To the Editor:
I would like to take this opportunity to clear up some misconceptions surrounding the police department and matters concerning the city of Ste. Genevieve.
On April 7, 2019, the city brought a property tax levy to the citizens for a vote, which was advertised as a pay increase for police officers in the city of Ste. Genevieve. While the margin was narrow, the proposition passed, a property tax was levied against personal property and real estate, and the tax was implemented in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
As a result, all police personnel were given a $14,700.00 annual raise.
Again, I want to sincerely thank everybody who supported this initiative. I know everybody is spread thin as it is, and we appreciate the support that has been shown to our department.
There have been concerns raised about how the tax was dispersed, and I’d like to address those concerns. As some employees are salaried and some are hourly employees, the hourly dollar amount varied. Hourly personnel are entitled to holiday pay, and therefore, are budgeted for more hours than salaried employees. So in terms of numbers, salaried employees are budgeted for 2,080 hours a year, and received a $7.07 per hour raise, whereas hourly employees are budgeted for 2,334 hours, which encompasses the 13 paid holidays they receive per year, and brought their hourly raise to $6.30 per hour. The raise amounts equaled $14,705.60 for salaried employees and $14,704.20 for hourly employees.
Campaigning for support of this proposition was conducted during my personal time. Advertising and informational materials were made possible through donations and my own personal expense. As was stated during the campaign, I cannot give myself a raise. This has to be done by the Mayor and Board of Alderman, which in this case was granted.
The second item I would like to discuss is the recent residency controversy in the city. Our current city administrator, Martin Toma, announced his retirement, which opened up questions about our current residency ordinance. Some members of the Board of Alderman raised the issue of changing our current residency requirement to assist in the replacement of the city administrator. During that time, it was also suggested by the Board of Alderman that they reconsider the residency requirement for the police chief’s position as well.
In the February 27 Board of Alderman meeting, a citizen addressed the board about the residency ordinance of the city of Ste. Genevieve. During her comments, my perception was that she believed I was asking for this change. Also during her public comments, the citizen announced my salary and the city administrator’s salary, stating these were “two distinguished positions” with “affluent salaries,” stating the residency change was an insult because these salaries were being paid by her and other citizens of Ste. Genevieve, and not the county taxpayers, which is true. However, prior to the Proposition “P” implementation, the police chief was paid less than the city of Ste. Genevieve’s tourism director, yet that position — and any other department head position — is not required to live in the city of Ste. Genevieve.
I would like it known that I did not request this change of residency. I own my home in the city of Ste. Genevieve. I pay personal property and real estate tax for my property in the city of Ste. Genevieve, and I received the same tax increase that every other citizen received. I have no desire or intention to move out of the city of Ste. Genevieve.
Another concern I’ve heard, surrounding the Proposition “P” implementation, is the level of service expected as a result of the tax increase. It should be noted that this increased tax was not intended to increase the number of officers we employ, but to pay the employees we have a decent wage and help combat the turn-over issues that have always plagued this department.
I’m proud to say that since the implementation of this proposition, we were able to hire back two officers previously employed here, as well as maintain the rest of our staff for nearly one full year, which hasn’t happened for quite some time.
I believe our officers do a very good job serving our community.
We don’t have gangs congregating on every street corner. We don’t have residential burglaries, rapes, robberies or shootings on a weekly basis. Our heroin problem has significantly decreased in recent months, due to proactive policing, enforcement actions and arrests of the major heroin dealers in our town. Additionally, our traffic accidents are down, our calls for service (including self-initiated activity) are up, and in spite of our increasingly lenient criminal justice system, we have maintained order and the peaceful way of life we’ve all come to enjoy in Ste. Genevieve.
I ask all of you to keep an open mind, and if you have questions, please feel free to call me. I’m more than happy to address any questions or concerns. I would much rather address your concerns, openly and honestly, than have false information being disseminated, spreading hate and discontent.
Eric P. Bennett,
Ste. Genevieve police chief