For decades, St. Charles County has been one of the fastest growing communities in the United States. Since 2000, the population has grown by one-third. Michelle McBride reveals how her office is deftly managing its expansion and positioning the county for ongoing prosperity.
Where have all of these people come from – St. Louis city?
According to the U.S. Census, over the last 15 to 20 years we’ve had 5,000 to 7,000 new residents move here every year. Many of them come from other parts of the St. Louis metropolitan area, but at least 50 percent of our new residents come from outside Missouri. People move here for the quality of life St. Charles County offers. We have steady job and housing growth, award-winning schools, a low cost of living, and unique communities. Many major employers are located here – including General Motors, MasterCard Worldwide, CitiMortgage, Mercy, BJC HealthCare and SSM Health, along with a lot of IT and startup businesses.
How are you fitting all of these people in?
Housing growth has been strong. Stats from the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri show that nearly 50 percent of all new, single-family housing permits in eastern Missouri are filed in St. Charles County. This was true before the recession, and it’s still true now. In the western part of St. Charles County where there is available land, homes are built for less than in other parts of the region. This is due to lower land costs, which is a big driver for population growth in the area. Going forward, local officials are looking at what it will take to develop more destination housing areas within our county – specifically, housing that will help us attract and retain Millennials, young professionals and seniors.
What pressures do the county and your office face in keeping pace with such tremendous growth?
The biggest challenge for the county and its municipalities is keeping up with the infrastructure we need – roads and utilities to meet the demands of our population growth. Additionally, growth means looking ahead and considering how we can attract and retain residents and jobs. For example, the county, local IT firms and area startups are working together to help area schools and universities develop and push STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) to build our tech workforce.
In my office specifically, population growth has created a greater volume of tax bills and a larger workload for my staff. We have embraced the challenge, and strive to continually provide high quality customer service. In our office, we serve six generations of people – encompassing individuals who have never touched a computer to those who’ve never known life without one, so it’s important that we serve people with a wide range of life experiences. Many of our older constituents grew up with horses and watched the advent of the car. They didn’t have indoor plumbing.
We’re also serving people who carry smart phones with them 24/7, which means we have to meet them where they are and offer an ever wider array of options. We encourage the members of our community who are comfortable with electronic processing to leverage its efficiencies by paying online or communicating with our office by email. Allowing citizens to make payments on their taxes throughout the year also helps alleviate the end-of-year rush and burden of making one large, lump-sum payment. It’s important that we continue to serve people with a wide range of life experiences.
The Progressive Policy Institute ranked St. Charles among the nation’s top 25 counties for tech jobs. With the median age of residents just 34 years old, how are you ensuring that your office and staff keep pace with the tech expectations of your citizens?
We provide online tax payment and research services, and encourage citizens to utilize the web. Tax bills are posted online before the paper bills hit the mail, and our online tax payment website URL and QR code are featured on tax bill correspondence. We also work with the county to utilize Facebook, Twitter and e-newsletters to communicate tax bill deadlines and updates every year.
St. Charles County is named after Saint Charles Borromeo, a famous 16th-century Italian cardinal best known as a reformer of education and church governance. How has his influence inspired the reforms you make as collector of revenue?
I think St. Charles Borromeo’s willingness to embrace change and reform is historically embodied in the people of St. Charles County and its government. The growth of our community, in terms of our population and development, are fantastic examples. In my office, this spirit is reflected in the way we implement positive changes, track progress, and work together as a team to provide the best service for our citizens and the county as a whole. We have a statue of St. Charles Borromeo at the foot of the hill where our county executive building is located.
Michelle McBride received the Thomson Reuters 2016 ‘Office Holder of the Year’ Public Sector Champion Awards. Watch this video to learn more about Michelle and her role in St. Charles County.
To nominate an individual or a jurisdiction for the Public Sector Champion award, check out our website.