budget shortfall.
“I’m interested in the city’s safety. I’ve talked to the mayor about the city’s safety. … As much as we feel like we want to make sure our city is safe, we might not be able to afford it with a policeman of our own, and we might have to look at bringing something in from outside like the sheriff’s department from Ste. Genevieve.”
Wyatt grumbled at Helms’ proposition.
Helms said the aldermen represented 150 or more people in their wards while Wyatt was speaking for five people in the chamber.
“I’m thinking,” Helms said, “if the Chamber of Commerce wants to make decisions for our city, then they need to get elected, because we have big problems and we need to get our arms around the problem. …
“I don’t like being yelled at every time we have a big issue that we need to talk about, but we have to face it, and I need to be the person who says to my ward, ‘We’re facing our problem.’
“I want a policeman, and we can have a policeman, and we might have to look at the county and tell them, ‘Look, we might be dissolving our police department, how can you help us? How can you come in and help protect us and make sure our citizens are safe?’
“What we want and what we need are two different things. We need protection and we need to be supervised by a police department. We can’t afford the one that we have.”
Helms said eliminating the police department alone would not solve the city’s budget shortfall.
He said the police department should be a topic at the next meeting on Thursday, May 9.
Wyatt said all the city’s department’s took care of themselves, sometimes with help from the Chamber of Commerce. …
He said the chamber also was willing to fix the police car, “but there’s no need to fix the police car if there isn’t going to be a police department.”
He said if the city opts to sell the car, the chamber would like to have its $1,000 back to use in another capacity.
“If you would just realize what put you in the hole,” Wyatt said. “Ninety percent of it is water and sewer, because you didn’t do what you had to.”
Wyatt said the board should have raised rates when the Public Water Supply District (PWSD) No. 1, which supplies water to the city, raised them in January 2018 and again in January 2019.
“This board here elected to make itself look good and not raise the water rates,” Wyatt said. “You developed a $52,000 deficit.”
See complete story in the April 24 edition of the Herald.