Frequently Asked Questions
What is Better Together? +
Better Together is a project of the non-profit organization Missouri Council for a Better Economy. Better Together 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 Better Together began exploring the issue, they discovered very little data existed to help inform any decisions. Better Together has spent the past 5+ years gathering valuable data to understand the impact of fragmentation on the St. Louis region with the ultimate vision of creating a just and prosperous Saint Louis region.
What is the St. Louis City-County Governance Task Force? +
In response to the findings of Better Together’s studies, the St. Louis City-County Governance Task Force was formed in June 2017 to provide an independent perspective and offer recommendations for how our region might address its fragmented structure of governance.
Who staffs Better Together? +
Where does Better Together get its data? +
The primary data sources for Better Together’s reports have been the governments it studied. Better Together studied governments that deliver municipal-level services in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. Read our reports from the past five years on our research page.
How do I contact someone from Better Together? +
Better Together staff can be reached at email@example.com.
Will someone from Better Together come speak to my group? +
Yes! Our staff and volunteers are available to provide brief overviews or full presentations. For more information or to request a speaker at an upcoming event, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is Better Together funded? +
Better Together is a project of the non-profit organization Missouri Council for a Better Economy and is funded by donations from over 100 individuals, organizations, and corporations. A list of our donors can be found on our support page.
WHY COULD RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNITING ST. LOUIS CITY AND COUNTY BE VOTED ON STATEWIDE? +
The relationship between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County is defined by the Missouri Constitution and the pathway to change that relationship necessarily lies there. A statewide vote to amend the Missouri Constitution could create new forms of government – the Metropolitan City and its municipal districts – in the place of existing, constitutionally-defined governments.
The St. Louis City-County Governance Task Force Report explains in detail the legal necessity of a constitutional amendment and statewide vote if policy recommendations to unify the city and county were to be adopted.
I HEARD THERE WAS A LOCAL VOTE THROUGH A “BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS” PROCESS. WHY NOT THAT? +
A provision of the Missouri Constitution does provide a limited path to altering aspects of the relationship between the City and County by a “Board of Freeholders.” The Task Force thoroughly explored this process as they, like many community members, were hopeful of recommending pathways for city-county unification that could be considered locally only. However, a Board of Freeholders plan has significant limitations that would prevent the recommendations of the Task Force from being considered if they were proposed through a Board of Freeholders.
Most importantly, a Board of Freeholders plan cannot supersede generally applicable inconsistent state laws or previously-enacted constitutional provisions. This dramatically limits, if not wholly eliminates, the ability to adopt recommended reforms related to public safety, courts, taxes, and municipal governments, and it limits the ability to provide new and innovative government structures that could provide the flexibility for continued change, while also maintaining and preserving community identity.
Due to the inherent limitations in the nearly century-old Board of Freeholders, a constitutional amendment, which can only be adopted by a statewide vote, would be the way for recommendations such as those of the Task Force to be put before the people.
The Task Force Report explains in detail the Board of Freeholders Process and legal necessity of a constitutional amendment and statewide vote if the recommendations of the Task Force were to be considered.
Won't St. Louis County residents be on the hook for St. Louis City's debt? +
No. Under the plan recommended by the Task Force, all current debt and liabilities, including pension liabilities, remain with the municipality or city in which they were incurred. These debts will be paid using revenues collected through existing taxes within that municipality or city. Debts from other municipalities will also remain in the city in which it they were incurred. Accordingly, any revenue streams (including sales tax) within an individual municipality that exist specifically to service outstanding debt will remain in that municipality until the debt is retired. For more information, please see Appendix E (Metro Finances Overview) of the Task Force Report.
Isn't this effort just a "bailout" of the City's debt? +
As discussed above, the debt of St. Louis City will be paid through taxes currently in place in the City until the debt is repaid. St. Louis County will not assume the debt of the City of St. Louis. Similarly, all debts within a given municipality will remain with the municipality that incurred it.
In other words, whether it is a current municipality in St. Louis County or the City of St. Louis, no debt or outstanding liability will transfer from one municipal to another. All debts will be paid by the municipality in which it was incurred using existing revenue streams collected within the municipality to service outstanding obligations.
Is consolidation just a way to dilute City crime statistics? +
No – while it’s true that consolidation could lead to a different, and arguably more representative, calculation of crime statistics, that is not the driving factor in this conversation. In their study of policing in St. Louis, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) determined that regional fragmentation undermines effective policing — making officers’ jobs harder and citizens less safe. The recommendation of PERF and of the Task Force for one professional, accredited police department serving the entire area would allow for access by police to regional resources to help address substantive crime issues in the region.
Why is our education system not part of the Task Force recommendations? +
Throughout the Task Force process, members were repeatedly asked about education reform. However, the Task Force, as endorsed by the Mayor of St. Louis and St. Louis County Executive, charged its members to review potential efficiencies in government/municipal services — a scope that does not include schools. In the state of Missouri, school districts are a different class and type of political subdivision, separate from a city or county in which they are located.
Given the breadth and complexity of the issues surrounding educational equity, the Task Force supports the creation of an education design and financing task force, a signature priority of Forward Through Ferguson.
Who was engaged in creating the Task Force recommendations? +
The Task Force began its work by engaging with St. Louis community. They were charged to understand the thoughts, concerns, and values of the public related to potential governmental reforms. In order to do so, the Task Force conducted seven public forums attended by over 400 people and collected over 1,200 online engagement surveys. More than 250 stakeholder meetings were held to discuss all aspects of local governance. The Task Force also held three youth engagement sessions with 45 participants and three large community events that drew over 500 attendees. This community input, coupled with Better Together’s studies, were critical in shaping the ultimate recommendations put forth by the Task Force.
MY COMMUNITY IS GREAT. WHY WOULD A MORE UNIFIED REGION BENEFIT ME? +
While many parts of our region are doing very well, duplicative services and large-scale inefficiencies are causing us all to dramatically overpay for the delivery of government services. The research of Better Together and the Task Force also illuminates great disparities around health, public safety, and other key services in the region. Our fragmented structure makes it impossible to address these big challenges in a concerted way.
When our region succeeds, we all succeed. The population in St. Louis City and St. Louis County is declining and our region’s economy is not growing like our peers. Fragmented government promotes inter-municipality competition for employers and development projects that limits the ability of the region as a whole to compete meaningfully with other cities. Our current path is unsustainable, and a thriving and competitive region will uplift all communities.
PEOPLE HAVE RECOMMENDED UNIFYING OUR REGION BEFORE. WHY IS THIS TIME DIFFERENT? +
The data collection and analysis and community outreach performed by Better Together and the Task Force represent the most comprehensive investigation of this issue to date. This work revealed the staggering cost of fractured government to our region, both financially and at the human level, and has allowed for the development of recommendations that are both data and citizen-driven unlike ever before.
While 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, 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. Much in our region has changed since that time. Now is the time for considering ways to unify the region that will allow us to thrive in the 21st century.
I keep hearing talk of competition among different municipalities. What do you mean? +
Because municipalities rely heavily on sales taxes to fund their day-to-day operations, they must compete with neighboring areas to entice retail developers to their municipality. This leads to costly and counterproductive giveaways to sales tax-producing enterprises. In the end, consumers, schools, and workers all lose.
Prior to 1969, local governments were funded largely with property taxes paid by residents in their home municipality. However, beginning with state legislation that allowed local municipalities to levy local sales taxes, many municipalities moved quickly to replace the funding for their day-to-day operations with new and increasing sales taxes. Some municipalities generate enough sales tax revenue that they were able to eliminate their real estate tax altogether.
This shift from reliance on property taxes to sales taxes has led to a mad dash to collect as much sales tax revenue as possible. When we are focused on competing to bring a shopping complex to Brentwood versus Maplewood, we have limited resources to expend on the sort of regional growth that is necessary to compete on the national level.
How does our government structure affect companies wanting to be here? +
The St. Louis region drives away investment with unclear, bureaucratic processes for businesses. Depending on the size of their operation, businesses that will bring jobs to our region have to navigate multiple governments. If you’re a company that requires sprawling infrastructure and logistics, the prospect of negotiating with numerous government entities with different needs and concerns is off-putting and costly.
Through consolidation, St. Louis could streamline licensing and inspection processes to remove regulatory impediments for area entrepreneurs and make St. Louis a more attractive place to do business. Real people would feel the benefits of regional cooperation and subsequent economic growth.