Group Leads Effort to Marry St. Louis City, County
UMSL dean emeritus said his organization will turn to statewide ballot in effort to combine the city and county, getting St. Louis the recognition it deserves.
In reality, St. Louis is the equivalent of the eighth largest city in the United States and 103rd in crime rate for large metropolitan cities and excellent schools, said Charles Schmitz, whose organization seeks to combine the city and county.
“St. Louis is a world-class city,” Schmitz, dean emeritus at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, told a group of 60 people at UMSL’s Business and Breakfast forum Thursday.
But that’s not how the world sees St. Louis, he said.
“St. Louis gets the headline that we rank No. 1 in crime. Do we really?” Schmitz said.
Schmitz and a group he started, STL World Class City group, are advocating that St. Louis County expand its borders to include St. Louis city. The group's goal is to add the city to the county boundaries before St. Louis’ 250th anniversary in 2014. He wrote an op-ed piece about his idea in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in June.
Schmitz said that would put St. Louis on more equal footing with other cities, eliminating problems with rankings such as St. Louis being ranked as the most crime-ridden city in the country by CQ Press based on FBI statistics.
Schmitz said an anomaly—the fact that St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County and is one of few independent cities in the country—skews statistics. It makes St. Louis look much more crime-ridden and much smaller than it really is, he said.
That’s why he started the STL World Class City group to get St. Louis County to expand its borders to include the City of St. Louis.
The STL World Class City web site reads, "Statistical reclassification is needed to truly represent the actual geographical size and population of our community. If St. Louis city and county population were counted together, we would be the equivalent of the 8th largest city in the U.S."
A major rift between the city and the county resulted in the city pulling out of St. Louis County in 1876, an event known as the "Great Divorce."
Those in the city “didn’t want to associate with the riffraff in the county,” Schmitz said. But the decision landlocked the city, and the decision has plagued both entities ever since.
“We do it to ourselves, and we’ve been doing it for 135 years,” Schmitz said.
He said the group plans to introduce a statewide ballot to change the Missouri Constitution.
Schmitz said the group chose to use a statewide ballot because research indicates 40 percent of registered voters in the areas support the move, while 44 percent are against it. He said they have a better chance of winning a statewide vote.
Susanne Valdez, a retired federal government worker who is on the STL 250 committee planning St. Louis’ anniversary celebration, said she supports a united city and county.
Valdez recalled doing an audit on child care for the area and reported back to Washington D.C. that they could not combine city and county numbers because they were separate entities.
“People in D.C. thought I was crazy,” she said.
“Our state would gain tremendously by accurate assessments alone,” Valdez said.
So Happy Together
If the city does join the county, Schmitz said the city and county statistically would reclassify itself, accomplishing the following:
- The St. Louis area would go from 53rd largest city to the equivalent of the eighth largest, which would put it between San Antonio and San Diego.
- The area’s crime rate is 103rd among major metropolitan areas.
- St. Louis city is 66 square miles; combined with St. Louis County, it’s 590 square miles. Kansas City, MO is 318, Phoenix is 518 and Los Angeles is more than 700 square miles.
Rand McNally lists Kansas City as the city with the highest population in Missouri.
“People in Kansas City know that’s not true,” Schmitz said.
He said this isn’t like other efforts joining city and county.
The group is not advocating a merger, Schmitz said. Under STL World Class City’s plan, current municipalities in St. Louis County will remain. The county will simply expand borders to include St. Louis city, which would become the county’s 92nd municipality.
Not So Happy Together
Schmitz acknowledged that some reject the idea because it would change countywide votes.
“It does change the political landscape of St. Louis County,” he said. “But we’ve tried to focus on the good we want to do, not the political ramifications.”
A voting population that is heavily weighted toward Democrats might make county Republicans leery of the move.
“We’re trying to keep politics out of this,” Schmitz said. “We’re just trying to do what we think is best for the area.”
David Friedrichs, a senior business manager at KPMG, said he came to St. Louis 20 years ago and never understood why the two were separated.
“Politics is going to be a major obstacle to correct that,” he said.
With a statewide vote, the question of why those outside the St. Louis area should have a vote on the issue likely will be raised.
There also will be county-city property and sales tax and other revenue conflicts, Schmitz said. Some worry the county will be paying the city’s way.
“It’s ironic to me that people in the county talk about the city being blighted, but we go to Rams games, Cardinals games, Blues games, the art museum, the zoo,” Schmitz said.
The city would give an enormous boost to the county’s assessed valuation, he said. Of course, that would mean city property owners would pay real estate and property tax to the county.
Schmitz said nearly every other city in the country has worked it out, and St. Louis can, too.
“We’re all St. Louisans, whether we’re from the city or the county,” he said.