The St. Louis County Council has green lighted a plan that merges some economic development functions with St. Louis City.
The merger creates the St. Louis Economic Partnership, which among other things will create a central clearinghouse where businesses can find what sites are available and what incentives are offered in both the city and county.
County Executive Charlie Dooley said linking economic development efforts will help the region speak with one voice, but said getting St. Charles County to join the effort will be a critical next step.
“St. Charles needs to get involved in this process,” Dooley said. “It’s not just St. Louis City and St. Louis County, it’s a regional effort. They need to get involved with the zoo, the art museum, they use those facilities, the dome, they use all those facilities. Somewhere down the road, this is going to have to be addressed, there’s no question in my mind about that.
Councilman Greg Quinn, however, voted against the merger and said it most likely represents a stepping stone to a full merger between city and county governments.
“A lot of advocates of merger of city and county governments believe that it should be accomplished in small steps,” Quinn said. “I’ve heard some of the proponents of a city, county merger say this would be one of the small steps.”
South county resident Tony Pousosa echoed Quinn and felt like talks between the city and county were eerily quiet and went down behind closed doors.
“They haven’t done a well enough job explaining it to the people, and that tells me there’s something not right there,” Pousosa said.
Dooley and Councilman Mike O’Mara were quick to rebuff claims of a larger merger, asserting that such a marriage between city and county governments could only happen if approved by voters.
Hazelwood, Chesterfield and Clayton, which have independent economic development agencies, are not part of the agreement.
The joining of economic development functions was passed last week by the St. Louis City Board of Alderman.
The council also authorized giving Metro Transit an up to $400 million loan.
The money comes from surplus funds collected after voters approved Prop-A in 2010, about half of which are currently pooled in a county bank account.
Councilman Quinn opposed the measure and said he’s concerned that loaning the money now will lead to the agency asking for another sales tax increase down the road.
“Every time they come to us for a sales tax increase there’s a ‘fiscal crisis,’” Quinn said. “That’s what will happen next time, they won’t have the money for a capital expansion.”
Councilman O’Mara, who voted in favor of the loan, said that won't be the case.
“I would not agree to something that would bring us to a slippery slope, be an embarrassing situation; go back to the people, ‘hey, we spent your money, and we need to ask you for more,’” O’Mara said. “We would not do that.”
Metro has said the money isn’t earning much interest sitting in a bank account and that it will be used to pay down debt, the bulk of which piled up while constructing the cross-county Metrolink connector.
“It is a very smart move for the taxpayers of St. Louis County because it reduces the amount of debt service that we would ultimately have to pay on our debt,” said Metro CEO and President John Nations.
Nations said reducing the agency’s debt burden will make it easier for them to improve and expand services down the road.
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