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After decades of contemplation and debate, a group known as Better Together is recommending an end to the “Great Divorce” between St. Louis and St. Louis County.Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan to create a unified metro government and police department and limit municipalities' ability to levy sales taxes. The plan would be decided through a statewide vote.Proponents contend it will scrape away layers of local government that has been holding the St. Louis region back. Opponents believe the plan will create an unwieldy and large centralized government that could be implemented against the will of city and county residents.

Better Together Refiles City-County Merger Proposal With Minor Changes

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.

A group seeking to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County sent a new version of their constitutional amendment to Missouri’s secretary of state’s office Monday that contains mostly minor changes.

Better Together described the changes to the amendment as “technical,” dealing with the handling of pensions and existing debt. It also makes some clarifications to language creating a new fire-protection district encompassing St. Louis. (Click here to read the new petition and here to read the summary of changes.)

“We are posting all of the details on these changes to make it simple for people to see what we’ve changed and also understand our reasons,” Nancy Rice, executive director of Better Together, said in a statement. “We want the public to have full access to this information.”

Many of the proposal’s key provisions remain the same: The new metro government would have a mayor, assessor, prosecutor and 33-person council overseeing what’s now St. Louis and St. Louis County. The new government would be in charge of policing and municipal courts. And St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson would serve as mayor and transition mayor, respectively, for the first few years of the new government.

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It’s fairly common for groups to submit multiple version of initiative petitions to the secretary of state’s office before they start gathering signatures. For instance: proponents of the Clean Missouri amendment submitted 16 versions of their proposal to the secretary of state’s office in 2016 in preparation for the 2018 election cycle.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft confirmed that the GOP official received the new petition on Monday morning. If the group manages to get enough signatures in six of the state’s eight congressional districts, statewide voters will decide on the plan next year.

Proponents of Better Together’s plan contend it will bring more streamlined and efficient government to residents. But critics have cited a multitude of issues, including the fact that statewide voters — as opposed to just St. Louis and St. Louis County residents — will decide on the plan.

Municipal officials have begun gathering signatures to launch what’s known as the Board of Freeholders, a 19-person body that could produce a plan that only local residents would vote on. But both Stenger and Krewson have panned that move and have said that only changing the Missouri constitution — which requires a statewide vote — will bring about substantial change for the region. Stenger and Krewson would be responsible for appointing 18 out of 19 board members.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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