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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.

Curious Louis Answers: 4 More Questions About Proposed City-County Merger

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The Better Together proposal would merge St. Louis and St. Louis County into one unified government.

The group Better Together submitted its proposal for a merger of St. Louis and St. Louis County in January. The plan calls for a statewide vote in 2020, when Missouri residents would decide on the future of the city and county. The plan would consolidate several municipal functions including police departments, a prosecutor and an assessor.

Residents of the city and country continue to have question regarding the merger, which would consolidate several key functions of the St. Louis and St. Louis County region.

The plan has also spurred both praise and criticism. Many have asked how this plan will impact their way of life and affect political power.

We answered several more questions from St. Louis Public Radio listeners through our Curious Louis project.

"Better Together has said they're doing studies to see the fiscal outcome of the city-county merger, and I'd like to know where these studies are published." - Diane Magee

Better Together has a list of studies and surveys published on its website dating back to the organization’s first study in 2014. The subjects include economic development, general administration costs and functions, and public safety.

Related: How Better Together’s Plan Will Circumvent Democracy and Bankrupt St. Louis

Better Together officials said these studies, along with the For the Sake of All report, and researching other city-county mergers, helped lead the recommendations from the organization's task force that were submitted for the Better Together plan.

"Why is the proposed new executive position so much stronger than the St. Louis Mayor position or the current county position when trends in the county are to reduce that power?" - Lissa Klein

Under Better Together's proposal, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (right) would serve as the transitional mayor of a united St. Louis metro government until 2025, assuming he stays in office through January 2021.
Credit File photo I Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
County Executive Steve Stenger and Mayor Lyda Krewson would serve as the heads of government under the revised petition.

One of the most controversial aspects of the initial Better Together petition was how it would position County Executive Steve Stenger as the mayor for the city and county following the merger. Under the initial petition, Stenger would become the city’s first “metro mayor,” and would remain in that position through 2024. But as of the last few weeks, things have changed.

Better Together submitted a new petition in late March that would position whoever is the county executive and city mayor in January 2021 as joint heads of government. Residents would then vote for a metro mayor in 2022. The updated petition came hours after news broke about a federal subpoena looking into how Stenger issued contracts while in office. Better Together officials said the decision to change the governing structure had already been in the works.

A lot of the criticism surrounding the new petition still remains, including worries that this will dilute African American representation in the city and that statewide voters would still be voting on the merger. 

"You listed three city-county mergers, are there any additional mergers in the U.S. and what is the status of those mergers?" - Gary Lotterman

Louisville, Indianapolis and Nashville are consistently cited as the other cities that have gone through similar city-county mergers, but there are others.

Philadelphia became a consolidated government in 1854. Under the city charter, the governments of smaller municipalities ceased to exist. That form of consolidation would differ significantly from the Better Together proposal, where St. Louis County would get to retain its municipalities.

Residents from Pittsburgh have recently debated the pros and cons of a potential consolidation with Allegheny County. The city has faced financial turmoil and debt over the past few decades. That turmoil has been one of the primary reasons some officials have pushed for consolidation. Proponents of a Pittsburgh-Allegheny County merger argue the decision would eliminate duplicate services and government positions.

Gail Woods (left) and others attend the Better Together Town Hall at Greater St. Mark Family Church. The event is one of several town halls that will be hosted by the organization.
Credit Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Gail Woods (left) and others ask questions about the proposed merger at the first Better Together town hall in March 2019.

But talks of a Pittsburgh merger has quieted over the past year. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf terminated Pittsburgh’s status as a financially distressed city in 2018. City officials say state interference was necessary to strengthen the city.

"My real estate tax just went up over 15%. With this merger, will my real estate tax go up higher, and if so, what percentage over the 15%?" - Ronald Bippen

Tax increases and decreases due to new assessments will continue to occur under any form of government, said Marius Johnson-Malone, deputy director of Community-Based Studies for Better Together.

There are several different tax rates within the city and county. Johnson-Malone said the amount of taxes will decrease from a rate perspective, which is more dependent on the government.

“The property taxes will actually decrease from a rate perspective,” Johnson-Malone said. “What they actually pay from a dollar standpoint ultimately is determined by the assessment and the assessors.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.