As I do each year in March, I presented the County Council with my annual report for St. Charles County government at a recent meeting. For this 2021 report, I focused on recovery, safety, and growth. I’ll be presenting the report at meetings throughout the county in the coming months but want to take this opportunity to give readers an overview. If you want to know more, you can access my slide presentation or watch my presentation to the Council.
Recovery. I highlighted the areas of COVID-19, opioid abuse, and the tornado in Defiance in this section. As I’m sure all of you know, COVID-19 is on a downturn presently, but at the end of 2021, and through February of this year, we, along with the rest of the region and state, had our highest peaks since the pandemic began. Overall, our cases, death rates and hospitalizations, have been below many in the region. While 61 percent of our residents have been fully vaccinated, we still encourage those who have not been to do so.
St. Charles County is to receive $19.6 million over the next 18 years in a nationwide settlement against companies that manufactured and distributed opioids. We’ll be looking at the opioid addiction crisis with programs addressing prevention, treatment and law enforcement involvement in fighting the illegal drug trade. While the Medical Examiner has not yet completed all reviews of the 2021 deaths, as of March 15, there were 122 drug-related deaths in St. Charles County, 112 of which were opioid related.
In December, the Defiance area experienced an EF3 tornado which injured three – one fatally – and damages were estimated at $3.4 million. I am thankful and proud of all the agencies across the county that came together to respond to this disaster, as well as the many volunteers who aided in the relief. While the damages were not enough to qualify for Federal disaster funding, the County keeps money in reserve for just this type of disaster.
Safety. When we began experiencing an uptick in auto break-ins early in 2021, St. Charles County Police Chief Kurt Frisz, along with other chiefs in the county, and Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar formed an Auto Theft Task Force. Since 70 percent of individuals incarcerated in the St. Charles County Department of Corrections on auto theft-related crimes are not residents of our county, St. Louis County and Maryland Heights police departments have adopted our plan and are now running operations in conjunction with ours. In 2021, auto thefts in St. Charles County were down 15 percent compared to 2020. There is still work to be done and we will keep at it, showing thieves our prosecutor is committed to requiring automatic jail time and higher bonds for anyone caught stealing or breaking into a vehicle in our county.
Growth. The phenomenal growth in St. Charles County continues. The U.S. Census showed our population at 405,262 in 2020, and it now is estimated at more than 411,000. Despite the pandemic, the County reports year-end totals for housing and commercial construction permits for 2021 remained ahead of the pre-pandemic numbers of 2019 and rival those of 2020.
As more people call St. Charles County home, our Parks system is keeping pace. The Parks and Recreation Department is celebrating its 25th year with 21 parks open to the public and four in reserve for a total of 4,151 acres. We acquired land in Wentzville for a new park and a donation of more than 11 acres made it possible to complete a 17-mile portion of the Dardenne Greenway between I-64 and I-70. If you haven’t visited all 21 parks, I’d encourage you to do so! There is truly something at each of them for the entire family to enjoy.
In my report, I told the Council about our low unemployment rate, our increase in gross retail sales, and the infrastructure accomplishments made possible by the County’s ½-cent Transportation Sales Tax. Despite the challenges from COVID, 2021 was a good year for your County, and we’re working our hardest to bring a successful 2022 to our residents as well.