Better Together resubmits plan to state after withdrawing it last week; no major changes

Mayor+Lyda+Krewson+addresses+the+crowd+at+the+Better+Together+rollout%2C+as+County+Executive+Stenger+looks+on.+Photo+by+Erin+Achenbach.

Mayor Lyda Krewson addresses the crowd at the Better Together rollout, as County Executive Stenger looks on. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com

Better Together refiled its petition Monday with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office for a proposed Constitutional amendment that would merge St. Louis County and St. Louis city into a single “metropolitan city,” after pulling the petition last Friday to make technical changes.

Better Together submitted a petition to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft Jan. 28 to collect signatures to place the plan on the ballot in November 2020 as an amendment to the Missouri Constitution.

The essential Better Together plan still stays the same: All of St. Louis County and city could be consolidated by 2022 into one large “metro city” under a single government – including one mayor, council and police department – that backers say will save money and create a better business climate that will set the region up to thrive rather than fall behind.

Critics say it is a misguided plan for “UniGov” that has to be sent to a statewide vote because local residents would never go for it.

Opponents like St. Louis Alderman Megan Ellyia Green, who says she supports a merger but is a critic of the current plan, asked for the nonprofit organization to take the chance offered by withdrawing its petition to pause and take in more public feedback on what the new government should look like.

“Being unwilling to negotiate on the final terms of a merger and acquisition, with the people impacted by the merger, isn’t a merger at all — it’s a hostile takeover,” Green wrote on Twitter after Better Together declined her suggestion that it wait.

Several of the petition changes clarified the relationship between the “metro city” and what would be called “municipal districts.” Current county municipalities can continue to exist under the plan as municipal districts, although some of their key powers like policing and zoning and their primary revenue source of sales taxes would be redirected to the metro city.

The changes made in the resubmitted petition this week were “technical in nature and do not alter the substance of the recommendations,” Better Together said.

But some of the language clarifies such important issues as t0 whether a debt would stay with a municipal district after the merger and how finances will be balanced between the municipal districts and the metro city.

The organization said the dozens of changes were made since the Jan. 28 release of the plan as a recommendation of its City-County Task Force.

“While these changes would not alter the underlying substance of the recommendations, we believe they help to ensure that the Task Force’s recommendations are reflected,” Better Together posted on Twitter.

The goals of the changes are to “ensure that pensions and employee benefits are protected” for existing employees of both the current county and city and municipalities; “ensuring high-quality, well-resourced fire protection in the city of St. Louis”; “ensuring that debts and obligations of the city of St. Louis and municipalities are satisfied from revenues generated within the jurisdictions incurring them”; and “ensuring municipal districts have sufficient resources to provide parks and recreation, fire protection and similar municipal district services.”

Better Together continued, “An exciting opportunity befalls upon all St. Louisans to ensure the successful operation of this new structure, as well as the adoption and implementation of policies in the new Metro City that are important to residents.

“The Task Force remains steadfast in its urgency that its recommendations be adopted to end the obsolete and dysfunctional structure of government that for too long has held our region back.”

The Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, comprised of cities in St. Louis County and their mayors, is coordinating a petition drive to gather signatures for an alternative process to form a new government, the Board of Freeholders process that is currently outlined in the state Constitution. That board, if convened, could decide on any type of plan for merger or no plan at all.