The Ballwin Board of Aldermen heard an analysis and views on the impact of the proposed city-county merger on the city, but both presentations emphasized that questions remain for which there are yet no sure answers.
During a finance committee session preceding the board’s March 11 meeting, Denise Keller, the city’s finance director, examined budget-related issues likely to develop from the merger. During the later public comment period, St. Louis County Councilmember Mark Harder [R-District 7], who also is a former Ballwin alderman, weighed in on the merits of the Board of Freeholders approach backed by the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis.
Some provisions in the Better Together petition calling for a statewide vote next year on merging St. Louis City and County are not entirely clear, Keller told the committee.
“We are shooting at a moving target and some of the numbers we think are correct today could be different six months from now,” added Bob Kuntz, interim city administrator.
With sales and other taxes, permits, fines, and some or most income from other sources going into the coffers of the proposed “metro city,” revenues remaining in the Ballwin “municipal district” would be about a third of what they are now, Keller said.
Using 2019 budget figures for comparison, Keller said total revenues would plummet from just over $20 million to under $6.9 million. One bit of good news, she added, is that Ballwin would keep accumulated balances in its various budget funds.
Among the functions and services the metro city would handle either immediately or when the new government structure was ready to do so are policing, public works, the municipal court and code enforcement.
One step Ballwin could take if remaining revenues proved inadequate is to reinstitute a property tax. Voters have approved a levy of up to 27 cents per $100 assessed valuation but the city has not used that source for 32 years.
Even if the tax were implemented, the revenue generated would not be a financial lifesaver, city officials observed.
The committee agreed with a suggestion from Alderman Frank Fleming [Ward 3], who heads the finance group, that city officials investigate any strategies Ballwin could use to protect its assets.
The county council member predicted reading the document will make a big difference in how the proposal is viewed.
He said he is “making the rounds” of all municipalities in his district urging city officials and residents to read the Better Together petition the organization has filed with the state calling for the city-county merger if the required number of signatures statewide to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot.
The Board of Freeholders approach to determine any changes in city-county government structure already is in the state constitution, Harder continued. However, the Better Together proposal was developed by a small group of people not elected for that job, who didn’t have any experience as elected officials and who came up with their plan in closed-door sessions with no public oversight, he said.
Harder predicted that if the signatures needed to authorize appointment of a Board of Freeholders are gathered in St. Louis City and County, the Board will come up with a plan to make local government more efficient while not calling for a complete merger.
Any such plan would be subject to voter approval in those two jurisdictions, as opposed to a statewide vote on the Better Together proposal.
Harder said yard signs and bumper stickers declaring “No voice, no merger” are available to anyone wanting to support the effort to appoint a Board of Freeholders and to oppose the Better Together plan.