Do The Math: Mehlville School District

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If this kind of analysis excites you, it’s similar to what a firm called Urban3 out of Asheville, NC led by Joe Minicozzi does. We’re trying to get them to do an analysis of St. Louis. That takes considerable funding. If that’s something you’re interested in helping with please email me at richard at nextstl.com

Let’s continue our tour of the region this time in south St. Louis County. The Mehlville School District is considering budget cuts to fill an $8M deficit. Property values have been decreasing in the area for the last 5 years, 1.33% each year while expenses have increased 2.16% per year- not a good sign. Schools districts are primarily funded through property taxes. Perhaps a different development strategy for the area would have lead to a more productive tax base and more synergies between residential and commercial property values. Let’s see how its commercial corridor on Lemay Ferry performs compared to the other areas we’ve looked at. Let’s do the math!

The study area covers 321.5 acres with a total assessed value of $75M or $233,800 per acre. This puts it 19.4% ahead of Crestwood, but downtown Maplewood is 41.5% ahead of the Mehlville study area, The median household income of Maplewood is just over half that of the households in the Mehlville School District.

Mehlville School District’s tax levy on commercial property is 3.6641 per $100 of assessed value- second lowest in the county. The school district is mostly unincorporated St. Louis County. This means zoning and development are guided by the county. They have been a poor development partner for the district.

{The most valuable property in the Mehlville study area (Leaving out the Sears because its parcel doesn’t include any of the sea of parking surrounding it) at $806,000 assessed value per acre. Do you think it will appreciate? – From Google Streetview}

An area known for frugality, looking to more productive land uses instead of unpopular tax increases would fit the culture. This part of the county came to light recently for opposition to a low-income old folks home. They should change their tune and ask the county to revamp zoning and regulations to let the free market reign.

We have the free enterprise system, and I’m assuming that we’re still teaching that in our classrooms

The district is planning to cut its bus transportation by $500,000. Had the area developed traditionally, more kids would have been able to walk/bike to school in the first place, saving the district many millions over the decades.

Post World War II development patterns are expensive to service and are low-yielding. The most impacted with the least say are our school districts, which are hurt by the sales tax chase/ITF wars/parking minimums/single-use zoning zeitgeist. Higher tax rates and fees (for all governments serving the area) are inevitable without change and could push residents away into Jefferson County, made easier by building state-paid-for new roads and widening I-55. The chickens are coming home to roost in Mehlville.

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  • Jeff Leonard

    I love this analysis. It really focuses the conversation around hard metrics to inform decisions on best land use. I’d be happy to make a donation to your cause!

    But it seems like there’s a fundamental assumption that is suspect, namely that tax-paying businesses truly occupy every available parcel in a traditional business district. Example: if you drive north up Grand Blvd, there are many traditional storefronts, but many which are empty and have been for some time.

    Is the argument that it’s better to wait for larger future tax revenue by leaving those buildings as is even if they’re empty, rather than succumb to immediate but less optimized tax revenue now by bulldozing a property in favor or a big-box retailer (e.g. IKEA)? Or is it more around trying to change current land-use policy in the burbs to more traditional patterns? Or both?!

    • rgbose

      The perception that a big one story building is a big win isn’t a wise one. Nor is assuming the sales taxes are overwhelming as we showed with e Kirkwood Walmart is also not a slam dunk.

      The idea of evaluating on a per acre basis is that it is a proxy for infrastructure and service delivery. Now more parcels means more sewer hookups and more houses means more kids for a district, etc, but the sewer pipes and street length per household goes down. On top of that parking lots and green space aren’t that valuable so the same sq ft house that’s two stories on a 33 ft wide lot is going to do better than a ranch on a 60 ft wide lot. The improvements are almost always more valuable than the land in St. Louis. Our modern development patterns treat the land is as very low value, but this analysis shows that a municipality should view it as very valuable even if the market doesn’t. This is especially true for cities like St. Louis which cannot annex any land.

      In new areas it’s clear to build traditionally to the extent possible. In already built then abandoned areas it’s tougher because a lot of the infrastructure is there and is a liability. So it’s a tough question do you take what’s in front of you or wait? Or subsidize what is better? You’re likely stuck with whatever for a few decades and cities must take the long view. I get upset about all the TIFs and abatements, but for example Metro Lofts is a star in terms of assessed per acre, so was probably worth the 10 year abatement. Here in St.Louis we need to stop enabling the poor producing development patterns on the edge and fill in the abandoned with productive uses.

  • Katy

    It would be interesting to see how the Target on Hampton and Chippewa compares. They have a much smaller parking area compared to other Targets and the IKEA in progress, by utilizing an underground parking garage. Not sure if that was a necessity in order to fit the store on the existing lot, or a decision to have a smaller footprint.

    • rgbose

      The Target on Hampton is 6.4 acres and assessed at $831k or $130k/acre

      The “blighted” Shady Jack’s block on Broadway is assessed 3.2x more per acre.

      • Brian

        Why such a low assessment? How do they arrive at the assessed value figure?

        • rgbose

          You’d need to ask the Assessor.

  • Nathan Bookhout

    rg… maybe you should do the city next. The county folks are feeling picked on.

    • tbatts666

      He has. If I recall there is a “do the math” on the proposed stadium, and nga proposal written by Bose.

      The city isn’t immune from putting public money into bad investments.

    • rgbose

      Kirkwood and downtown Maplewood came out looking good!

      I’m hoping to do the whole region which why I want to hire Urban3.

      The city gets even more complicated because there’s not only sales tax, but earnings tax as well. The city has a lot of tax exempt parcels, LRA lots, city, state, and federal buildings, and institutional property. SLU is a goose egg in property taxes, but they employ a lot of people for example.

      • Nathan Bookhout

        I said that tongue in cheek. The city is a much different monster.

  • Oakville

    Will you be analyzing the rest of the district? What about the Target & Costco commerical areas? What about commerical property along Telegraph Rd.? While the district did suggest eliminating 81% of bussing for students, that would only save $500,00. Even if the district was more walkable what about national best practice standards for children under 10 not walking by themselves due to safety issues and poor judgement?

    • chaifetz10

      Just going on a whim here, based upon the other editions of this series… But the Target and Cosco areas are most likely similar. It’s not that hard to see that giant box store + sea of parking = lower assessed property value per acre.

      As for the walkability point, I don’t think anyone is saying that towns should be walkable soley for the fact that it would allow school children to walk to school and thus save some money on busses. The bigger point should be that walkable city’s and towns are worth more, so you wouldn’t have to cut money from a bus fund. If I’ve mistead your argument, I apologize. Or could your further explain your point?

      • Oakville

        Oh I wasn’t trying to argue,
        I see what you’re saying as far as the opinion that walkable towns are worth more I just thought it was more of a when you know better you do better thing. The city of St. Louis is very walkable, however the crime statistics would prevent me from wanting my children to walk around there. Along with 21st century litigation and the feminist movement paving the way for more mothers to work outside the home, walking to school isn’t really doable in today’s world. As much as I would love for it to be, in reality it just no longer works regardless of the walkability of an area.

        Also I’m surprises that Target and Costco are such a drain, especially since they are the only ones of there kind for quite a large radius. I thought unique big box stores were a welcome thing since so many welcomed Ikea threatening to use eminent domain in the Cortex developemnt and so many we’re excited for a possible City Target. But I guess that only applies to big box retailers in the city?

        • Nathan Bookhout

          Schools are primarily funded through property taxes. The argument being made is that big box stores, regardless of how unique, have a very large footprint to property tax ratio. If you take into consideration the breaks large retailers are given the per acre assessment that goes to fund schools can very well be less than the assessment on a private home.
          These same issues were raised on this site when we were discussing the Ikea development. While everyone is happy about Ikea coming to St. Louis we all universally panned the sea of parking as it is low use and bad use for not only for the city but for anywhere these companies want to locate. No one stated otherwise, point in case the whole foods in CWE

        • rgbose

          They certainly generate a lot of sales taxes which in the Mehlville area helps fund the county and Metro and a few other things. I don’t think any of the school districts in StL County get sales tax revenues. In the city the SLPS gets 2/3%, though the overall point that non-auto-oriented developments patterns are more productive usually even when adding in sales taxes.

          The Ikea is a boon (14 jobs/acre isn’t much), but would have been better had they tucked all the parking under and left more land for other development.

        • Stltimm

          where have you seen that IKEA threatened eminent domain? Their Corporate philosophy goes against the use. The Hadley Township deal fell thru because they refused to use ED to get the last few holdouts/homes and thus ended up in Cortex

          • Oakville

            Oh it wasn’t made public and weather you choose to believe me or not doesn’t bother me, but there is a lot that the general public doesn’t know about how the deal really went down. Follow the money, who currently owned the land, how much earnings tax the city was making off of the jobs that were already there, that are now moved to the county, now TIF money and low paying part-time jobs replacing what was there. That’s the stuff that the city leadership wants to keep hidden.

          • chaifetz10

            I dont know of any major jobs that were moved to the county for IKEA. Care to elaborate?

          • Oakville

            What company owners the land before IKEA? It’s not that hard to figure out!

          • chaifetz10

            Ok. I’m calling BS on this now. You mean the gas station? The Laclede building where employees where moved downtown? Your lack of details and reluctance to provide proof is telling.

          • Oakville

            What makes you think they were moved downtown? It’s really doesn’t bother me what you believe, I know the truth.

          • John R

            I’m interested in knowing… how many worked there? Where are they moving to? Last time I was down there btw, they still hadn’t cleared the LG buildings but I don’t know if the operations have ceased yet.

            Also, I have no idea how the City Earning tax will turn out, but IKEA does pay rather well for retail and will have a rather large amount of ftes. But it always is worry if good paying blue collar jobs are relocated out of town.

          • Adam

            Oakville is right; 720 Olive is just a ruse. Laclede bought and remodeled the downtown building as a distraction so they could move their midtown employees to the suburbs. I bet they’re just going to fill the windows with mannequins.

          • Oakville

            Ahahaha that condescending statement right there shows how far removed you are. So the blue collar Union workers that actually do the physical jobs for Laclede and their management report to 720 Olive? Or maybe they make them wear a suit and tie now when they’re installing new gas mains! You’re a trip! Do you think they are allowed to use the elevators in 720 Plive for their heavy equipment too? Hahaha

          • Adam

            “She said the number will depend on whether Laclede decides to relocate jobs from a company facility on Forest Park Avenue or from recently purchased Missouri Gas Energy. Laclede’s facilities on Forest Park Avenue will make way for the Ikea store scheduled to open on the site next year.”

            http://www.stltoday.com/business/columns/building-blocks/laclede-confirms-move-to-genam-building/article_2ca4c6ed-bf34-5701-a260-cbb9e908c607.html

            apparently at least some of those jobs moving downtown isn’t such a crazy idea after all. and even if they were going to move them to the county, why would it be some big secret? makes no sense. again, give us some evidence.

          • John R

            I don’t know where the midtown workers ultimately are being relocated, but downtown Laclede not only is fully occupying the old Gen Am building but it is also leasing up a fair amount of space in the BoAmerica building across the street…. I believe some of those employees were coming in from elsewhere besides the old downtown HQ.

            http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/laclede-group-signs-office-lease-downtown/article_b730f845-1387-510a-8abc-3469b16fbec8.html

          • Adam

            Correction: I meant 700 Market (the Gen. Am. Bldg.), not 720 Olive.

          • Adam

            FYI, City Targets aren’t big boxes—do a Google search—and no offense but the eminent domain stuff sounds like a conspiracy theory. I’m also curious as to what jobs supposedly moved to the county.

          • Oakville

            Oh I don’t need a Google search, I’ve visited a few in person. No offense taken, that’s the reaction city leadership wants

    • rgbose

      I endeavor to analyze the whole region. The way I’ve been doing ti is really tedious. I’m working on more efficient methods.