St. Louis is Better Together
In spring 2017, a citizen-led City-County Governance Task Force was formed to provide an independent perspective and offer recommendations on how our community might address its fragmented structure of governance. Better Together works to educate and engage community in response to these recommendations. See our full recommendations and supporting documents here, or scroll down for the SparkNotes version.
Recommendations Version History
Better Together prepared a financial analysis showing that implementation of
the proposed constitutional amendment will save taxpayers $250 million per year by 2026.
Read our full analysis in the documents linked below.
The SparkNotes Version
The work of the Task Force didn’t start from scratch. It built on a foundation of 5 years of community research - quantitative and qualitative - compiled by Better Together and supported by community led work groups in addition to other local bodies of work like the Ferguson Commission Report and For the Sake of All. You can dig into the research here.
Building on these reports, surveys, public forums, and face-to-face meetings, the Task Force worked to answer one key question:
What structure of government best lends itself to enacting reforms that citizens in our region have called for?
Through engaging nearly 10,000 individuals, the Task Force identified key takeaways when answering this question that were considered when developing recommendations:
Be bold and transformative, incrementalism isn’t enough.
Create a government with a strong executive to support the implementation of a shared vision for our region.
Have a significantly-sized legislative body, representing electoral districts, with legislative leadership elected from within that body to better ensure equitable representation.
Ensure the legislative body is professional and well-staffed.
Create a government with a modern structure that can evolve over time in response to
Develop a government and tax structure in which we are incentivized to support
economic development across the entire community, not just in parts of it.
The recommendations developed are a significant step to addressing the change St. Louisans have expressed repeatedly is needed.
The City-County Governance Task Force recommends the creation of a new class of local government in the state of Missouri called a Metropolitan City that embodies four core principles:
A unified approach to government economic development
A unified approach to public safety
More efficient use of tax dollars
Maintained community cultural identities and a structure that supports more equitable access and delivery of government services to everyone
We recommend that a new metropolitan city, made up of the current City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, would unify our region in these key areas:
The new Metro City would be governed by an elected Metro Mayor who would assume all duties of St. Louis County Executive and the Mayor of St. Louis City.
Voters would elect a 33-member Metro Council, whose members represent districts drawn by a nonpartisan expert and initially approved by the St. Louis County Council and St. Louis Board of Alderman. A larger Metro Council will allow us to elect a body that represents the diversity of our region and provide localized engagement with a smaller number of consituents.
By nature of a unified government, the new Metro City would have the opportunity to align efforts to increase economic development in our region. We recommend one, comprehensive plan that promotes equitable development and streamlined business licensing practices.
Planning and zoning
A unified government would allow for improved planning and zoning. We recommend the creation of a strong, centralized regional planning and zoning department to facilitate the development of a comprehensive, cohesive, inclusionary and equitable approach to the community’s housing, land use and development practices.
One professional, accredited police department providing police services equitably throughout the Metro City. One department can be held accountable, with oversight, by all of the Metro City’s citizens, while also providing the best-practice level of neighborhood community policing that residents and police desire.
A single municipal court system for the entire Metro City with one prosecuting attorney for the new Metro City. We also recommend that the 21st and 22nd Judicial Circuits be combined to form a single circuit. A single circuit court would help to facilitate criminal justice reforms and provide a jury pool more reflective of the community.
We recommend that the City of St. Louis ’s fire department become a fire protection district and all other fire services continue to be delivered in their current manner. Fire safety presents a complicated landscape, paired with greater disparity in employee pay and benefits, than across the other service areas, which ultimately makes the creation of a single department too costly to be attainable in the short-term. However, it is entirely consistent with the experiences of other regions that fire protection would be a candidate for future consolidation efforts in subsequent years depending on community input to the Metro City government.
We recommend that current municipalities in St. Louis County be maintained, but reclassified, as municipal districts of the Metro City.
These municipal districts would have the authority, but not the obligation, to offer services in the areas of fire protection, parks and recreation, trash and recycling, general administrative functions, and any other services desired by citizens but not provided by the Metro City government. Municipal districts would not be able to provide police departments or municipal courts.
The general sales tax revenue would be collected on a Metro City-wide basis to support services provided regionally by the Metro City. Municipal district operations would be funded through local property taxes, utility taxes, and fees for service collected within the district.
After studying the current expenses and potential cost savings of municipal and county services, we estimate that this new government structure would save $250 million tax payer dollars a year. We recommend the initial property tax for the Metro City be lower than the current St. Louis County rate and that the earnings tax in the current City of St. Louis be phased-out, according to established state law, by ten percent each year.
All outstanding financial liabilities in municipalities in St. Louis County would remain with the municipal districts in which they were incurred.
We recommend that the City of St. Louis remain as a municipal corporation which would allow it to service its financial obligations with revenue from residents within the former City of St. Louis boundaries. We estimate that this debt could be addressed within 7 years.
Forming a Metropolitan City that retains existing municipalities as Municipal Districts requires a statewide vote to amend the Missouri Constitution.
Why a statewide vote is needed for local change can get confusing, here’s some reasons why we recommend this path:
A statewide vote to amend the Missouri Constitution is necessary to create the new forms of government - the Metropolitan City and its municipal districts - that we recommend. Our recommendations ultimately defined how we would have to get there.
A local vote would require what Missouri calls a “Board of Freeholders” process. This process would work for some of the recommendations we made but would limit the much needed proposed change to policing, courts, and municipal services.
We need to act with urgency. With a long history of inequity and fragmented structures, the time to act is now and a constitutional amendment allows us to do so.
We recommend that the constitutional amendment be put to a vote of the people in the November 2020 election.
If passed, a two-year transition period will begin on January 1, 2021. This transition government will be led by the elected heads of the two combining counties of the City of St. Louis (Mayor) and St. Louis County (County Executive).
The transition government will carry out functions necessary to continue providing services to the region and to formulate the governing institutions called for under the initiative, with active and substantive citizen input. Local elections would be suspended during this transition.
The first election for the new Metro City would take place in November 2022.