The Better Together plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County into a single metro city says efficiencies gained by combining governments will save taxpayers millions of dollars.
But both Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger have told city and county employees not to be concerned — because their jobs will not be eliminated in the process.
Observers are wondering if they will be able to keep their promises. The plain language of the proposed 22-page constitutional amendment makes no mention of preserving jobs.
Not to worry was the first thing city employees were told. At the moment Krewson and Stenger gathered with merger proponents to announce the proposal on Jan. 28, city workers got an email from Krewson.
“If this plan passes, none of you will lose your job — every City employee will become an employee of the new Metro St. Louis government,” she wrote. “Also, importantly, you will stay in your pension system and none of your benefits will be lost.”
Stenger also issued an email to county employees endorsing the Better Together plan, but it did not address whether jobs were safe. He said later that he gathered his department heads and told them the plan would not result in layoffs or changes to their pensions.
Stenger’s staff emailed a statement that said the government would shrink to size by attrition.
“If, at some point, we identify opportunities for cost savings via staff reductions, we will be able to attain them through the County’s annual attrition rate of about 15 percent,” Stenger said in an email to a reporter on Monday. “The bottom line is that, based on the plain language of the amendment, much of the function of St. Louis County government would flow into the function of a new Metro City government.”
Krewson texted a similar statement: “Through natural attrition and retirements, we are confident that every City employee will be needed in the new metro city.”
The constitutional amendment would give Stenger — as the first “metro mayor” — broad authority to decide the structure of the new government. Stenger and Krewson by Nov. 15, 2022, would jointly present to the public a plan to create, organize and abolish departments of the former city and county.
“I don’t think anyone can make any commitments about what will happen when it’s all said and done,” County Council Chairman Sam Page said. “It will be up to Stenger, and he may hope or wish that we (don’t lose jobs) in any consolidation but when you merge two large governments, that’s on the table.”
Another question is whether officials in the county’s 88 municipalities can make the same promises.
Gregg Hall, the Hazelwood police chief and president of the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association, said he had no idea what his department would look like after the merger — how many of his officers would keep their jobs patrolling his city, what they would be paid or which entity would pay them.
“We haven’t been given the opportunity to ask questions or be face to face with someone who might at least give us some information,” he said.
The amendment says that all employees who work in the city or county in a capacity that provides general services, including police officers, would become employees of the metro city. Immediately after the merger takes effect, all municipal police departments would remain intact despite now coming under the command of a metro police chief. But the amendment does not guarantee anyone’s job is safe throughout the transition to a metro government.
Dave Leipholtz, one of the principal authors of the Better Together report, said there are not even guarantees today that city or county jobs are safe. For example, employees of the county’s IT department told the County Council last month that several employees were slated for layoffs because of budget cuts. And, Leipholtz noted, that perhaps some municipal police officers with histories of jumping from department to department might not have the qualifications to work for a larger department.
Leipholtz said that after the transition, tax revenue that previously went to the municipalities to pay for services would instead go to the metro government.
And what that might look like in the long run is murkier than perhaps the area’s top leaders have let on.
Timeline of the plan
Jan. 28, 2010
Before an initiative campaign can collect signatures to put an issue on the ballot, the Secretary of State's Office must approve the petition.
The initiative petition for the Better Together plan was filed with the Missouri Secretary of State's Office; it is petition 2020-039.
Public comments can be made for 15 days after filing.
The state auditor will prepare a fiscal note and summary, estimating the impact on state and local budgets. The secretary of state will propose ballot wording.
The attorney general will then review the fiscal note, the ballot summary and the submitted petition.
Eventually, if all parties agree, the secretary of state will certify the official ballot and fiscal note summaries, and post them online again, after which Better Together can begin collecting signatures.
All of this could happen by March 21.
Jan. 4-8, 2019
The Municipal League of Metro St. Louis plans to begin collecting signatures in an effort to create a Board of Freeholders (whose decisions would require approval of just St. Louis and County voters).
The group needs 20,000 voter signatures (5,000 from city voters, 15,000 from county voters), which would force the Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger to appoint the Board of Freeholders. They'd name nine members each to the 19-member board; Missouri's governor names the final member.
The board would be required to hold a meeting within 30 days; it has a year to form a plan.
Once the Better Together petition is approved ...
After the petition and ballot language are approved, opponents have 10 days to file suit against the measure. Those lawsuits must be finalized within 180 days.
If the suits change the ballot wording, signatures gathered before the decision are invalid.
Oct. 1, 2019
Better Together's attorney says the group will likely wait until about Oct. 1 to start collecting signatures. This will avoid any court decision invalidating previously collected signatures.
May 3, 2020
Signatures to get the Better Together plan on the ballot must be turned in six months before the November election.
Nov. 3, 2020
Election day for the amendment.
If approved, then:
Jan. 1, 2021
Transition period begins
• City and County combine as Metropolitan City of St. Louis, a "metropolitan city form of government," with the powers of a charter city and charter county.
• The Metro City's charter would be modeled on the existing County charter, except as changed by the amendment.
• Municipalities and the existing city become "Municipal Districts," governed by existing governing boards (city councils or Board of Aldermen) with incumbents assuming offices.
• Current county executive assumes office as metro mayor. Current city mayor becomes transition mayor. The two oversee the transition, and together act as chief executive officer of the Metro City.
• Current County prosecuting attorney and assessor assume offices in the Metro City.
• Metro City assumes responsibility for "general district services," such as licensing, public health and safety, police and law enforcement, municipal court, transportation, public works and economic development.
• Municipal Districts continue to provide "municipal district services," and continue to be responsible for existing "obligations of the municipality." They provide: fire protection, parks and recreation and other enterprise functions. They'd continue to provide a general district service until the Metro City provides it.
• Ordinances in the County, City and municipalities remain in effect until modified by the Metro City.
• Outstanding obligations, including bonds and pensions, remain the responsibility of the district (or St. Louis City), to be satisfied with revenue from that district.
• Taxes imposed by County, City or municipalities continue until modified by the Metro City. Taxes in Municipal Districts can be different than taxes in the Metro City, for the purpose of paying outstanding obligations, or to increase level of services the Metro City provides. Municipal taxes may include property tax and utility gross receipts tax, or fees for the purpose of providing district services.
• For each year of the transition period, budgets and taxes for calendar year 2019 are effective. The metro and transition mayors jointly administer the budget.
• The boards of elections will be consolidated, and will be required to cooperate until they are.
• A Judicial Conference will consolidate judicial circuits, and must submit a plan to the General Assembly during the 2021 legislative session or earlier.
• Special districts, such as community improvement districts and transportation development districts, are unaffected. Their powers are transferred to the mayor. School districts are unaffected.
By April 1, 2021
• The mayors jointly appoint neutral experts to develop a plan for 33 Metro Council districts (using the 2020 Census data that becomes available in March 2021).
• The mayors jointly appoint heads of departments and offices for the Metro City.
By Sept. 1, 2021
Plan for the Metro Council districts is submitted to the members of the County Council and governing body of the St. Louis Municipal District (the Board of Aldermen) for approval.
The plan goes into place on Dec. 31, 2021, if it doesn't receive previous approval.
Jan. 1, 2021
• The Metro City runs all county functions. Incumbents serve out their terms as employees of the Metro City and other employees transfer to Metro City.
• Judicial circuit realignment plan to create a single circuit goes into effect (assuming submission and passage during 2021 legislative session).
Candidates file for Metro Council, with primary elections in August 2022.
Oct. 2, 2022
Municipal Districts submit to the Metro City estimates of outstanding obligations, cost of district services and revenues.
General election for the first Metro Council.
Nov. 15, 2022
• The mayors publish a reorganization plan, and recommended budget for the Metro City.
• The Metro City counselor publishes a report on conflicting ordinances.
Jan. 1, 2023
Transition period ends
• First Metro Council takes office.
• City Municipal District continues as "St. Louis Municipal Corporation" to administer outstanding obligations and provide municipal services as authorized by Metro City, and is governed initially by five-person board appointed by the Transition Mayor with successors appointed by the Metro Mayor.
• St. Louis Fire Protection District is established to provide services within the city limits. It's governed initially by a five-person board of directors appointed by the Transition Mayor, with members subsequently elected as a fire protection district.
On or after Jan. 1, 2023
• Metro Council may adopt budget (if they don't, the prior year budget is adopted on month-to-month basis).
• Metro Council considers government reorganization plan. To disapprove it, a two-thirds majority has to vote against it. Plan takes effect 30 days after submission.
• Council may adopt ordinance conflict report.
• Municipal Districts administer affairs based on the annual budget their governing bodies approve.
Candidate filing deadline for Municipal District governing bodies, with elections in April 2023.
Candidate filing for metro mayor, prosecuting attorney, assessor and even-numbered Metro Council districts.
Primary elections are in August 2024.
General elections are in November 2024.
Jan. 1, 2025
Metro mayor, prosecuting attorney, assessor, even-numbered Metro Council district members sworn in for four-year terms.