Frequently Asked Questions
What is Better Together?
Better Together is a non-profit organization that was formed out of a growing public interest in addressing the fragmented nature of local government in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. When Executive Director, Nancy Rice, and the Better Together board of directors began exploring the issue they discovered very little data existed to help inform any decisions. As a result, Better Together has spent the past 4+ years gathering valuable data to understand the impact of fragmentation on the St. Louis region.
Better Together conducted studies in six key areas of local government: public finance, economic development, public health, public safety (including municipal courts, police, and fire protection), parks and recreation, and general administration. For each study, they sought to answer four basic questions:
- What is the status quo for that service area in the region?
- What are best practices?
- How does the St. Louis region measure up to best practices?
- What are possibilities for moving forward?
After producing reports in each of the six study areas, Better Together published the Will to Change report in 2016. This report identified common themes across the six studies and attempted to answer the question: Why does a region with world-class resources struggle to thrive and compete in a global economy?
Striving together to create a just and prosperous Saint Louis region.
We support the St. Louis region by acting as a catalyst for the removal of governmental, economic, and racial barriers to the region’s growth and prosperity for all our citizens by promoting unity, trust, efficiency, and accountability.
We are committed to fact driven research to address the challenges of fragmentation in the region and to inform policy.
We are committed to open and direct dialogue with all constituencies and stakeholders for the greater good of our community.
We are committed to supporting organizations that share our mission and vision.
What governments is Better Together studying?
Better Together is studying governments that deliver municipal-level services in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. Currently, this includes 114 governments: 89 municipalities, 23 fire districts, St. Louis City, and St. Louis County.
Who staffs Better Together?
Better Together’s Board of Directors and full-time staff can be found on our About page. In addition to the listed staff, Better Together consistently employs local research fellows.
Where does Better Together get its data?
The primary data sources for Better Together’s reports have been the governments it is studying. Any data that is cited in a Better Together study can be found through our data library at http://www.bettertogetherstl.com/data-library-browse.
How do I contact someone from Better Together?
Better Together staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will someone from Better Together come speak at my group (e.g. neighborhood association, chamber of commerce, workplace, faith group, civic or professional association, etc.)?
Better Together would love the opportunity to speak with you and your organization. Our staff and volunteers are available for brief (5-10 min) overviews or full presentations. For more information or to request a speaker at an upcoming event please visit www.bettertogetherstl.com/request-speaker.
What is the Task Force I've heard about?
The City-County Governance Task Force was formed in June 2017 in response to Better Together’s studies. The Task Force seeks to identify and report on governmental reforms that can improve the effectiveness of local government in the St. Louis City and County. They will issue reports and recommendations on ideal governmental structures for St. Louis later in 2018. For more information on the Task Force visit: http://www.bettertogetherstl.com/task-force.
How is Better Together funded?
Better Together has 100+ funders who are all invested in seeing St. Louis compete in the 21st Century economy. The project was kicked off by a lead donation of $100,000 from our board chairman, Ambassador George H. (Bert) Walker, III. Other supporters include organizations like Civic Progress, the Regional Business Council, and the Regional Chamber of Commerce. We are grateful for the support from our many donors and their commitment to a prosperous future for the St. Louis region. A list of our donors can be found on our website.
If there is some merger/consolidation, won't St. Louis County residents be on the hook for St. Louis City's debt?
No. A 2014 legal memorandum from the law firm Polsinelli indicates that the debts and obligations of St. Louis City would not become the responsibility of County residents any more than Clayton’s debt would become the responsibility of Florissant residents. The legal memo can be found on the Better Together website.
Won't St. Louis City becoming part of the County dilute the St. Louis County sales tax pool?
A 2014 Polsinelli legal memo shows that St. Louis City would not participate in the sales tax pool upon re-entry into the County unless there was an express agreement to do so.
Isn't this effort just a "bailout" of the City's debt?
It is a common misperception that St. Louis City has an outsized debt in need of a “bailout.” While St. Louis City does not have excess monies, it is by no means in a dire financial situation. The concept of a “bailout” is often utilized as a scare tactic and talking point from opponents of the conversation about the future of St. Louis’s governmental structure. The Better Together project and the City-County Governance Task Force are about the future of the entire region and its ability to compete in the modern economy. As former Louisville Mayor, Jerry Abramson, said on a recent visit to St. Louis, “You can’t be a 21st Century community with a 19th Century structure of government.”
Will there be a vote on this issue?
Yes. While there is currently no proposal to vote on, any changes made to the structure of government in the region will require a vote of the people.
My community is great. Why would I support this conversation?
It’s true that many parts of our region are doing very well. However, studies like For the Sake of All and The Will to Change highlight the great disparities we have around health and other key services in the region. Our fragmented structure makes it impossible to address the big challenges facing the region in a concerted way. Further, disparities in services like policing pose a risk to us all as we travel around the region conducting business and visiting our cultural institutions.
Additionally, the population in St. Louis City AND St. Louis County is declining and our region’s economy is not growing like our peers. This path is not sustainable for City or County residents. We all need to engage in this critical conversation to ensure we are thriving and competitive as a region.
Is consolidation just a way to dilute City crime statistics? It doesn't seem to address the central problems of crime.
While it’s true that consolidation could lead to a different (and arguably fairer) calculation of crime statistics, that is not the driving factor in this conversation. Addressing our fragmented structure would actually help address substantive crime issues in the region. In their study of policing in St. Louis, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) indicated that the ideal scenario would be one professionally run police department for the region. Short of that, they argued one of the ways to reduce crime would be greater cooperation and information sharing between departments. A more unified structure and strategy would help address our most serious crime problems and promote neighborhood safety throughout the region.
People have voted on this/had this conversation before. Why is this time different?
St. Louisans have engaged in conversations about our government’s structure since the Great Divorce (separation of St. Louis City and St. Louis County) in 1876. However, the last time any serious proposal to address the issues was put forward was over 30 years ago and the last time any issue was put before voters was in 1962. The economy of St. Louis and the world has changed considerably since then and it’s imperative we revisit the discussion with a new understanding of where the St. Louis region is now and where we want to go in the future.