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Politically Speaking: St. Charles County executive says regional health key to growth

Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann back to the program.

The Republican has served as St. Charles County’s top office holder since 2007, and is one of the region’s longest-serving officials. Previously, he was a circuit judge, state senator, private-practice attorney and public school teacher.

While the populations of St. Louis and St. Louis County have declined or remained stagnant, St. Charles County has grown significantly in the past two decades. As of 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that St. Charles has nearly 391,000 people — about 80,000 more than St. Louis.

There are challenges that come along with that growth, Ehlmann said, pointing to county and municipal governments needing to spend more money on infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. He also said some county residents are addicted to opioids, but noted that’s an issue that all St. Louis-area leaders need to work together to solve.

Among Ehlmann’s observations during the show:

  • St. Charles County's future is linked to the rest of the St. Louis area. “I think the fact that the region is not growing will ultimately affect St. Charles County,” he said. He pointed to his county’s success in attracting more factory jobs, like the GM plant in Wentzville, but added, “If we gain them at the expense of other parts of the region, that’s not really a plus.”
  • He is committed to avoiding what he sees as the key pitfall hurting St. Louis and St. Louis County: “You have all the poor people living in one part.” Elhmann said he has tried to avoid the same problem in St. Charles County, so rich people aren’t segregated from middle-income and low-income residents.
  • Keeping up with the county’s growth means more investment in roads, bridges and sewers. Ehlmann said the county’s six major cities have been working well together on infrastructure projects, notably pooling their road money to complete the Page Avenue extension.
  • He wants the state to do more to help address Missouri’s opioid abuse problems. St. Charles County has a joint prescription database with St. Louis and St. Louis County, but he says expanding that program will likely require state help.
  • Reflecting on his own past as a state legislator, Ehlmann called for rural lawmakers to recognize that the St. Louis region must prosper economically, or the whole state suffers.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter:@jmannies

Music: “Batter Up” & “Out of Mana” by Brand New

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.