Where’d you go to high school? I went to Marquette, my mom went to Normandy, and my dad went to Parkway West. That means I’m from Chesterfield, my mom is from Wellston, and my dad is from Ballwin. Yet, in reality my family is from St. Louis. These municipalities exist as glorified neighborhoods.
An arm chair exercise will put in perspective the glorification of these municipalities. Kinloch has a population of 215 and is seeking to build a new city hall. To put that in context, my high school graduating class had 538 students. Let’s be generous and say half of those students were eighteen. Hypothetically 269 legal adults–eligible to vote and hold office*–from a graduating high school class could have ran a municipality larger than Kinloch (and chances are they’d do a better job).
Besides the humorous–yet terrifying thought–of a bunch of teenagers running a city, we cannot escape the stark reality of the oversaturation of municipal governance structures in St. Louis. Each tiny city added diminishes the marginal return of value provided to the residents of the region and increase the drag on the economy.
These neighborhoods viciously compete for tax revenue, creating an economic race to the bottom. Moreover, the over-proliferation of tax incremental financing used to attract revenue, leads to municipalities freezing property taxes. In turn, freezing on property taxes starves local schools of funding.
Worsening the situation, once commercial contracts expire, companies seek lower rent and move on to the most attractive municipality to operate in creating a vacuum which drains property value, school funding, and municipal revenue. In the end, schools forwent potential revenue and then got hit with a loss of revenue because of decline property values.
Instead of ninety-one municipalities attempting to haphazardly run themselves as cities, a unified regional government with standardized fiscal policies, streamlined new business requirements, and uniform policing strategies would take care of running civil services. The neighborhoods would be left to do what neighborhoods are suppose to do: promote community involvement and create camaraderie among residents.
The St. Louis region can reunify and everyone will still be able to ask, “where’d you go to high school?” Reunification takes out the unnecessary step identifying as anything else besides a St. Louisan, just like it takes out the unnecessary fragmentation that harms the economy and your old high school.
*Most Municipalities require candidates to reached the age of 25; however, candidates for municipal aldermen only need to have reached the age of 18. This pokes a small hole in the theoretical argument, but just grab some older siblings and the example works again.