An overview of St. Louis City Finances - Inmost City

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Hi everybody,

I keep a blog called Inmost City. I write about stuff related to the city (crime, crippling debt, and provel cheese).

I wrote an overview of the city's finances that you might be interested in checking it out.

You can find it here:

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/1 ... situation/
Great overview! As someone who has dug into this, what steps should the city be taking in your opinion?


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Great overview! As someone who has dug into this, what steps should the city be taking in your opinion?
I wish I could say for sure. Part of the solution would probably involve tweaking the city's accounting strategies, for example optimizing for the best interest rates and tax benefits. I can't say I know enough about the financial minutiae of the city to make recommendations in that arena.

A lot of the city's debt comes from retirement benefits for the workforce of a city twice our current size. Unless we can go back in time and make the pension plans defined contribution instead of defined benefit plans, I don't think there's much we can do about that.

Also, the main thing the city needs is economic development and a reduction in violent crime. That would involve different police and economic development strategies. I've written about these topics in previous posts:

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/1 ... -ecosystem

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/0 ... int-louis/


Thanks for the feedback!
DistinguishedDarcy wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2017 9:07 pm
Great overview! As someone who has dug into this, what steps should the city be taking in your opinion?
I wish I could say for sure. Part of the solution would probably involve tweaking the city's accounting strategies, for example optimizing for the best interest rates and tax benefits. I can't say I know enough about the financial minutiae of the city to make recommendations in that arena.

A lot of the city's debt comes from retirement benefits for the workforce of a city twice our current size. Unless we can go back in time and make the pension plans defined contribution instead of defined benefit plans, I don't think there's much we can do about that.

Also, the main thing the city needs is economic development and a reduction in violent crime. That would involve different police and economic development strategies. I've written about these topics in previous posts:

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/1 ... -ecosystem

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/0 ... int-louis/


Thanks for the feedback!

I've wondered if it would be legal for the city to do a buyout of sorts like you find private organizations do. I imagine the costs to provide benefits will continue to rise so may as well try to buy out some people. Do they still provide similar benefits to current employees? I imagine at least police and firefighters get pensions.
DistinguishedDarcy wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2017 9:07 pm
Great overview! As someone who has dug into this, what steps should the city be taking in your opinion?
I wish I could say for sure. Part of the solution would probably involve tweaking the city's accounting strategies, for example optimizing for the best interest rates and tax benefits. I can't say I know enough about the financial minutiae of the city to make recommendations in that arena.

A lot of the city's debt comes from retirement benefits for the workforce of a city twice our current size. Unless we can go back in time and make the pension plans defined contribution instead of defined benefit plans, I don't think there's much we can do about that.

Also, the main thing the city needs is economic development and a reduction in violent crime. That would involve different police and economic development strategies. I've written about these topics in previous posts:

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/1 ... -ecosystem

https://inmostcity.com/index.php/2017/0 ... int-louis/


Thanks for the feedback!
I appreciate your posts. I've just read most of them. The way forward to a stronger city and urban area looks pretty difficult. I'm wondering what role an understanding on the part of the movers and shakers in this region that we will rise, fall, or continue to stagnate as a metropolitan area depends on the strength and vitality of the region's core plays in all of this. To me, this is a very important and critical understanding/ingredient that is missing here. It exists in many other urban regions that are successful. It seems to be missing in our region. I know it is risky to invest in the core and maybe especially our core. But without a strong core, this region will continue to stagnate and therefor continue to fall behind others. On the plus side for retirees like me, this city will continue to be a relatively cheap place to live with a lot of amenities that will take a long time to die off. Of course, I might get shot and die somewhere along the way.
You're missing about 430M in revenue in those charts, the non general revenue funds. Yes city is in horrible shape, it can pay its bills for now and thats about it but there is a way out if leaders want to make some very difficult decisions with police and fire (again) pensions.
Speaking of pensions, I read an article that compared cities in the US by a ratio of pension debt to annual general revenue. St. Louis wasn't even in the top 10. Kansas City has pension debt totaling 1.5x general revenue. Chicago was 7.5x general revenue. It made me feel a little better.
addxb2 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:27 am
Speaking of pensions, I read an article that compared cities in the US by a ratio of pension debt to annual general revenue. St. Louis wasn't even in the top 10. Kansas City has pension debt totaling 1.5x general revenue. Chicago was 7.5x general revenue. It made me feel a little better.
Do you have a link?
mjbais1489 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:13 am
addxb2 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:27 am
Speaking of pensions, I read an article that compared cities in the US by a ratio of pension debt to annual general revenue. St. Louis wasn't even in the top 10. Kansas City has pension debt totaling 1.5x general revenue. Chicago was 7.5x general revenue. It made me feel a little better.
Do you have a link?
https://www.texastribune.org/2016/12/02 ... exas-city/
I appreciate your posts. I've just read most of them. The way forward to a stronger city and urban area looks pretty difficult. I'm wondering what role an understanding on the part of the movers and shakers in this region that we will rise, fall, or continue to stagnate as a metropolitan area depends on the strength and vitality of the region's core plays in all of this. To me, this is a very important and critical understanding/ingredient that is missing here. It exists in many other urban regions that are successful. It seems to be missing in our region. I know it is risky to invest in the core and maybe especially our core. But without a strong core, this region will continue to stagnate and therefor continue to fall behind others. On the plus side for retirees like me, this city will continue to be a relatively cheap place to live with a lot of amenities that will take a long time to die off. Of course, I might get shot and die somewhere along the way.
A strong, interesting core makes any city more accessible and just plain fun to live in. People (the ones who give a f***) are the number one resource of a successful city. With more people come more jobs, opportunities, whatever. The main draw for people is a city which seems safe and fun to live in. Perhaps we should be talking about better marketing and public relations. And, obviously, getting a handle on crime.

I think that we're at a time in our city's story where we could potentially turn it into ANYTHING that we want. But we, the people who live here, have to radically invest and start getting creative.
You're missing about 430M in revenue in those charts, the non general revenue funds. Yes city is in horrible shape, it can pay its bills for now and thats about it but there is a way out if leaders want to make some very difficult decisions with police and fire (again) pensions.
Which funds do you mean?

Keep in mind, I used the St Louis 2016 CAFR for reference. It's slightly more accurate than a line-item budget, but it also calculates things a little differently. Also, I didn't really get into enterprise funds (the airport, water department, and parking division). I also didn't really get into the difference between restricted and non-restricted assets and the various other funds, such as agency funds, which are devoted to narrowly defined services.
vollum wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:38 pm
On the plus side for retirees like me, this city will continue to be a relatively cheap place to live with a lot of amenities that will take a long time to die off. Of course, I might get shot and die somewhere along the way.
Happy Holidays, Everyone!!!! ...I'm calling for this to be the quote of the week. I like it so much I think I'm going to put it on the holiday cards I send out this year... Truth be told tho, it's a little hard to enjoy said amenities while knowing the back story, right? It's like when I'm rocking my new Jordan's but know they only exist because of third world child labor where the kid that made them happen might've lost of digit in the process.
St. Louis' pension obligations are actually relatively under control compared to a lot of other major cities. Things could be a lot, lot worse on that front.