STL Business Journal Editorial: Outsider sees path forward for fragmented St. Louis

By on December 14, 2017

Editor’s Note: The following copyrighted editorial appeared in the St. Louis Business Journal on Dec. 13, 2017. It is reprinted here by permission. Click here to access the original editorial on the Business Journal website.

From the St. Louis Business Journal:

By The Editorial Board


St. Louis knows it has a big problem.

The only U.S. metro areas with more fragmented government structures are Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh, according to a metric from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public & International Affairs.

Plus, we’re not growing. So far, the discussion to fix this has centered mostly on two divorcées: the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Enter David Rusk, a senior fellow at the D.C. Policy Center and expert on the “regionalism movement.”

Rusk spent some time in St. Louis recently, and gave a presentation on fragmentation and possible solutions at a Construction Forum STL event.

He wants us to think beyond a merger or consolidation of the two largest governments. Not that it wouldn’t help.

“After that, all you’ve done is combine a central city and county government with some very limited savings: an assessor, treasurer, clerk, purchasing and human resource departments,” he said, adding that the county’s roughly 90 municipalities would likely not participate in such a transaction.

Their fire and police departments, of which there are many, would still employ many in duplicative roles.

So Rusk advocates so-called Communities of Common Interest.

The idea is to craft a state law that authorizes county government to designate a multi-city CCI, covering areas with common service needs. It sounds familiar; remember the failed fire consolidation among Brentwood, Clayton, Maplewood, Richmond Heights and Rock Hill?

Except in Rusk’s scenario, ratification of a plan could occur if a super majority of CCI cities approve or if a majority of residents in those cities vote yes.

No individual city could opt-out or veto.

It’s likely the only way, Rusk says, that the “haves” will ever collaborate with the “have nots.”

Imagine the savings.

“Fire service, parks management, the running of recreation centers, watershed management — name the governmental function,” Rusk says.

What’s clear is the current system hasn’t worked.

Compared with the Twin Cities and Portland, two places that have taken steps to combat fragmentation, St. Louis lags in job growth from 1969 to 2009. City residents earn 72 percent of what their county counterparts do, according to figures cited by Rusk, while the figure is 86 percent and 101 percent in Minneapolis and Portland, respectively.

The Suzanne Sitherwood-led task force currently examining consolidation should incorporate a range of ideas beyond just the city and county.

Regaining competitiveness will mean scrutinizing how the entire region works.

About Tom Finan