Last week we examined why municipal court abuses and policing for profit occur in the St. Louis region. The underlying reason is that many towns lack sustainable tax and consumer bases and have low property values. Simply put, they are too small to succeed. To make up for revenue gaps they turn to predatory practices in order to sustain themselves. Now we will examine why these towns are so small in the first place.Read more
Recently the Arch City Defenders brought a class action suit against thirteen municipalities for their abusive practices, which includes jailing residents who are too poor to pay their fines and fees. Also known as debtors prisons, this practice was supposedly banned from the United States in 1833. Previous to the suit, the state recently enacted municipal court reform measures in an attempt to curb these practices. Yet, we as a region continue to overlook why these practices exist in the first place.Read more
For a long time, much of Greater St. Louis has believed the conventional wisdom that its 115 governments result from careful choices made by voters and calculated decisions executed by well-intentioned civil servants.
This myth of local control often results in the isolation of residents in their own neighborhood leading to the perception that others simply cannot “get it together.” From this myopic viewpoint, crime, social unrest, dwindling populations, and a struggling economy are the outcome of others’ poor decisions.
However, reality tells a different story...Read more
Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch April 19, 2016.
Neighborhoods and local accessibility are arguably the largest assets that St. Louis has to offer. Folks who live around you are also the same folks whom you see at school events, the grocery store and on the street. That tight-knit feeling is why so many people love St. Louis. Yet, our largest strength is, at times, also our largest weakness.Read more
Not as long ago as we think, divided regions stood pitted against one another. Outside influences sought to play them off of each other for personal gain. The feeble central government was stripped of any ability to corral these fickle localities—each with their own idiosyncrasies and identity.
Common sense standards regarding general safety and economic regulation had little effect. Many levied taxes against each other in order to steal business. Northern and Southern groups had their own culture, as did those in the East and West.
Before going further, am I talking about the municipalities of St. Louis County or the thirteen states under the Articles of Confederation?Read more
Better Together, the group studying our municipal governments, in their Regional Comparisonrevealed that St. Louis is spending much more per capita than Indianapolis and Louisville. Between St. Louis City, St. Louis County, the 90 municipalities in St. Louis County and the 23 fire districts of St. Louis County (No Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), Zoo Museum District (ZMD), Great Rivers Greenway (GRG), Bi-State Development (Metro), or school districts) each year we’re spending $590 more per capita than Indianapolis and $815 more than Louisville. So if we spent the same per capita as Indianapolis is we’d be spending $778M less and in the case of Louisville, $1.075B less.Read more
Many of the municipalities in the region are failing or stagnating. The failing ones are easy to spot. They can’t feed their prisoners. The mayor is caught embezzling. They use speeding tickets to fill budgets. Their population is dropping. Wealth is fleeing. Empty housing, retail, offices, and factories dominate. These are the apparent signs.Read more
Recognizing that the booming city of Ballwin thrives within a vacuum, the Board of Aldermen voted Monday night to secede from everything. “Keep our tax dollars home,” chanted the crowd before the unanimous vote. “We can certainly stand on our own. We’re bigger than 77 other Missouri counties,” Alderman Nick Riviera stated. “We certainly are better separate. We shouldn’t have to pay for anything outside our borders. That stuff does nothing for us,” said resident Lenny Leonard.Read more
Retail is not economic development; it is the result of it. However, time and time again it is billed as economic development in the St Louis region. Mayors, council members, aldermen and others use it as evidence they’re serving their constituents. Several factors contribute to the misuse of TIF for retail – the lure of new stores, the illusion of growth from abandoning the old big box for the new one, powerful developers, construction labor interests, and how we fund our municipalities in our fragmented region through sales taxes.Read more