St. Louis - Regional Special Districts

An inside look explaining the structure of St. Louis City government and how it works with Regional Special Districts.


The governmental structure of the City of St. Louis is unusual in the United States. Since 1876, St. Louis has been an independent city, meaning it is not part of any county. The St. Louis Area operates independent, special-purpose governmental units that exist separately from St. Louis City local government , with substantial administrative and fiscal independence.

They are formed to perform a single regional functions or a set of related functions.  Regional special districts as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau excludes all school districts. 

Regional Special Districts 

The Zoo-Museum District (ZMD) is a City of St. Louis/St. Louis County regional district established in 1972 that provides funding for:

Zoo-Museum District Logo

Although the Zoo, Art Museum and Science Center (formerly the McDonnell Planetarium) were once City of St. Louis-operated, today they are each independent entities, financed by property taxes levied through the ZMD. Thanks to these property tax levies, all these institutions except the Missouri Botanical Garden are FREE to all visitors. (The Missouri Botanical Garden is free to St. Louis and St. Louis County residents until noon every Wednesday and Saturday).

The Regional Arts Commission (RAC) provides funding for arts and cultural programs, through a hotel/motel tax levied in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. The fifteen Commissioners are appointed jointly by the Mayor and County Executive and serve four-year terms.

The St. Louis Convention & Visitor's Commission (d.b.a. Explore St. Louis) is the driving force behind St. Louis' $5 billion convention and tourism industry, the official destination marketing organization of St. Louis City and County and operator of the America's Center Convention Complex. The organization is funded by hotel/motel tax and rents and revenues from the operation of the America's Center Convention Complex. The CVC's 11-member Board of Commissioners is headed by a chairman appointed by the Governor of Missouri, and five members appointed by the Mayor of the City of St. Louis and five by the St. Louis County Executive.

The St. Louis-St. Louis County Junior College District (JCD) oversees the St. Louis Community College, a system of 30,000+ students with three campuses and four extension centers, including the Forest Park campus, Harrison Northside Education Center, and Cosand Downtown Education Center in the City of St. Louis. The community college system provides instruction leading to the associate of arts and associate of science degrees. 

The JCD Board of Trustees consists of six members from St. Louis and St. Louis County, representing the four sub-districts of the JCD and elected periodically by district voters for staggered six-year terms.

The Bi-State Development Agency, currently doing business as Metro but still legally named Bi-State, operates the bus and light-rail (MetroLink) system in St. Louis and the surrounding counties. The public bus system in St. Louis is not a city operation. Metro is also responsible for the Call-A-Ride para-transit service, primarily serving the disabled, as well as the Gateway Arch Tram System, the Gateway Arch Parking Garage, the Gateway Arch Riverboats, and Downtown-Parks Airport in Cahokia, IL. Metro is headed by a 10 member Board of Commissioners (5 from Missouri, 5 from Illinois) appointed by the Mayor, St. Louis County Executive, and St. Clair and Madison Counties in Illinois. By tradition, the Mayor appoints 2 of the Missouri commissioners, and rotates with the county executive for a 3rd slot.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) manages the surface drainage and sewage treatment system in the City of St. Louis and in St. Louis County east of Missouri Highway 109. Both primary and secondary treatment facilities are provided at the Bissell Point Plant on East Grand Avenue at the Mississippi River in North St. Louis and at the Lemay Plant on South Broadway near River des Peres, just south of the City limits. MSD is governed by a six member Board of Trustees. Three members are appointed by the Mayor and three members are appointed by the St. Louis County Executive.

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGC) is the metropolitan planning organization and council of governments for the St. Louis region. The region's major elected officials sit on the board of East-West Gateway, deciding regional priorities for major transportation projects. Both the mayor and the president of the board of aldermen sit on the East-West Gateway board, as well as one City of St Louis resident appointed by the mayor.

Was this page helpful?      

Comments are helpful!
500 character limit

Feedback is anonymous.