Better Together has completed its study of Public Finance in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, as well as the 90 municipalities and 23 fire districts within the County. This study is the first of six that examine how municipal services are delivered to the people who live within the boundaries of St. Louis City and County, compare the status quo to best practices, and identify opportunities for improved effectiveness and cost.
The Public Finance report consists of data collected from each of the 115 governments in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. While several governments and municipalities have not yet responded or continue to gather the requested information, the vast majority of municipalities and fire districts, as well as the City and County, were cooperative in the process of gathering this initial information.
The process of collecting the financial data and developing the database was completed with assistance from Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, in order to ensure that the data provided an accurate depiction of how our local governments pay for and provide municipal services. Great care was taken in the methodology for this study, which is discussed in greater detail in the report introduction. In addition, Better Together team members met with city administrators from St. Louis County municipalities to review the data collected, discuss the methodology for collecting the data, and review how the data was going to be presented in the study.
It is important to note that this report is not meant to compare municipalities or fire districts to one another, but rather to analyze how we as a region pay for services and how those services are financed. The importance of doing so is the basis for Better Together’s mission and for this study. The costs associated with funding all 115 governments and their collective population of 1,318,610 has reached a staggering $2 billion per year. Of this $2 billion, $1.6 billion stems from annual tax revenue with the remaining funds consisting of fees and other governmental revenue streams. In addition, these governments are responsible for over $1.25 billion of outstanding general obligation, leasehold, COP, and special obligation debt. These numbers require analysis by the people who are served. The purpose of this study and the subsequent studies will be to provide information such as this to foster informed dialogue.
To that end, Better Together has created a searchable database for all of the information received from each of the 115 governments in St. Louis City and County. In addition to providing access to the highlighted data, the database will also provide access to the source documents for that data, which will be contained in an electronic data library at www.bettertogetherstl.com.
Finally, in order to further promote informed dialogue, Better Together requested a legal memorandum from Polsinelli, PC, which provides answers to questions that have been asked. This memorandum states the following conclusions of law:
- In the event the City of St. Louis became a municipality in St. Louis County and then subsequently filed for protection under Chapter 9 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, the City of St. Louis would continue to be solely responsible for its legal debts, to the extent approved by the Bankruptcy Court. Neither of St. Louis County, the State of Missouri, nor any other third party would become responsible for any of the City’s debts and/or other expenses, absent their explicit agreement to do so. There is no law (either State or Federal) or court precedent that would lead to any other conclusion.
- The City of St. Louis, as employer of its police, fire, and City employees, would remain responsible for any unfunded liability in the City employees’ pension systems. The act of the City of St. Louis re-entering St. Louis County as a municipality would not automatically change its status as the employer of these employees, nor change its responsibility as employer to those employees.
- No existing City of St. Louis obligations would automatically become the partial or full responsibility of the County, were the City to re-enter the County as a municipality. Additionally, no future obligations of the City would automatically become the partial or full responsibility of the County after the City entered the County.
- If the City of St. Louis rejoined St. Louis County as a municipality, it would neither participate as a “pool” or a “point of sale” city, and would not receive any distribution of funds from the County.