CITY RE-ENTRY INTO ST. LOUIS COUNTY:
A UNITY OF PURPOSE FOR REGIONAL ECONOMIC PROSPERITY
The Municipal League of Metro St. Louis believes that one of the most critical strategic issues confronting our metropolitan area is the need to generate new sources of revenue by attracting new jobs and businesses to our cities. We believe that government leaders influencing our region must act with a “unity of purpose” to collaboratively address all factors impacting the economic development of our region. We further believe the first step and the most effective way to achieve that unity, is for the City of St. Louis to re-enter St. Louis County as the 91st municipality.
The multi-city structure of the County has served our residents well and should be preserved. But unless significant steps are taken to improve the opportunity to create new jobs and attract new businesses to our metropolitan area, there will not be sufficient resources to sustain that form of government.
In 2013-2014 a committee of the League conducted a series of interviews with individuals from both the public and private sectors, specifically on the issue of whether the County expanding its boundaries to include the City of St. Louis could help stimulate economic growth. Based on our review, we concluded that (1) for more than 50 years the St. Louis region’s economic base and stature as a major metropolitan area has steadily declined, (2) there is a need to intelligently utilize the advantages we currently possess to generate economic growth for the region, (3) the political separation of the City and County is inhibiting efforts to revive economic development, and (4) the re-entry of the City into the County would create a unity of purpose by removing a major impediment for attracting new economic activity.
BASIS FOR THE RECOMMENDATION
There are excellent examples of City/County cooperative initiatives; such as the Zoo-Museum District, the recent consolidation of City and County economic development offices, MSD and the community college district. Supporting these successful City/County initiatives demonstrates the benefits of unity of purpose. It is evident that a more substantive structural adjustment is necessary to correct issues that have hampered economic growth.
As elected leaders we must recognize and work together to resolve the factors contributing to our regional stagnant economic growth, such as:
- The populations of St. Louis City and County have declined, reducing the number of tax-paying residents who help pay for the services provided by local governments.
- The rest of the world, from which we would attract new jobs and businesses, sees St. Louis as one metropolitan area. The County has three times the population of the City, and most of our region’s largest publicly-traded and privately-held companies, but the major cultural and entertainment venues for which St. Louis is nationally known, are located in the City.
- The problem of economic growth has persisted for such an extended period of time that without the implementation of meaningful corrective action, the economic decline of the region will continue and possibly even accelerate.
The primary purpose for stimulating the economic growth is ultimately to benefit the residents of the St. Louis region with improved services and overall quality of life. Expanding employment opportunities within the St. Louis metropolitan area will attract new residents and employers today and tomorrow which will benefit us all. We strongly believe that re-entry and a unified approach to economic development can be achieved without diminishing the role of local governments.
LEAD DON’T FOLLOW
There are issues which will need to be addressed throughout the process: taxes, County Council representation, court jurisdiction and recorder of deed services to mention a few. As elected leaders we should not be afraid to discuss these issues with an understanding that the goal is to create a solid economic outlook for the region. It is not our intention or desire to provide a pathway or entree into a larger conversation of merger between the City and County, nor forced consolidation of municipalities within the County
We will need to be prepared to invest the time, expertise and financial resources to formulate a plan for re-entry while working through the issues that we will face.
COMMUNICATION / TRANSPARENCY
As local leaders we acknowledge there are other stakeholders that can bring value to the discussion. The expertise of business organizations and leaders, regional planners and civic groups are examples of important stakeholders we will need to reach out to at the appropriate times throughout the process.
As an organization representing municipal governments, the League is in a unique position to facilitate discussions with local elected leaders to create a solution to an important regional issue while preserving the best of local government for those we represent.
We have an opportunity to achieve not only internal levels of cooperation, but a symbolic and substantive move toward the concept of “unity” by expanding the boundaries of the County to embrace St. Louis City. This would allow the internal cooperative efforts to gain a sense of permanence, but more important, make a significant statement to the national and international communities that St. Louis is prepared for and receptive to economic expansion. And, if capable leaders can take advantage of a unified, more robust County, the region’s competitiveness should improve relative to competing metropolitan areas, and our stagnant economic and population numbers will have a better chance of improving.
This proposal should not be construed as an effort for the County to rescue the City financially. Simply stated, the City and the County need each other, particularly, to revitalize economic development. The artificial barrier that we have been struggling with for decades has inhibited our ability to generate new economic growth and needs to be corrected.
The time has come to advance the conversation and together move toward a brighter economic future.