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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.

Chesterfield Leaders Consider Alternatives To Better Together’s St. Louis City-County Merger Plan

Chesterfield City Hall
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Chesterfield City Hall. Officials are looking into different alternatives to the Better Together proposal that would merge St. Louis and St. Louis County

Some St. Louis municipal leaders are continuing to look into potential alternatives to the Better Together proposal that would merge St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Chesterfield City Council members voted to direct city staff to look into possible steps for Chesterfield that could lead to an independent Chesterfield County or a Chesterfield merger with St. Charles County.

“This is a very proactive step to see what options are available to our city,” said Ben Keathley, a Chesterfield City Council member. “We want to be able to keep our residents in the best possible position; It’s about making sure that people have control over their government.”

Keathley said he isn’t prepared to say independence from St. Louis County is the best option. He said discussions on the viability and possibility of a potential secession is currently undetermined. Keathley said he isn’t opposed to consolidation but wants to see other alternatives.

“Consolidation is probably something that could be good for the region, but we need to be smart about it,” Keathley said. “I think if we can make some changes to the way we collect sales tax and the way we distribute it in the region, that would go a long way towards solving that problem.”

Municipalities will keep their specific taxes if those are dedicated to pay off debt, according to the Better Together proposal. Cities would also still have the power to levy their own property taxes, but sales tax would be collected by the new unified government.

City leaders have criticized the Better Together proposal for taking away certain powers from local governments. The proposal would dissolve municipal courts and police departments and merge them into the new metro government. Cities would retain the power to manage parks and recreation, trash services and other general administrative functions. School and fire districts would not be affected.

Municipal leaders voted unanimously to start the process of creating a Board of Freeholders to look into other proposals that would require a city-county vote instead of a statewide vote.

“If this is the thing we want to do, then we should be the ones choosing it,” Keathley said. “People all over the state of Missouri shouldn’t be picking the government for someone else.”

Better Together leaders have said a statewide vote is necessary to amend the Missouri constitution to create the merger. Better Together wants the statewide proposal on the November 2020 ballot.

“The relationship between the city and the county is defined in the state constitution,” said Deputy Director of Community-Based Studies for Better Together, Marius Johnson-Malone, during an appearance on St. Louis On The Air.

Opponents of Better Together will work to gather 20,000 signatures in St. Louis and St. Louis County to establish the Board of Freeholders. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson would appoint 19 individuals to serve on the board. Krewson and Stenger are backing the Better Together proposal, so it’s unclear how that might affect the appointments.

Correction: To establish the Board of Freeholders, 20,000 petition signatures are needed. A previous version of this article had an incorrect number.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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