Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Krewson, Stenger Back Latest Push for City-County Coordination

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Krewson, Stenger Back Latest Push for City-County Coordination

Article excerpt

The St. Louis region's two top local leaders on Monday endorsed a new report showing upwards of a billion dollars a year in waste from inefficiency due to the unusual city-county division here, and they announced a task force to create a proposal to change that.

At a news conference under the auspices of the nonprofit Better Together, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger both spoke in favor of the concept of more coordination between their two governments a concept referred to by some advocates as "unification," although the word has become so loaded in recent years that both leaders avoided using it Monday.

Both also endorsed the creation of the new task force, which within a year is expected to come up with proposals to coordinate city and county functions and eliminate duplication.

The joint event was the latest indication of the improved relationship between county and city leaders. Stenger and the newly seated Krewson are political allies; Stenger and former Mayor Francis Slay did not get along.

One expert said that a better relationship could make a difference in the success of any unification proposals but warned that many other roadblocks remain.

"The cooperation of the mayor and the county executive improves the chances," said Dave Robertson, political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "But it doesn't by any means make it highly likely. There are so many political obstacles. This is just one obstacle that has been removed."

St. Louis is geographically encompassed by St. Louis County, but the two are completely unrelated governmental entities. It's an unusual situation that stretches back to an 1876 ballot initiative known as "The Great Divorce."

A century and a half later, many civic and business leaders say that division has created unnecessary confusion and duplication in public services and regulations, counterproductive governmental rivalries and a lack of coordination between the city and county on police protection and other issues.

The thrust of the Better Together movement is ultimately to bring St. Louis, St. Louis County and the 89 municipalities within the county under unified services on things such as police protection, taxes and economic development.

"In St. Louis (city), we're spending more for governmental services while losing population," warned Krewson, a longtime supporter of the concept of unification though she is currently referring to it by the less-controversial word "combination."

Krewson said the task force's eventual proposal will allow all parties to "take a hard look" at the possible benefits of unification, beyond the current, conceptual debate. "We all want to know, how will it really work?"

Stenger, who has been more vague in the past about his views on the subject, said the roughly 100 tax hikes passed by various municipalities in the county in the past few years is a testament to inefficiency and waste. …

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