Government spending continues to grow in St. Louis—fueled by 100 tax increases during the last five years—new task force to study models and propose solutions

Introduction

Today, Better Together released an update to one of its essential studies that they performed in 2014 and revealed the next steps for the organization.

The original study—Regional Spending Comparison Overview—reported that overall spending for municipal services in St. Louis was $2.3 billion and that when compared to Indianapolis and Louisville, two cities that have consolidated their governments, St. Louis was spending between $750 million and $1 billion more per year.  Researchers at Better Together were curious as to what had happened with spending over the last three years and undertook to update this report.

Spending for municipal services grew by $119 million

The overall spending for municipal services has grown to $2.5 billion annually.  This is due to an increase of $119 million in just the past three years. “Our research shows that our region is spending $119 million more per year than we were just three years ago. This increased spending was paid for largely through 100 tax increases. At the same time, 2016 census estimates show that population declined in both the city and county by 8,625 persons overall. So, we are paying more to deliver the same services to fewer people,” said Dave Leipholtz, Director of Studies for Better Together.  “By way of comparison, our peer cities of Indianapolis and Louisville continue to grow and thrive.”

A call to action

“The next phase of our Better Together project is to identify and report on governmental reforms that can improve the cost and effectiveness of St. Louis’ municipal services,” said Nancy Rice, Executive Director of Better Together. To that end, Better Together is forming a task force which will lead this next phase and ultimately issue reports and recommendations to the community. Leading the task force will be:

  • Suzanne Sitherwood, President and CEO of Spire (formerly Laclede Group), who came to St. Louis from Atlanta and has become deeply involved with her new home community. She is the incoming Chair of Civic Progress and Chair of the community-wide United Way campaign, and previously chaired the Saint Louis Regional Chamber.
  • Will Ross, Associate Dean for Diversity, Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Ross has a long and distinguished record of involvement in the St. Louis community and served as Chairman of the Missouri Foundation for Health.
  • Arindam Kar, Partner at the international law firm of Bryan Cave LLP. Kar specializes in anti-trust litigation.  He, his wife and five children call south St. Louis county home. Mr. Kar is active in the community, devoting time to the International Institute, the United Way, the Regional Business Council Young Professionals Network, and the Gateway Region YMCA.

How should St. Louis government be organized?

The Task Force and Better Together staff will endeavor to issue reports and recommendations on ideal governmental structures for St. Louis. To accomplish that, they will work with other community organizations and the general public. “We want to give St. Louis residents the opportunity to choose an ideal governmental structure—one that will provide high quality services in a cost-effective manner,” said task-force member Suzanne Sitherwood.  Another member, Dr. Will Ross agreed, “we aspire to create a region steeped in racial, social, and economic equity where everyone can achieve their full potential. We hope to recommend a structure that allows the St. Louis region to provide opportunities for all our citizens while celebrating the uniqueness that has made St. Louis a wonderful place to call home.”

Mayor Krewson and County Executive Stenger endorse effort

Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger attended Better Together’s press conference and showed support for this effort.

“Over the last two years I’ve seen the limitations that our current structure places on us. It frequently prevents us from changing and adapting to the times we live in. Businesses struggle with our fragmentation,” said County Executive Stenger. “In order for us to reach our true potential, we must make some changes. I’ve heard many solutions talked about, and without a formal presentation of options and without a deep dive and a thorough analysis we will not know which path forward is the correct one.  But I know it’s time for us to look hard at the alternatives, to perform the necessary analysis, and choose a path forward with respect to these issues.”

Mayor Krewson agreed.  “I recognize that the city is going to have to change in order to thrive. I said that many times during my campaign and these first several weeks in office have affirmed that opinion. I’m grateful to Better Together and the task force for taking this on and I look forward to their findings.”

Stenger and Krewson pledged to work with the Task Force as needed.  “The time for this effort is now,” said Stenger.

To view the updated report in full, visit: www.bettertogetherstl.com/regional-comparison.