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Opinion: Generations of Shortsighted Decisions Continues To Dog St. Louis Region. Will Likely Continue

November 29, 2017 Featured, Politics/Policy, St. Louis County, STL Region Comments Off on Opinion: Generations of Shortsighted Decisions Continues To Dog St. Louis Region. Will Likely Continue
Economic disinvestment in the north county area at Chambers & Lewis & Clark

Many of our current problems in the St. Louis region can be traced back to decisions made long before any of us were born. The Post-Dispatch’s example of two women who own the same type of 2014 Cadillac the personal property tax on one was $895. the other $436. Why? Where each happens to live in St. Louis County.  You might think the higher bill is in a fancier area than the lower bill — but the opposite is the case!

The total amount of real estate taxes assessed in St. Louis County has increased 18 percent since 2010, to $1.75 billion. By comparison, during that time the total amount of personal property taxes grew by 21 percent, to $280 million.

The personal property tax has steadily become a major revenue generator for municipalities and fire districts. Municipalities have increased their personal property tax revenue by 27 percent since 2010, to $9.1 million. And fire districts across St. Louis County have increased the amount they collect from personal property by 30 percent, to $31.8 million.

Johnson’s tax bill is more than double O’Neal’s in part because the school and fire districts and municipality where Johnson lives are strapped for cash. She sees a Caddy parked in her driveway; her leaders see a way to pay for teachers, cops and firefighters.

Even O’Neal doesn’t think that’s fair. She knows that sales taxes from the West County Mall help subsidize services for her area. (Post-Dispatch)

You’re probably asking what old decision is responsible for this current situation, right?  The answer is the 1876 divorce of the City of St. Louis from St. Louis County.

On August 22, 1876, in what was undoubtedly the stupidest move ever in the history of St. Louis, St. Louis City and St. Louis County decided to separate. Like the American Revolution, the great event was prompted by taxes — the 310,000 city residents didn’t feel like wasting money on the 27,000 county residents and reasoned that the city wouldn’t expand much further west than Grand Boulevard. (The boundary was eventually set at Skinker Boulevard so the city could claim Forest Park.)

Ah, short-sightedness! Thy name is St. Louis voters! Within 25 years, the city found itself pushing against its western border at Skinker and began to regret the decision to divorce itself from the county. (Riverfront Times)

As the land-locked City of St. Louis struggled as population and tax base fled to St. Louis County many County residents/leaders smugly thought something like “That’s the City for you!’ Now St. Louis County is going through the very same thing the city did in the last century — middle class fleeing certain areas with jobs, retail, etc following behind. In their place are lowered hime values, more crime, and an increased in concentrated poverty.

Had St. Louis not selfishly left St. Louis County it would have been able to annex smaller towns/villages as it grew. The city limits today would likely be out to at least the I-270 loop — North, West, and South. There would be a few municipalities that resisted annexation, but they’d be completely surrounded by the City of St. Louis. The majority of the region’s residents would live in the City of St. Louis. They’d all be covered by the city’s fire department and live within a few school districts. We wouldn’t have the disparity of taxes we do now.

Of course, this isn’t to say we’d be problem-free. We wouldn’t be. And thinking about this hypothetical scenario doesn’t change current reality. We’re one of the most fragmented regions in the country — a very high number of units of government — all with taxing ability.  Today many are as shortsighted as those in 1876 — their little corner of St. Louis County (or elsewhere in the region) is comfortable so this isn’t their problem. This is the “do nothing” approach to problem solving.

OK, let’s examine that option. Residents of North St. Louis County who cam afford housing elsewhere vote with their feet and leave — as many have been doing for years. Housing values drop so more poor move to North County, but in fewer numbers than those who left. Small municipalities continue to struggle — some raise taxes, others disincorporate themselves. Employers leave. Crime worsens. Income and other inequalities in the region get worse.

As I see it, the only answer is to reduce the units of government in the region. Sadly, many just accept the status quo as a given. From the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Lower-income areas of St. Louis County require more services (police. EMS. etc) so it makes sense those residents pay more pers. property tax

  • Strongly agree 5 [18.52%]
  • Agree 4 [14.81%]
  • Somewhat agree 1 [3.7%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 2 [7.41%]
  • Somewhat disagree 3 [11.11%]
  • Disagree 5 [18.52%]
  • Strongly disagree 7 [25.93%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

As is often the case, the selfish shortsighted mentality will likely prevail. Please prove me wrong.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis County Personal Property Taxes Be The Same Regardless of Location?

November 26, 2017 Featured, St. Louis County, Sunday Poll, Taxes Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis County Personal Property Taxes Be The Same Regardless of Location?
Please vote below

We recently received our personal property tax bill in the mail for our 2007 Honda Civic EX, but I know anyone else with the same car registered in the City of St. Louis will owe the same amount. St.Louis County, however, is very different. Yesterday the Post-Dispatch did a story on the variation in rates, citing two women at the start:

Each owns a 2014 Cadillac XTS. And each got her personal property tax bill in the mail from the county this month.

Johnson’s tax bill was $895. O’Neal’s was $436.

Across the St. Louis area, people are writing checks to pay their personal property taxes, which are due by year’s end. Residents of St. Louis all pay the same rate. But St. Louis County residents are not assessed evenly — far from it.

All county residents pay the same real estate and personal property tax rates for certain services, such as county government and community colleges. But the rates for public schools, fire protection and municipalities vary dramatically. The boundaries don’t overlap cleanly, so even next-door neighbors can pay different rates. (Post-Dispatch)

According to the Post-Dispatch it is lower income areas that are paying the most.

The above is the subject of today’s poll:

This poll will close at 8pm tonight, I’ll post my thoughts on Wednesday.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: What’s Up With St. County Police & Metro?

July 30, 2017 Public Transit, St. Louis County, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: What’s Up With St. County Police & Metro?

A week ago we learned about St. Louis County police officers covering the camera at a MetroLink substation.

A federal Homeland Security law enforcement officer was assigned to Metro transit patrol as part of a beefed-up security plan for the busy Fourth of July weekend.

He didn’t like what he saw.

Late in the afternoon on July 4, the officer walked into the North Hanley MetroLink substation to find 12 St. Louis County police officers milling about. A resulting Metro check of video footage determined that not only were county police officers loitering in the North Hanley security office instead of patrolling trains or platforms, at one point they covered the security camera with an envelope and tape. (Post-Dispatch)

Horrible, right? Consider the other side’s position:

The statement released Sunday by county police Chief Jon Belmar and spokesman Sgt. Shawn McGuire implies the allegations are the result of “politics and infighting.” The statement says the security camera at North Hanley MetroLink substation, which documented at least eight instances since 2015 of police covering up its lens, is improperly placed in a “private room.”

“A limited number of carefully selected images from over a two-and-a-half-year period that were pulled from an improperly-placed surveillance camera in a 12×14 private room appeared with the article,” McGuire wrote. “This room is used to monitor security cameras, hold briefings and complete report writing. It is also the only room officers have to take breaks from work and weather as well as change clothes and equipment at the end of a shift.” (Post-Dispatch)

As part of the Post-Dispatch series, apparently the County wants to remove accountability from their contract with Metro, with Metro head John Nations and St. Louis County Police chief Belmar disagreeing on matters for a couple of years now, hence Belmar’s “politics and infighting” comment.

Which brings us to today’s poll:

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Would A Consolidation Of City & County Be Too Extreme Or The Perfect Solution?

June 18, 2017 Featured, St. Louis County, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Would A Consolidation Of City & County Be Too Extreme Or The Perfect Solution?
Please vote below

In 1876 the City of St. Louis left St. Louis County, an act known as the Great Divorce. Four years later the city’s population was over 350k and growing rapidly. In the 140+ years since, a lot has changed in both the city & county. The two sides are open to discussing a reconciliation.

The St. Louis Mayor and St. Louis County Executive side-by-side was a signal, perhaps, of changing attitudes. The two are both now supportive of a group called Better Together.

Mayor Lyda Krewson has long been open to the idea of taking the separate entities, the city and county, and combining or merging them.

County Executive Steve Stenger says he was once skeptical of Better Together. He now says he’s willing to hear more.

“It doesn’t hurt to look. We can only benefit from the information and the data the study provides,”

Monday, Better Together released a study that says in the last five years, municipalities and fire districts around the region passed 100 new tax increases. (KMOV)

What a reconciliation could look like is still be researched, but it might be as simple as a few agreements to combine some services to a making the city & county one big consolidated government entity — eliminating all municipalities in St. Louis County. Lots of choices in between, as well as keeping the status quo are options as well.

Today’s poll seeks to find out the mood for the consolidated government option.

This poll will close at 8pm.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Readers: City & County Will Show Population Loss In 2020

March 15, 2017 Featured, St. Charles County, St. Louis County Comments Off on Readers: City & County Will Show Population Loss In 2020

In a non-scientific Sunday Poll two years ago, just over half the respondents thought the city’s population would decline in the 2020 census.  In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll I asked about the city AND county population.

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis (city) AND St. Louis County will both lose population in the 2020 Census.

  • Strongly agree 6 [16.67%]
  • Agree 8 [22.22%]
  • Somewhat agree 8 [22.22%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree 6 [16.67%]
  • Disagree 6 [16.67%]
  • Strongly disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.78%]

More than 60% think both city & county will lose population when the next census is held in 3 years. I agree.

The city’s 2010 loss was less than 10%
In 2010 St. Louis County experienced a population decline for the first time since St. Louis City left in 1876

The factors that led to the declines in both remain — the county had its first decline in 2010. Since the 2010 census St. Charles County has continued to grow. school districts are struggling to keep pace with more students. The middle class continues to leave St. Louis County for St. Charles County and the city’s poor continue to move to St. Louis County for better schools & housing.

It was very different 55 years ago, as noted by a 2013 STL 250 Facebook post:

This Day in St. Louis History, March 15, 1962:
St. Louis County overtakes St. Louis City in population

The American Statistical Association’s St. Louis Chapter Metropolitan Census Committee listed the population of St. Louis County as 762,000, and the population of St. Louis City at 740,000. For the first time in history, the population of St. Louis County exceeded that of St. Louis City. The recent creation of the Interstate Highway System would drastically change the lives of American cities forever, with St. Louis taking a particularly extreme stance as those with means fled outwards from the center. St. Louis County’s population had begun rising steadily around the turn of the century, but in the post-World War II years, it jumped with shocking speed. From 1950 to 1960, the population of St. Louis County jumped from 406,349 to 703,532. Meanwhile, St. Louis City had experienced its first population loss in history in the 1960 census. Dark days were still ahead… from 1970 – 1980, St. Louis City would lose 27% of its population.

In the 1947 Comprehensive Plan Harland Bartholomew had predicted St. Louis’ population would reach 900k by 1970:

The City of St. Louis can anticipate a population of 900,000 persons by 1970, based on these assumptions:

  1. That the population of the St. Louis Metropolitan District continues to maintain its present proportion to total urban population of the United States.
  2. That an attractive environment for living will be developed throughout the city to counteract current decentralization trends.
  3. That the city is, nevertheless, a maturing urban center that can never expect to attain the tremendous past growth of certain earlier periods.

Bartholomew knew the big population increases wouldn’t happen, but he still anticipated modest gains in 1960 & 1970 — not the huge losses that actually occurred. I’ll be highly surprised if both city & county don’t show continued loss of residents.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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