Cry, the Beloved Unincorporated Area
An interesting vote took place last week in St. Louis County. A large unincorporated area in the southwest part of the county had a vote on whether or not they wished to be annexed by the city of Manchester. The overall question was fairly straightforward. Did the residents of the area want to receive local public services from Manchester instead of St. Louis County, and, if so, were they willing to pay the slightly higher taxes for it?
The answer by the residents of the area was a resounding “no.” The proposal was overwhelmingly defeated in the area to be annexed, and considering they had over fifty percent voter turnout (incredible for an off-year election day like this), the desire to remain unincorporated has been made abundantly clear.
Living in an unincorporated area is an overlooked aspect of suburban life. Obviously, in rural areas many people live outside of cities, towns, or villages. But in the suburbs, I think we assume people live within municipalities, albeit sometimes very small ones. However, particularly in St. Louis County, many people live in unincorporated areas and enjoy, generally speaking, the lower taxes that can come with it. In rural counties, the unincorporated areas often genuinely have less government involvement in residents’ lives, (e.g., no zoning, less licensing, and reduced code requirements). St. Louis County has zoning and codes for its unincorporated areas, but at least the licensing requirements are indeed less (e.g., no general businesses license is required).
St. Louis County has by far the largest unincorporated population of any county, around 300,000. I would wager a lot of money that it is the only county with an unincorporated population of more than 100,000 people. By comparison, the other truly large Missouri county, Jackson, has a small unincorporated population of just around 25,000 or so. Jackson County is the most heavily incorporated county in the state, with 97% of the residents living in municipalities such as Kansas City.
Some people just want to live with one less unit of government over their lives. I can understand that. Clearly, the people of the unincorporated area around Manchester understand it, too.