A St. Louis city-county reunion is due

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In 1877, St. Louis City formally separated itself from St. Louis County. The decision was a matter of taxes; city residents did not want to pay taxes that would help fund the much smaller population that lived in the county. They did not foresee the impact this move would have on the region and certainly did not expect the tables to turn so dramatically, with the city later wishing that more of the county wealth fed into the city’s revenue stream.

Today, this split with the county has had large consequences for the city. Wealthy county residents journey to and from the city for business and leisure, visiting places like Forest Park, Busch Stadium, the Fox Theatre and Powell Hall. These visitors may spend some money in the city when they enjoy all it has to offer, but the lack of a shared funding source between the city and the county allows county residents to benefit from city attractions without paying for their upkeep or construction.

For example, if the city were to fund a stadium for a professional soccer team, the county residents would be taking advantage of a huge investment into the city without contributing. This would essentially be a free ride for county residents: all play and no pay. On April 4, Proposition 2 was voted down by city residents. The proposition would have provided $60 million in public funding from city residents through a use tax on out-of-town purchases. Part of the reason why residents voted down Proposition 2 on April 4 might have been linked to the absence of county funding to help build the stadium.

While the St. Louis ZooMuseum district still collects property taxes from both the city and the county and services such as those provided by the Metropolitan Sewer District go toward each, the divorce between the city and the county have led to large disparities in the opportunities that county residents have compared to those who reside in the city.

One such disparity lies in public education. The public education that children in St. Louis City receive is worlds apart from the education that children in St. Louis County receive. Last spring, an analysis by NPR found that there is a huge discrepancy between the amount of funding that city schools receive versus county schools. For example, Clayton School district spent $19,681 per student, while St. Louis Public Schools spent only $9,826 per student. These differences are possible because the city and the county fund their schools largely based on local property taxes.

Around the country, there are huge differences in per-pupil expenditure in urban, suburban and rural areas, but St. Louis’s divide is prominent. Whereas students in county schools may receive iPads to take home with them, students in the city may not have access to basic school supplies. County schools, with their wealthier residents, can attract better teachers with higher-paying salaries. They can spend more on technology and equipment, from microscopes to calculators.

This difference in funding to public schools is certainly a sad reality to hear about, and the unfairness behind using some of the city’s attractions without funding them is easy to understand as wrong. But this lack of funding does not have to go on without action; this reality can be changed.

One way to remedy some of the obvious inequities that exist between city and county residents would be for each to share funding sources. Essentially, the city and the county can and should forget past conflicts and reunite. Although the city might be at fault for originally separating from the county, this logic ignores that this decision was made over a hundred years ago. It is not the fault of current city residents that people living there long ago chose to be selfish.

The separation of the city and the county is unfair to the city residents, especially children suffering in an unequal education system that does not provide them with the same opportunities as other children. County residents benefit from what the city has to offer, and it is unreasonable that its residents do not contribute. It is time for county residents to make amends and pay their fair share.