By Chris Krehmeyer, President/CEO, Beyond Housing
Can we please press the pause button on the rush to dismantle municipalities in the County? Pause does not mean change should not occur. It does not mean past practices of some municipalities are acceptable. It does not mean consolidations or mergers will never occur. Pause implies: can we have a thoughtful, rational conversation about what we are trying to achieve and how do we get there? Can local communities drive this conversation, not Jefferson City or the County Executive’s office? The state and county are clearly partners in this conversation but they should not be the drivers.
Discriminatory practices for decades by white leadership in the region segregated the African American community and harmed the long-term strength and vitality of many neighborhoods and municipalities, especially in North County. Now, do we want to abdicate leadership for needed change to outsiders who do not know, care, or relate to these communities? These communities are predominantly African American and have predominantly African American elected leadership. We as a region should not walk away from local elected representatives without hearing the community’s perspective and desires for their governments.
Over the last five years, well before the explosion of Ferguson, in partnership with Beyond Housing, a place-based community development organization, the mayors of the 24 municipalities of the Normandy Schools Collaborative have been working together to provide the most efficient and effective government to residents and tax payers . Here are a few highlights:
In 2013, Cool Valley made the decision to dissolve their police department and contract services with another 24:1 municipality—Normandy. As a result, Cool Valley saved roughly $200,000 annually, while also providing better quality services for its residents. Normandy also provides policing services for Bellerive Acres, Greendale and Glen Echo Park.
In 2015 both Charlack and Wellston decided to dissolve their police departments and contract with the newly formed North County Police Cooperative run by Vinita Park. Vinita Park also provides policing for Vinita Terrace. Total savings for Charlack, Vinita Terrace and Wellston for one year is nearly $1 million. The Co-op focuses on customized community policing and is currently pursuing its national CALEA accreditation.
In 2015, in partnership with the Normandy Schools Collaborative, 24:1 mayors received a two-year $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to place a Community Resource Police Officer in every Normandy school building.
The City of Pine Lawn led a successful bidding effort to find a more efficient and cost effective way to provide trash services, resulting in savings of over $70,000 a year for participating cities. In addition to hard savings, the cities designed a model contract based on the best services and terms, which included benefits such as a 10% senior discount, calendars, free containers, weekly and quarterly reports and overall better service.
Four municipalities are working with St. Louis County to collectively pool funds for demolition, street repair and other beneficial purposes. The municipalities are currently working on a collective bid on demolition and anticipate saving over $2,000 or 20% on each of the 51 homes to be demolished.
Twelve municipalities are exploring the consolidation of a joint, 24:1 community court.
13 municipalities received almost $80,000 in tree inventory and maintenance grants from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). In 2015, MDC awarded a $500,000 grant over 5 years to 24:1 Mayors and Beyond Housing to design a self-sustaining municipal services district, focused on strategic tree management but applicable to other types of municipal services, as well.
125 elected officials and key staff completed NIMS (National Incident Management Systems) training required by FEMA.
As these results show, the 24:1 municipalities are changing, improving, and evolving to meet the needs of residents and tax payers. This commitment to place-based, locally led work is building stronger communities. The only narrative our region has heard is that these municipalities are incompetent, unneeded, and unfair. That is not the whole story. Change is happening and, as these results show, if supported by the state and County, the 24:1 community will continue to evolve, improve and lead the way to what a new North County can look like.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis.