ST. LOUIS (AP) — A nonprofit group on Monday revealed its plan to merge St. Louis city and county into what would become the nation's 10th-largest city.
The group, Better Together, said in a lengthy report that a merger is necessary for the region to realize its potential. Better Together plans a $25 million campaign to put the merger on a statewide ballot in November 2020, officials said at a news conference.
St. Louis city and county were separated by a vote in August 1876. Several previous reunification efforts have failed.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, said the unification would help end the in-fighting that has become common in the region.
"The competition should not be between Wildwood and Hazelwood or the city and the county," Krewson said. "The competition should be between St. Louis and Nashville, St. Louis and Indianapolis, St. Louis and Louisville, or Austin, or Denver."
St. Louis was once among the nation's largest cities, but as residents increasingly moved to the suburbs, the city's population has fallen from a peak of around 860,000 in 1950 to less than 309,000 today. That makes it the nation's 62nd-largest city, even as it anchors the 19th-largest metropolitan area. Combining with the county would give St. Louis 1.3 million residents.
Advocates said the prestige of instantly becoming a top-10 city is secondary to other benefits. They argue a single streamlined government will more efficiently serve all residents and help create better economic development.
The task force recommendation says a merger also would save taxpayers millions of dollars. The study found that "$750 million in excess tax dollars are spent each year" because the region includes so many government entities — including 88 municipalities in addition to St. Louis city and county government.
St. Louis' reputation also would be bolstered. The high crime rate in the city would drop significantly if paired with the county's relatively low crime rate.
Still, approval of the merger won't come easily. Though Democratic St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger favors it, many municipal leaders in the county do not. An organization called "Stop the City County Merger" wants the issue decided by St. Louis-area voters, not a statewide vote.
But the Better Together report said a statewide vote is appropriate since it is the Missouri Constitution that defines the city/county relationship.
The proposal calls for creation of a new class of local government in Missouri called a metropolitan city. Rather than separate governing bodies, the metropolitan city of St. Louis would have a single mayor, a single elected prosecutor and 33 council members. Fifty-five police departments would be consolidated into one.
Current county municipalities would be preserved as "municipal districts" that would still levy utility and property taxes, operate parks, collect trash and serve other typical municipal functions. But the municipalities would lose authority over things like sales tax, courts and police.
If voters approve the constitutional amendment, the new government would phase in over a two-year transitional period starting Jan. 1, 2021, the report said.