Better Together withdraws proposal to merge St. Louis city, county governments

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Better Together, the organization advocating the merger of St. Louis City and County governments, is withdrawing their proposal after months of criticism. They say that a new proposal will be required to be approved by voters in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.

A press release from Unite STL says that "The overall mission remains the same: to change the way local government works so that it's more efficient and responsive to the people of this region."

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson tweets, "After several weeks talking with Better Together I've asked them to pause the petition effort. With the turmoil in the county, now is not the time. I believe fragmentation limits progress for our residents & I continue to support a city/county merger. We can revisit this in the future."

Better Together recently changed a provision to make Steve Stenger regional mayor after a federal investigation into his administration surfaced. Stenger was indicted, resigned, and ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges in a "pay to play" scheme last week.

Stenger's successor as county executive, Sam Page, released the following statement Monday afternoon:

Better Together’s proposal sparked a conversation about how our region’s governments could be reformed. That’s an important conversation, and one that we should continue.

I appreciated Better Together’s contribution to the dialogue but I had several serious reservations about the group’s proposal. Among my concerns was the statewide vote. I believe any change to government in the City and the County should be up to City and County voters.

I am encouraged that Better Together pulled its proposal today. It shows they’re listening. I hope that future efforts at reform will be built from the ground up, engaging community leaders, the African-American community, the Municipal League and other stakeholders.

Many municipalities in St. Louis County also voted against the initial proposal. The NAACP recently also came out against the initial plan to consolidate area governments.

"Our region continues to be held back by duplicative and inefficient government services, declining populations, increasing taxes, lack of economic opportunity and an environment that is not desirable for businesses growth and job creation," said Chairman Mark Wrighton in the organization's statement.

The Associated Press previously reported that a group of professors claim the nonprofit behind an effort to merge the city of St. Louis with St. Louis County vastly overestimated the plan’s potential savings.

Webster University professor Jim Brasfield co-authored the report that says Better Together made critical errors in its tax revenue estimates and expense projections.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Brasfield and two University of Missouri-St. Louis professors claim the merger would only lead to tens of millions of dollars in annual deficits.

Better Together released an analysis in February that estimated the merger could save taxpayers $55 million in year one and more than $1 billion in the 10th year.

The nonprofit responded to the professors’ report with a new analysis that says the consolidated government would distribute up to $526 million in tax revenue in its first year.

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