In 2017, Better Together research showed much of the $119 million in increased spending for 114 local governments in just three years was fueled by the passage of 100 tax increases.
After yesterday’s elections, residents in the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the 89 municipalities and 23 fire protection districts have been asked to consider an astounding 159 tax increase proposals since April 2012.
“The cost of all our needs has grown while sales tax is generally shrinking,” said Frontenac City Administrator Bob Shelton before voters turned down the first municipal property tax increase on the ballot in over 20 years.
Maplewood residents found themselves in a similar position, voting on a “necessary” property tax hike because again, “costs are increasing.”
Frontenac and Maplewood’s tax increase proposals were just two of 20 voted on in the region:
- Frontenac (Failed)
- Moline Acres
- Cool Valley
- Cool Valley
- Cool Valley
- Des Peres
- Cool Valley
- Jennings (Failed)
- Pine Lawn (Failed)
- St. John
- Velda Village Hills (Failed)
- Winchester (Failed)
- Calverton Park
- Vinita Park
- Woodson Terrace
- Fenton Fire Protection District (Fail)
St. Louis voters have now seen their taxes increase 121 times in the last six years to fund the rising costs of municipal services.
All the while, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates St. Louis has fallen out of the Top 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country, with both the City and County losing residents. The combination of increased spending, further population loss, and no discernible improvements in key outcomes for the region underscore the need for the continued examination and reimagining of our local government structure.
Yet instead of innovation and growth, St. Louis’ fragmented structure forces many local governments to focus on survival. As a result, many communities are relying on hope and “shrinking” sales tax revenue to fund their operations.
Cool Valley (pop. 1,196), facing a decline in both property taxes and revenue generated through its municipal court (at one-time funding 29.11% of its general operating revenue with traffic fines and fees), sought a combined 1.25% sales tax increase through three ballot measures.
Des Peres, where no municipal property tax is imposed on its population of about 8,500 with a median household income of $116,000, extended a half-percent sales tax to fund continued operation and maintenance of its state-of-the-art recreation facility, The Lodge. “Tracy Hansen, finance director, said the tax generates about $3 million per year. Without the tax extension, the city would have to pay approximately $2 million per year for current funding commitments from other sources.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Des Peres isn’t the only affluent municipality that does not impose a property tax on its residents. Town & Country, Wildwood, and Ballwin all rely on sales tax prosperity as well. After all, taxing your own citizens is politically unpopular, while attracting retail and spreading the cost burden across a million potential customers levies an indirect tax on a far greater pool of people, many of whom do not have a vote in that municipality’s local elections.
Voters in two municipalities considered an alternate course in 2018. Residents in Mackenzie Village (pop. 134) voted 18-15 to dissolve and become an unincorporated part of St. Louis County. Likewise, residents of Hanley Hills have successfully submitted enough petitions to place a dissolution measure on the ballot later this year.
Amidst the continued reality of spending more money to deliver the same services to fewer people, the St. Louis City-County Governance Task Force is leading a regional conversation on what change might look like. Since October, its five members have been engaging in an extensive community outreach effort, including the collection of feedback from over 1,000 residents throughout the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County regarding the possible reorganization of municipal services.
Utilizing the public’s feedback, along with fact-driven research assembled by Better Together, the task force is developing recommendations to improve the cost and quality of municipal services in the St. Louis region.
Citizen forums and survey collection is an ongoing effort of the Task Force. Residents of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and its 89 municipalities are encouraged to take the citizen input survey.