Failure of Fragmentation: Aug 8 Tax Hikes On St. Louis County Ballot

big taxes

Another election is coming up (a special one at that) and that means more tax increases on the ballot to prop up fragmentation in St. Louis County. The April 2016, August 2016, November 2016, and April 2017 ballots included several tax increases and bond issues. The next ballot looks much the same.

Fragmentation and low-productivity auto-oriented development patterns are synergizing in the St. Louis area, driving up the per capita cost of government services, transportation, infrastructure, and utilities. Despite $100Ms in opportunity costs and a soft tax base under our current approach, municipal leaders are thinking inside the box to keep their budgets balanced. There are no mergers or disincorporations on the ballot.

  • Bel-Ridge (Pop. 2,724)- Authority to levy a parking license fee tax up to $15 per space (not a bad idea everywhere!)
  • Bel-Ridge (Pop. 2,724)- Authority to levy up to 0.65 (currently 0.35) per $100 assessed on commercial property
  • Overland (Pop. 15,985)- increase the property tax rate from $0.12 to $0.24 for residential, from $0.12 to $0.36 for commercial, and from $0.12 to $0.36 for personal property per $100 of assessed value
  • St. Ann (Pop. 12,971)- A Transportation Development District (TDD) for the entire city with a sales tax increase of 1%

St. Ann (and Crestwood) used to be a winner in the sales tax chase. The city relied upon shoppers from outside the city to pay sales taxes for decades. Since Northwest Plaza closed the math doesn’t work anymore. It may never work given its low-productivity spread-out development pattern. The city tried to make up for the losses with traffic tickets (Fine and fee revenues soared from less than $1M in 2009 to $2.6M in 2014). Voters passed a property tax increase to the maximum allowed amount in April by 21 points. Maybe this time it’ll be enough.

We’ve set up a scheme resembling Enron-style accounting where debt and liabilities are hidden in subsidiaries (municipalities). Those liabilities are piling up, and we pretend they will be confined to those municipalities forever. Do we let the system unravel on its own where munis hold on until the bitter end and dump those liabilities onto the county or do we come together before the bill gets even worse?

August 8, 2017 St. Louis County Sample Ballot