Courtship in Bloom: St. Louis City and County Eye Closer Ties

Kevin Killeen (@KMOXKilleen)

CHESHIRE INN (KMOX) – Meeting in a banquet hall near the St. Louis city – county boundary line, City Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger pledged to continue the courtship aimed at combining government services.

Krewson and Stenger embraced a report released by the group Better Together, which claims the region is wasting taxpayer money on an abundance of local governments.

The report claims the region is spending $119 million more than four years ago to fund 114 local governments. Since April of 2012, the study says there have been 100 muncipal and fire district tax increases in the region.

“We have hundreds of taxing jurisdictions that get to take a bite of the apple every year,” Stenger said.

Krewson agreed, taking care to avoid the use of the word “merger.”

“I do use the word ‘combination,’ because for me that means not one solution, some kind of a solution,” Krewson said.

The Better Together report claims regional taxpayers are paying per capita an average of $1,809 to fund government services annually, for a total annual cost of $2.3 billion.

St. Louis taxpayers, the study found, are spending more than $600 per capita above what taxpayers in Louisville or Indianapolis are paying annually for their government services.

Better Together is supported, in part, by Billionaire Political Activist Rex Sinquefield, but Stenger says that doesn’t bother him.

rex sinquefield Courtship in Bloom: St. Louis City and County Eye Closer Ties

Rex Sinquefield photo: saintlouischessclub.org

“Well, I haven’t received any campaign contributions from Rex Sinquefield,” Stenger said, “but if I had, I certainly wouldn’t be bought by him.”

Stenger says his initial skepticsm about Better Together has given way to more openness, as he has met with the group “regularly” to discuss how to overcome “fragmentation” in the region and make the county more welcoming to business.

Krewson was asked if she has any qualms about Better Together’s ties to Sinquefield — the man who tried to scuttle the city’s earnings tax, which accounts for most of the city’s revenue.

“Well, he has a different tax philosophy than I do, and some of you know that I happen to be an accountant at heart,” Krewson said. “So, I think it doesn’t give me qualms, because as a region I think we need to study this.”

Both agreed to back more study by Better Together, and both addressed the role voters would play in the final outcome.

“I would certainly prefer an option that places this matter before voters,” Stenger said. “I think it’s very important they have a say-so in whatever comes forth out of this.”

Krewson said of voters: “We’re not there yet, and we don’t really have anything to put before voters at this time, so I’m really looking forward to the results of the study.”

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