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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.

Unhappy together: County GOP opposes merger of city, county development agencies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The St. Louis County Republican Central Committee has unanimously passed a resolution opposing any sort of city-county merger, including the merger of the economic development agencies now underway.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday approved the merger, which Mayor Francis Slay first proposed almost 18 months ago.The St. Louis County Council is expected to follow suit Tuesday.

City and council officials say the move would improve regional coordination on economic development and save money by eliminating duplication of effort. But county GOP chairman Bruce Buwalda says his party leaders view it as “the first step’’ to getting the city back into the county.

The county GOP’s Central Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a resolution opposing any merger talks, on any level:

"The members of the St. Louis County Republican Central Committee oppose any efforts that may or could be made to enhance, support or advance any legislation or bill made by St. Louis County Council or the Missouri legislature that could be or may be favorable in the support of any merger of St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis.

"Further be it resolved, that the St. Louis County Republican Central Committee being opposed to any such merger therefore urges the voters of the county of St Louis to vote against any ballot language that would support such a merger."

Merger talk ignites partisan debate

Many county Republican leaders long have opposed any re-entry of the city  into the county, although such a move would require a public vote in both jurisdictions.

Buwalda said the concern centers on a belief that the county’s costs would go up if it had to maintain city roads and other city services. Slay has denied that the county would have to assume such costs.

The issue also often arises during elections – as it did during last spring’s mayoral contest between Slay and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

County Executive Charlie Dooley, who plans to seek re-election next year, also may well see a resurrection of the Republican accusations in 2010 – highlighted in TV attack ads -- that he supports a city-county merger.  Dooley has maintained that he’s neutral and the voters would have to decide.

Dooley does support the merger of the economic development agencies.

Buwalda said the county party is still recruiting candidates for 2014 to challenge Dooley and county Assessor Jake Zimmerman, also a Democrat.  Zimmerman told the Beacon this week that he’s running for re-election and that he’s endorsing Dooley’s re-election as well.

Divisions resemble those over 'Arch tax'

Meanwhile, the partisan split over the merger of economic development operations appears to mirror the divide over this spring’s Proposition P campaign to increase the region’s sales tax to pay for parks improvements (as well as upgrading the grounds of the Gateway Arch).

In the county, many Republican members of the Central Committee are aligned with the tea party faction that opposed the so-called "Arch tax," in part because of concern about the regional funding of parks.

But many area GOP-leaning business leaders, some of whom are prominent Republican donors, are privately supporting the merger of the economic development operations, much as they publicly backed Proposition P.

In St. Louis, many of the aldermen wariest of the economic development merger are African-American – some of whom have also been critical of any talk of the city rejoining the county.

The perception long has been that St. Louis' African-American Democrats are on the same side as the county’s tea-party Republicans when it comes to any merger talks because, aside from any philosophical objections, there is fear their political influence might be diluted in the city and county joined.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.