Best Pipe Dream - 2004
Merging St. Louis city and county
We all know our city's sad story: From its population zenith of more than 850,000 in 1950, the postwar hemorrhage brought down St. Louis. Most recent census nadir: fewer than 350,000 inhabitants. Blame it on white flight, the drying-up of factory jobs or the highways that severed the city from its lifeblood, the Mississippi. But while the city has suffered, the county has prospered. So why not merge the two? The idea's not a new one. Not only would the move instantly pump up the city's population -- to a quite-respectable 1.3 million -- but it would also bring in critical tax dollars, put an end to redundant services and cut costs associated with small-town municipal governments. Look, the argument goes, we're kidding ourselves if we think the city's crime problems stop at the border -- just take a trip to Jennings, or Wellston. And what business does a rinky-dink town like Maryland Heights have keeping its lucrative casino taxes all to itself? Sure, some of the county's 91 municipalities will kick and scream. On the other hand, police chiefs Joe Mokwa and Jerry Lee have merged their helicopter services. But when Congressman William Lacy Clay Jr. sent up a trial balloon earlier this year, suggesting that instead of barreling ahead with charter reform, we "take the time to investigate the potential savings and service improvements that might be achieved through sharing responsibilities," the Post-Dispatch editorial board was on the notion like a hoosier on a possum, accusing Clay of trying to "derail" the city's effort. Of course, seeing as how it has taken 90 years to get this far, maybe the Post is right. We'd hate to be the ones to get in the way of progress.