Rock-solid parochialism may be the best reason for residents of Glendale to vote for an $8 million bond issue to build a new public safety headquarters, but it isn’t a good one.
It’s too expensive for Glendale’s 5,921 residents and will saddle them with higher property and sales taxes. Less expensive alternatives would be for Glendale to buy emergency services from neighboring Kirkwood or from St. Louis County. The municipality is already part of the Kirkwood School District, so expanding the partnership to include emergency services shouldn’t be too difficult.
The cost of a new fire station and upgraded facilities is significant because it could put pressure on other municipal spending. For instance, city officials last week scraped together a 2 percent raise for employees but felt compelled to apologize because it might endanger the bond vote.
The bonds will raise the property tax rate 38 cents in the first year and will be backed by a quarter-cent sales tax hike. That means there will be two proposals on the Aug. 2 ballot.
And what’s the pressing need? Glendale responded to eight structural fires in 2015 for the municipality and neighboring Warson Woods, which contracts for services. Glendale provides jobs for about a dozen firefighters and part-time fire chief, and about 20 police personnel, including a court administrator and a school crossing guard.
Less than 2 miles away, Kirkwood, population 27,596, has a municipal court and provides the same emergency services as Glendale. City Administrator Jaysen Christensen says Glendale would still need a new fire station if it got services from Kirkwood because no stations are close enough to provide the four-minute response time required by their insurer.
Residents should seek alternatives. If Glendale merged services with surrounding communities, it might not need such a big public safety expenditure.
More to the point, fragmented government in St. Louis County is inefficient and expensive for taxpayers. The quest for development can pit one municipality against another, depriving school districts of revenue to pay for tax incentives that lure big-box stores and corporate expansions.
Glendale and neighboring Rock Hill demonstrate another way fragmentation hurts the region. After an overture from Glendale to combine fire services last year, Rock Hill nixed the idea and is now building its own fire station.
Civic pride is terrific, but is it worth the price just so residents can call the fire and police chiefs by name or have bragging rights to a new $650,000 pumper truck in the fire station bay?
Parochialism is a major reason for our region’s 90 municipalities, 81 municipal courts, 57 police departments and 43 fire services. Consolidation should not be a dream. Working to make it happen means making consistently smarter choices.