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Government, Politics & Issues

St. George petitions St. Louis County for vote to dissolve

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2011 - St. George Mayor Carmen Wilkerson and several allied aldermen took the first official step Tuesday night that they hope will result in the loss of their posts -- and the end of their village.

St. George's city officials were on hand when the St. Louis County Council accepted their initiative petitions -- signed by 504 registered St. George voters -- that seek to ask voters this fall to dissolve the 63-year-old community in south St. Louis County.

If the county Election Board verifies that the petitions contain the required certified signatures -- roughly 400 -- the proposal could go on the ballot later this year. Wilkerson and her allies hope to see a vote this November.

The aim is to turn St. George into unincorporated south St. Louis County, which now surrounds the community.

Some opponents, including former St. George Mayor Mary Jo Fitzpatrick, have formed a countergroup -- Save Our City -- to defeat the proposed dissolution. Fitzpatrick, who said she has lived happily in St. George for more than 50 years, said, "I just don't understand the reason for this."

Both sides accuse the other of spreading half-truths.

Wilkerson, a former alderman, won a write-in campaign for mayor this spring -- as did two aldermen -- that focused on her call to unincorporate St. George.

"The city, in our opinion, is an inefficient use of tax dollars,'' Wilkerson said. "We are not self-sustaining. We don't generate enough tax revenues."

St. George provides no services, she said, and simply collects tax money to pay the salaries for city officials, including her own $550 a month. "It's a scam," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson notes that St. George contracts for police coverage with St. Louis County, at a cost of $4,000 a month. St. George did away with its own police force in 2009, after a series of controversies -- most recently an alleged sex scandal involving St. George's last police chief and a minor.

St. George Police Misdeeds Help Fuel Dissolution Drive

In fact, Wilkerson launched her candidacy after learning of a proposed deal late last year that called for St. George to drop its county-police arrangement and contract instead with the city of Charlack, in north St. Louis County, for police services.

According to a document she provided to the Beacon, the plan called for paying Charlack up to $20,000 a month for the services, which included two full-time officers assigned to St. George. One aim, she said, was to resurrect St. George's old practice of running a "speed trap'' along the village's main thoroughfares, to collect revenue.

Fitzpatrick, who has been out of office for years, acknowledges that St. George's police force has had its problems.

But what's most important, she said, is the sense of community that St. George long has elicited. She cited the city-owned park and playground behind City Hall, the annual Easter egg hunts and the regular snow removal.

Fitzpatrick added that her tax bill for city services is $29 a year. "I think it's worth what we're paying,'' she said. She added that from what she's seen, St. George has plenty of money in the bank to pay its bills. "It's not like we're broke,'' she said.

She asserts that St. Louis County police would patrol St. George neighborhoods less if it's unincorporated, and if there is no longer a contract mandating specific police coverage. She questions if snow removal would be as regular.

Wilkerson contends that many of the Save Our City advocates were "the village idiots in charge'' when money was mishandled and the police scandals occurred.

Both sides spar over the condition of village streets, with Wilkerson saying that St. Louis County has estimated $1 million in improvements need to be made. Fitzpatrick questions that figure and says St. George streets aren't that bad.

The past and current mayors also disagree on the financial costs or savings that would result from St. George's dissolution.

Wilkerson said local taxpayers will no longer foot that $4,000 bill to St. Louis County for police services and will pay slightly lower property and sales taxes. She and Fitzpatrick agree that St. George residents would pay higher utility taxes, which now are 2 percent of the bill; St. Louis County charges 5 percent.

Fitzpatrick and her allies contend that the upshot would be a higher annual cost for taxpayers if St. George disappears. Wilkerson and the allied aldermen say they've been told by St. Louis County that, for most residents, "it would be a wash'' -- with the lower property and sales taxes balancing out the higher utility-tax bill.

Assuming the question of St. George's future makes the ballot, both sides plan to continue to blanket residents with fliers attempting to make their case. 

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