THE WILL TO CHANGE
St. Louis is home to world class universities and cultural institutions, an entrepreneurial community that rivals any in the country, top-tier sports franchises, and one of the most philanthropic citizenries in the nation. However, in spite of many of these attributes that cause other regions to thrive and grow, both St. Louis City and County have lost population. Unemployment rates reflect similarly troubling trends, with the St. Louis region lagging a full percentage point or more behind other regions and the State of Missouri as a whole. These statistics are not the only troubling indicators. Over the past two years, St. Louis has seen social strife and governmental abuses play out on an international stage, contributing to a negative image. Better Together’s own studies have revealed significant inequalities between municipalities in St. Louis County, which have exacerbated racial tensions. The question naturally arises: Why does a region with world-class resources struggle to thrive and compete in a global economy? The answer lies in St. Louis’ outdated and obsolete fragmented structure. If St. Louis is to grow and prosper, this structure must be addressed.
For over two years, Better Together has studied the impact of the structure and function of the St. Louis region consisting of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, 90 independent municipalities within St. Louis County, 43 fire districts, 57 police departments, 81 municipal courts, and the more than 52,000 pages of ordinances that govern the 1.3 million citizens that call it home. Better Together’s studies have revealed that fragmentation has resulted in three core negative byproducts:
1. A system focused on internal competition over regional growth;
2. A disparity in services and the allocation of resources that results from fragmentation and internal competition; &
3. An inability to formulate and execute a vision for regional success
In addition to these core byproducts, all of this government costs over $2.3 billion annually, which is significantly more than our cohorts in cities that have consolidated their governments. Better Together research shows that these govern- ments cost the taxpayers approximately $1,800 per capita. When contrasted with the per capita cost of just over $1,200 for the same services in Indianapolis-Marion County, IN and an even lower $1,100 per capita in Louisville-Jefferson County, KY, it is clear there is a significant overspend on local government in the St. Louis region. In fact, that overspend adds up to over $750 million annually on local government services. The overspent sum represents huge opportunity costs for the region and is enough to pay for efforts like the CityArchRiver project more than twice over or provide our vibrant start-up community with a best-in-class fiber network. The extravagant cost and detrimental byproducts combine to paint a clear picture that the current structure of our governments is not sustainable.
What follows is an honest assessment of the St. Louis region, its structure and functions, and their impact on St. Louis’ ability to thrive as a just and prosperous region for all who call it home.