St. Louis City-County Merger
The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County would be combined under a new entity via a sweeping plan to remake government in the region.
But several people briefed on the plan, which could change, outlined its contents to the Business Journal.
- Better Together would fund an operation to get signatures for a Constitutional amendment with the goal of placing it on a statewide ballot in November 2020. It would be promoted by a multimillion-dollar “yes” campaign, directed by Democratic operative Nancy Rice and financed by index-fund pioneer Rex Sinquefield and others, and all Missouri residents would get a say. If a majority of voters approve the amendment, within five or six weeks all current government offices in the city and county would be suspended and a transitional government would take over for about 15 months, pending elections.
- A new governmental entity — with a new charter — would be created in place of the current city of St. Louis and St. Louis County structures. It would encompass the current city and county land mass. The government would be based in downtown St. Louis.
- Elected officials would include: one mayor, one prosecuting attorney, one assessor and 33 council members.
- The county’s 88 municipalities would lose the ability to collect most sales taxes, have their own police departments and courts. What’s currently the city and county would have one police department and one court system. The municipalities, their officials and legislative bodies would still exist.
- Fire and school districts would be untouched.
It wasn’t immediately clear how municipal debt and the city’s earnings tax would be handled, but Better Together has said previously that no government will get a “bailout.”
Rice, executive director of Better Together, said in a statement Friday:“The Better Together Task Force has not yet finalized its report. We expect completion and public release in January 2019 and look forward to sharing the details of their proposal at that time. Over the past 18 months the task force has hosted seven public forums, held hundreds of stakeholder meetings and received more than 1,200 online surveys in an effort to gather community input.”
A spokesman for Krewson declined to comment. A spokesman for Stenger did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The plan is likely to face opposition from groups of voters in the city and county worried about local control of services and government jobs. The Municipal League, which represents many municipalities, and North County police departments figure to be part of that “no” coalition.
Proponents are poised to take a message to outstate voters that slow-growth St. Louis, the biggest driver of Missouri's economy, needs a boost. Sinquefield has funded other initiatives to change government, such as the successful 2010 state ballot initiative to force a vote every five years on the earnings tax in St. Louis and Kansas City.
The Better Together task force launched in June, led by Suzanne Sitherwood, president and CEO of St. Louis-based energy company Spire; Will Ross, associate dean of diversity and professor of medicine at Washington University; Arindam Kar, partner at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP; Kira Van Niel, program manager at Boeing; and Joe Adorjan, management partner at Stonington Partners Inc. At that launch, Better Together, which is backed by the Sinquefield-bankrolled Missouri Council for a Better Economy, said overall spending for St. Louis’ municipal services grew 5 percent, or $119 million, in the past three years, to $2.5 billion annually. That includes the city, county, municipalities in the county and 23 fire districts.
The initiative comes as the St. Louis region was surpassed by Baltimore this year as the 20th largest metro area in the U.S.