St. Louis again considers city-county merger

CLAYTON (AP) — Regional leaders gathered Tuesday near the St. Louis city-county border to promote the latest effort to consider a local government merger that proponents say would save money by streamlining services and provide other benefits.

The Missouri Council for a Better Economy sponsored the meeting at a Clayton hotel at which it launched the Better Together project. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley were among those who attended.

Despite the name, project leader George Herbert Walker III said the group isn’t advocating for a specific plan but instead wants to promote a broader public dialogue while studying the possible impact on six areas: public finance; economic development; public health; public safety; parks and recreation; and administration.

“Our role is to act as a facilitator, a resource for information and new data,” said Walker, a county resident, former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and cousin of former U.S. President George Bush. The group expects to release its findings by early 2015.

St. Louis is currently unique in Missouri in that it is a city that is its own county. The city and St. Louis County broke apart in 1876. Critics say the result is too much duplication of services. Local boosters also cite a high city crime rate they say inaccurately reflects the region’s overall safety. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and County Chief Tim Fitch have asked the FBI to support combining the two jurisdictions’ crime statistics.

Walker cited the “the fragmented nature of local government” in a region where St. Louis County has 90 municipalities and nearly two dozen fire districts.

“We are not prejudging anything in the process,” Slay said in a statement. “The studies, research and public input will determine what we can do better and smarter together, and what the people of the city and county are willing to support.”

Nearly nine decades ago, an effort to consolidate St. Louis and St. Louis County failed when city voters approved a 1926 ballot measure by county voters did not. Four years later, Missouri voters rejected a statewide ballot initiative for reunification. Subsequent efforts fell short in 1959 and again 1962.

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