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After decades of contemplation and debate, a group known as Better Together is recommending an end to the “Great Divorce” between St. Louis and St. Louis County.Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan to create a unified metro government and police department and limit municipalities' ability to levy sales taxes. The plan would be decided through a statewide vote.Proponents contend it will scrape away layers of local government that has been holding the St. Louis region back. Opponents believe the plan will create an unwieldy and large centralized government that could be implemented against the will of city and county residents.

Government spending task force formed as Krewson, Stenger pledge more city-county cooperation

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger take questions after announcing their support for a task force to examine government spending.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

Top elected officials in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis itself pledged Monday to cooperate on several issues, but stopped short of suggesting a full-fledged merger of governments.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger said they support establishing a task force that will be charged with finding ways to make area governments operate more efficiently. The task force will be part of Better Together, a nonprofit organization supported by financier Rex Sinquefield that focuses on examining whether the city and county should combine areas of government.

Better Together said it has updated data that shows governments in the St. Louis region are spending around $2.5 billion a year on services, which is roughly $1 billion more than cities like Indianapolis and Louisville — both of which merged city and county governments in the last several years.

That's money that could be used elsewhere, Krewson said at a news conference in St. Louis.

"Anti-poverty programs, more recreation, more after-school programs, a more competitively paid police department. Additional funds for affordable housing and for better public transportation," she said, adding that her goal is to reduce spending while improving those services.

Stenger said he wants to explore government reform, because of limitations under the current structure.

"Businesses struggle with our fragmentation," he said. "It's a situation that slows progress and inhibits growth. I believe in order for our region to really thrive we have to change the way we do business."

Both leaders said there are options for more efficient government spending systems, but they didn't want to get into specifics until the task force comes back with recommendations in about a year.

It's another example of some level of city-county cooperation. and follows recent comments on that front by Stenger.

"I think you will see more of a focus between [Krewson] and I on local issues and making determinations of priorities," he said.

Krewson, who has been in office for roughly 55 days, also also vowed cooperation — at least in the short term.

"We've had a good relationship from the start and we're going to continue to work together," she said. "I think it's the mayor's job and quite frankly the county executive's job to work together."

Follow Wayne on Twitter: @wayneradio

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.