LETTER: St. Louis County Parks Legacy Could Be Lost Forever
Tad Biggs, past president of The Open Space Council, states in this letter to the editor "the threat to sell off our parks if we do not agree to a further increase [in property taxes] is simply extortion."
I read the proposal to start closing and selling off county parks, noting the budget figures for the various departments, and how the parks budget alone is singled out for evisceration to the point of literally treating precious and irreplaceable park land as a bank of capital to fund other ongoing operations. This is a watershed for St. Louis County government, and every citizen of the County should take note.
St. Louis County is not growing. Its population has held steady at a million for 20 years, and has started to slowly decline.
But St. Louis County government is growing. We all see that this is a proposal to force yet another increase in our property taxes, to fund this growth, not of the county, but of its
The proposal to sell the parks is basically a crude exercise to extort more taxes, but it reveals a deep set of priorities that everyone needs to mark. I have been on The Open Space Council for 40 years, and observed the tremendous effort it takes to secure park land in a growing city. Park land is priceless infrastructure to any community that seeks to be a place where people want to live. Just look how Forest Park has secured neighborhoods in a city that has otherwise driven hundreds of thousands out! To say it isn’t paying anything as I saw in the copy, is ridiculous. Nothing in government pays anything – that is why we have taxes. We don’t make money on the police and fire departments, roads and sewers and parks – we just need them.
Parks are as vital as any.
A lot of people worry about ‘urban sprawl.' The biggest factor driving urban sprawl is government sprawl, and the attendant corruption. We watched this happen next door in the city, where a prosperous population of about 850,000 people 60 years ago dwindled to the present relatively unprosperous 300,000, while city hall grew and grew, spilling out of its huge building downtown and into the old federal court house, Kiel Opera house and numerous surrounding office buildings. With grants funded by everyone else’s tax money, and the earnings tax, that growth continues wherever possible. No one can plausibly argue that ever-increasing taxes in the city were good for the city, as opposed to city hall and the political machine that occupies it.
We now have a government in Clayton prepared to contemplate selling off parks to fund its own growth and operations. Our property taxes are already high, and the threat to sell off our parks if we do not agree to a further increase is simply extortion.
We need government for various things, but there is such a thing as a government that is an interest unto itself, and prospers at the community’s expense. The proposal to sell off Lone Elk and other parks to fund government is an occasion to consider whether or not we now have that kind of government in Clayton. I am afraid that the answer is that we do, and if that is so, we had better be prepared to do something about it if we want to save our parks, and preserve the quality of life in St. Louis County.
--Tad Biggs, Past President, The Open Space Council
The Open Space Council is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving public and private open space lands in the St. Louis region. It identifies areas that can be acquired and set aside for public use, and attempts to discourage improper land use and detrimental development. The organization encourages biodiversity through land and water conservation, preservation and restoration. The Open Space Council through its Operation Clean Stream project has been working for more than 44 years to restore and protect the Lower Meramec River Greenway.