Lisa Clancy says St. Louis County is facing tough budget decisions with a $40 million deficit
Tension in St. Louis County government has ebbed recently, but St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy of Maplewood says there are still big challenges, including how to handle a budgetary deficit.
“Budgets are value documents, they're also math problems,” Clancy said Friday on The Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air. “We have about roughly a $40 million budget deficit. And that is the result of our revenue not keeping pace with our spending. We have not done what we need to do to continue to bring in dollars to keep pace with the cost of programs and services that we are delivering to residents.”
“So we as a council and the county executive's office, all of us are meeting again to put our heads together and figure out how we're going to change this,” she added.
The county has budgetary reserves to cover any deficit in the short run, but those funds may be depleted in the near future without more concrete action. Clancy said she expects incremental progress.
“We've already seen some proposals that point towards sort of eating small bites of the elephant at a time,” Clancy said. “But I do think that unless we're able to find some new revenue, our residents are going to need to change their expectations of what we're providing.”
During a recent appearance on KSDK’s "The Record," County Executive Sam Page said he would prefer to not immediately spend a settlement emanating from the departure of the St. Louis Rams. Page cited the need to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds first. Some City of St. Louis policymakers, such as Alderwoman Daniela Velázquez, hold similar views.
Clancy said it’s possible that money from the settlement may be needed to cover future budgetary gaps. But she added that the council “hasn't really talked too much about how to spend this money.”
“I think that what the city is doing to get some public input is admirable, and I like that strategy,” Clancy said. “But again, we are in a very different financial position than the city is. And so, I do think it makes sense to keep that money parked for now and to accumulate additional interest.”
Can St. Louis and St. Louis County unify?
Clancy spent part of her appearance on The Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air answering listener questions, particularly about the continued divide between St. Louis and St. Louis County.
The last time regional policymakers thought seriously about ending the so-called “Great Divorce” was 2019. That was when the Better Together plan creating a metro government over the two jurisdictions faltered and an effort to kickstart a process known as the Board of Freeholders fizzled after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clancy noted that the city and county’s political leaders have better relationships than they did in the past.
“And I think this does need to be a thoughtful community effort,” Clancy said. “The process in many ways is the product. And I also go back to some of the emotional barriers: the racism, the partisanship, the mistrust of government. So we really need to be thoughtful about the process here. But the inefficiencies and the duplication, both city and county, but also within St. Louis County having nearly 90 municipalities drive me crazy. So there's got to be a better way.”
One possibility would have St. Louis joining St. Louis County as a municipality, similarly to Florissant or Richmond Heights. While the county would assume some of the city’s duties, such as revenue collection and deed recording, the city could still have a separate governmental system and have representation on the St. Louis County Council.
“I think that would maybe be a more incremental way to do this,” Clancy said. “But I don't know that my thoughts on it are as important as the nearly 1 million folks that make up this region. We need to hear from the public on that.”
In addition to Clancy’s interview, St. Louis Public Radio’s Chad Davis joined the show to answer listener questions about city-county separation and the possibility for cooperation or consolidation in the future.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com.