Curious Louis Answers: 9 More Questions About Better Together's St. Louis City-County Merger Plan | St. Louis Public Radio

Curious Louis Answers: 9 More Questions About Better Together's St. Louis City-County Merger Plan

Jan 29, 2019

Better Together’s proposal to create a unified St. Louis and St. Louis County is expected to be on the November 2020 ballot.

Under the proposal, residents would elect one mayor, one prosecutor, one assessor and a 33-member council to represent the region.

St. Louis Public Radio answered 11 of the biggest questions about Better Together's proposal on Monday, but many questions remain.

Readers and listeners submitted dozens of questions about the proposal to our Curious Louis project. We'll continue to answer more in the weeks and months ahead.

Here are the next nine:

What will happen to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen?

St. Louis will not keep its Board of Aldermen. The city instead will have a municipal corporation which will handle debt and other outstanding assets for the city. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen and the St. Louis County Council will dissolve in 2023 once the metro government’s council members are elected.

What will happen to the ranks and hierarchy within the police departments?

The structure of the departments’ units and patrols will be decided by the metro government during the transition, said Marius Johnson-Malone, deputy director of community studies for Better Together. Individual police officer's rank and and seniority will carry over. If someone is a sergeant in a department now, he or she will remain a sergeant in the new department, according to Better Together officials.

The transition government, led by the St. Louis mayor and St. Louis County executive, will select a metro police chief to create the structure of the new department, Johnson-Malone said.

The merger will also add a deputy mayor for public health and safety that would be selected by the new metro mayor. Three other deputy mayors — including one for community engagement and equity; economic development and innovation; and community development and housing — will also be appointed by the metro mayor.

Why do the powers of the new government transfer to the county instead of the city during the transition period and beyond?

Better Together leaders said St. Louis County's chief executive, prosecutor and assessor will assume their corresponding offices in the new metro government from 2022-2025 for size reasons. St. Louis County has more than three times the population of St. Louis.

The Better Together proposal took cues from other cities, including Nashville, Indianapolis and Louisville, which faced similar mergers.

“When we’re consolidating a million and three-hundred thousand, that just seemed to be what the other regions had done,” said Dave Leipholtz, the director of community studies for Better Together.

How will this merger affect surrounding counties?

The proposal would only merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. Better Together proponents say surrounding communities would benefit from the merger through economic growth.

“In Indianapolis, for every person they added in their population since they consolidated — which I think is around 60,000 or so — they’ve added two jobs,” Leipholtz said. “Which means people from outside of that urban core or suburban core are coming in to work.”

What will happen to ordinances within the city and county?

Ordinances in St. Louis County municipalities will remain in effect as long as they don't conflict with the metro government's laws. Residents will have the opportunity to debate legislation between the city and county during a public comment-and-outreach period during the transition period. The metro government council will address any conflicting and anti-discrimination ordinances.

What will happen to the pensions?

Members of Better Together said pensions and liabilities will be fully paid and honored.

Will the school districts ever merge?

There are two lines of thought: the first is that the passage of the merger may prompt momentum to deal with schools next. But there's also a fear that if the merger passes without support from the city and county, it may make it more difficult to deal with some of the lingering education issues that will still be glaring after the merger.

Will the city's one-percent earnings tax be imposed on all businesses in St. Louis County?

No. If you are currently paying the earnings tax now in the city, you will still have to pay it if the merger happens. However, it will be phased out over a 10-year period.

Are there any other cities that have attempted this merger?

Several city-county mergers have been completed in the U.S. Some of the most notable mergers happened in Nashville, Louisville and Indianapolis. Better Together staff said those mergers helped establish the foundation for the St. Louis proposal.

Have a question we haven't answered? Ask us below: 

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Correction: Added clarification about how hierarchy within the police departments would be maintained in the proposed merged government.

Reporters Jason Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann contributed to this report

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis