At Better Together, we’re constantly evaluating how best to engage St. Louisans in a conversation about the fragmented structure of government in our region – that there are 113 local governments providing municipal services to 1.3 million people at a cost exceeding $2.5 BILLION a year.
Every week we see news headlines that highlight problems resulting from this fragmentation, so we’re going to begin pointing these out and providing the context necessary to understand the important issues being discussed around this topic.
1. “The city of Des Peres has put a price tag on keeping secrets from its residents.”
“It’s $75,000” … That’s the amount Alderman Ben Sansone received from the taxpayers of Des Peres in a settlement to his lawsuit in regard to the city’s adherence to the Missouri Sunshine Law.
- That a municipality in St. Louis County neglected to be transparent and follow an open records request isn’t uncommon.
- Every day, citizens face obstacles when attempting to obtain publicly available data from many local governments.
WHY THIS MATTERS: The sheer number of governments in the St. Louis region makes it difficult for citizens to stay informed about government spending and related activities. The difficult becomes impossible when those governments refuse to make information (that is public by law) available in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Learn more… During the course of our studies, Better Together spent over $50,000 collecting public information from governing bodies and agencies in the St. Louis region. The cost and time required to obtain public information is prohibitive to the average citizen. This is contrary to the very principle of open and transparent government.
Remember… In towns across St. Louis County a small group of attorneys have enormous influence.
2. “Mount Crestwood”
The pile of dirt that the South County Times labeled “Mount Crestwood” was supposed to be gone in mid-July.
- Municipalities in St. Louis County have an insatiable appetite for sales tax revenue, and this focus on internal competition led to the death of Crestwood Mall.
- This left the municipality of just under 12,000 residents in dire financial straits.
- To stay afloat in 2017, residents passed a 45-cent property tax increase to help reduce the city’s growing deficit.
- But even after city officials levied the full 45-cents, Crestwood’s five-year forecast showed “the general fund will have a deficit of nearly $105,000 in 2022.”
BE IN THE KNOW: Crestwood officials weren’t including potential revenue from the mall site redevelopment in their projections. Will the newly proposed $104 million “The Crest” bring this essential revenue?
3. Back to school sales tax holiday weekend
In Missouri, certain back-to-school purchases, such as clothing, school supplies, computers, and other items are exempt from sales tax the first weekend of August.
The sales tax holiday applies to state and local sales taxes when a local jurisdiction chooses to participate in the holiday. However, local jurisdictions can enact an ordinance to not participate.
BE IN THE KNOW: 34 municipalities in St. Louis County opted out of the sales tax holiday. While they didn’t levy the State of Missouri’s 4.225% sales tax, local municipal rates still applied.
WHY THIS MATTERS: When combined with the fragmentation of the St. Louis region, the lack of a flat sales tax rate in Missouri fuels a cannibalistic competition for sales tax revenue.
- Reliance on sales tax revenue is so great that cities and towns throughout St. Louis County can’t afford to participate in a sales tax holiday that would give a break to parents and teachers preparing for the new school year.
Further… Better Together research uncovered the St. Louis region’s reliance on sales tax revenue has become so prominent that 69 of the 90 local governments in the St. Louis region count sales tax as their number-one source of revenue.
How’d we do?
Did you find the information presented here helpful to understanding the news of the week?
- Let us know your thoughts by responding to this email or sending a note to bettertogether@
- If you found it helpful, please forward it to others and encourage them to sign up for our updates.