Better Together's Proposal

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The proposed constitutional amendment from Better Together, a subsidiary/project of the non-profit organization Missouri Council for a Better Economy, to consolidate the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County has sparked much debate across the region. Many details of governance remain undefined by Better Together, but it is clear is that the powers and role of municipal government would change significantly. 

While the City is concerned by Better Together, the City is bounded by ethical and legal standards, and must be careful in how it provides information regarding a political or election topic. We can educate, but not advocate for a particular topic as city resources cannot be used in the campaigning of an election issue. That being said, the purpose of this page is to provide information to our residents about the main points of Better Together's proposal, as well as discuss the potential impact on the City of Maryland Heights. This information has also been presented in the City's newsletters. Click here to access that archive. 

Better Together's Timeline

November 2020 Election: Statewide vote occurs

January 1, 2021: If passed, the new form of government, named the Metropolitan City of St. Louis, becomes effective.

January 2023: Full implementation of the new government begins (after a two-year transition period). 

Metropolitan City of St. Louis: Government Structure

  • Unifies St. Louis City and County into single government named the Metropolitan City of St. Louis
  • All existing municipalities (including Maryland Heights) are reclassified as Municipal Districts
  • Partisan elections for all positions in Metropolitan City
  • Metropolitan City headed by elected Mayor (4 yr. term)
  • Metropolitan City Council composed of 33 elected members by legislative districts (4 yr. term)
  • Prosecutor and Assessor independently elected at large.
  • During the transition, St. Louis Co. officials are Interim Mayor, Prosecutor and Assessor. The Mayor of St. Louis would be the "Transitional Mayor" who jointly with the Interim Mayor (County Executive) shall constitute "the chief executive officer of the metropolitan city".
  • Seat of government located within the City of St. Louis

What does this mean for residents? 

Compared to a municipality, municipal districts would have far fewer powers and service responsibilities. Under this proposal, municipal districts would be limited to providing the following services:

  • Fire-EMS
  • Parks and Recreation
  • "Enterprise Funds" such as utilities and trash

In addition to municipal districts, the proposal calls for the establishment of legislative districts from which the 33 members of the Metro City Council will be elected from. Each legislative district would contain approximately 40,000 residents.

Metro Council 

  • Each Council member to have at least two full-time staff members
  • Creation of initial District Boundaries set by a committee jointly appointed by the Mayor and Transition Mayor from faculty of one or more universities in the Metro City with relevant expertise and without partisan affiliation
  • President of Metro Council to be elected by members
  • Vacancies in Metro Council to be filled by appointment by President of Metro Council.

Metro Mayor: Role and Power

  • "Strong Mayor" form of government where mayor appoints all department heads who serve at the pleasure of the Mayor
  • Mayor appoints all members of boards and commissions
  • Mayor shall appoint 4 deputy mayors to be called: Deputy Mayor for Public Health and Safety; Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Innovation; Deputy Mayor for Community Development and Housing; and Deputy Mayor for Community Engagement and Equity.
  • Mayor to have line-item veto authority over budget.

Metropolitan City of St. Louis: Services

  • “General City Service” shall mean ANY duty, service or function of the Metro City, a county or a city, now or in the future assigned by law, charter or ordinance of the Metropolitan City including:
    • Public Health, Safety and General Welfare;
    • Police, law enforcement and municipal courts;
    • Licensing, taxation and regulation of businesses, occupations, professions, activities and things;
    • Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Works;
    • Economic Development
  • Metro City is also responsible for all traditional county functions
  • Metro City to provide municipal district functions in areas that are not within municipal districts

How will service provision differ between the Metro City and current municipality structure?

Currently, municipalities have the power to provide police protection, fire/EMS, municipal courts, licensing, code enforcement, inspections, building permits, snow plowing, road maintenance, parks/recreation, trash, utilities, stormwater management and economic development. With the exception of fire/EMS, which are provided to our community by fire protection districts, Maryland Heights provides these services to residents and businesses.

Under Better Together's proposal, all of these services except for Parks and Recreation, trash and utilities would be considered general district services provided by the Metro City. Maryland Heights would not be allowed to provide services beyond these three areas.

Special Districts Excluded from Metro City

  • "Special District" shall mean, excluding school districts, any political subdivision, municipal corporation, body corporate and politic, taxing district, taxing sub-district, public corporation or quasi-public corporation, other than a municipality (located wholly or partially within the territory of the City of St. Louis or St. Louis County) immediately prior to the effective date of this section"
  • Ex. MSD, Zoo-Museum District, Community Improvement Districts (At this time, the proposal does not include school districts.)

How is this different from mayoral power in Maryland Heights?

In Maryland Heights, the mayor and City Council appoint the City Administrator, who, with Council approval, selects department directors. These directors do not serve at the pleasure of the mayor and can only be dismissed for cause.

What does budgetary line-item veto authority mean?

The power to veto or strike only certain parts of a budget submission while allowing the rest of the budget be approved or enacted.

Governance of Municipal Districts

  • The members of the governing body of existing municipalities at the time of the proposed plan's implementation in January 2021 would remain in office until April 2023. (Municipal elections in 2021 and 2022 would not occur.)
  • The budgets for municipal districts would be submitted annually for review and approval of Metro City.
  • The 2019 Budget would also serve as the budget for transitional years 2021 and 2022
  • Taxes proposed for the municipal districts to be submitted for approval of Metro Council prior to submittal to voters

Municipal Districts: Structure

  • The boundaries of the "municipal district" may not be altered or changed except for provided by ordinance of the Metro City.
  • Following the transition period, a municipal district may merge or consolidate with another municipal district or may be dissolved as authorized by ordinance of the Metro City.
  • The governing body shall serving as the Plan Commission (the authority and autonomy level of this body remains unclear)

Municipal Districts: Services

  • "Municipal Districts" to remain financially responsible for all outstanding obligations including debt and pension liabilities
  • "St. Louis Municipal Corporation" responsible only for outstanding obligations to former City of St. Louis
  • Metro City may assume obligations of municipal districts and St. Louis Municipal Corporation
  • Metro City to provide municipal district services in areas not otherwise included in a municipal district
  • Municipal districts will be allowed to continue the service provision roles of a municipality until they are told that the Metro City will take over these services (see page 4).

Financing of Services

  • General District Services of the Metropolitan City are to be funded primarily from sales taxes
  • Municipal District Services are to be funded primarily from property taxes.
  • Each municipal district is a sub-district of the Metro City and the Metro City can, with voter approval in the municipal district, levy different taxes within the municipal district to increase the level of general district services in the municipal district.
  • The Metro City shall be entitled to all funds from the state or federal government to the extent and same manner in which any county or city may be entitled to receive such funds.
  • The Municipal District shall be entitled to all funds from the state or federal government that are in furtherance of any power granted to the Municipal District.

Transfers to Metro City

  • Property, contracts, records and personnel of a municipal district relating to the provision of a general district service shall be transferred to the Metro City.
  • Property encumbered by debt is not transferred until the debt is retired.

What does this mean for residents? 

General district services include police protection, snow plowing, inspections and other services enumerated on page 4. This means that Maryland Heights, which under the plan would become a municipal district, will not provide police protection, snow plowing, local street maintenance or code enforcement. The Departments of Police, Public Works and Community Development would no longer exist at the municipal level. All of these services would be provided by the Metro City.

General Taxation

  • The tax structures, tax rates and level of services in place prior to the effective date of the new  government, which anticipates to be January 1, 2021, would remain until changed or services are taken over by the Metro City.
  • The real estate and personal property tax levied by the City of St. Louis would be replaced by the current rates of the county government.
  • The real estate and personal property tax for general county purposes would be reduced by 50 percent.

Tax Distribution After Transition

  • According to the proposal, the Metro City would distribute taxes, fees or special assessments that were initially levied by a municipality to the municipal districts to fund repayment of debt and outstanding obligations,  municipal district services and general district services (until such service is provided by the Metro City).

The exact context and mechanism of these distributions remains unknown, especially with regards to paying for municipal district services.

Revenues Redirected to Metro City from Maryland Heights

  • Earning Taxes in the City of St. Louis to Metro City (phased out over 10 years)
  • Sales and use taxes imposed by the municipality to remain in effect, but redirected to Metro City.
  • Taxes currently shared with cities: County road and bridge refund, County cigarette tax, County sales tax, County sales tax-public safety (Prop P), State gasoline, State motor vehicle tax and State gaming tax would be redirected to Metro City.
  • Revenues from business license, land use regulations (Planning), building permits, inspection fees and court fees.

What do these proposed changes mean for Maryland Heights?

If BT's proposed amendment is approved by voters as it is currently written, it is estimated that the City would lose approximately $25.8 million, or roughly 71% of our annual revenues. Although gaming tax revenues are not specifically discussed in the proposal, the declared limitation of municipal district revenues to be derived from property and utility taxes, as well as some user fees, indicates that gaming taxes would be redirected to the Metro City. Here is an estimate of the tax dollars (based on 2019 estimates) that would be redirected from
Maryland Heights to the Metro City. Please note that the City of Maryland Heights does not levy a property tax.

  • Gaming Taxes: $10 million
  • MH City Half-Cent Parks Sales Tax: $4.7 million
  • County Sales Tax (municipal distribution): $4.7 million
  • County Sales Tax-Public Safety (Prop P): $1.4 million
  • Court Fees and Fines: $1.3 million
  • Building & Occupancy Permit Fees: $970,000
  • County Road Refund: $950,000
  • Motor Fuel Tax: $730,000
  • Business License Fees: $600,000
  • Motor Vehicle Tax: $350,000
  • Cigarette Tax: $60,000

BT's proposal, if approved, would greatly reduce the services Maryland Heights would be responsible for providing, thereby reducing expenditures. Here is an estimate of the expenditures that would be cut from the City's budget under BT's proposal.

  • Public Works: $12.5 million
  • Police: $12.5 million
  • Community Development: $2.4 million
  • Municipal Court: $440,092

These core services account for approximately $27.8 million, or 69.5% of Maryland Heights' total annual expenditures (based on 2019 estimates). BT is unclear about what administrative duties would remain with municipal districts, so additional expenditure cuts would likely apply. Decisions would also need to be made regarding trash service and utility tax rebates. In future issues, we'll cover other impact considerations  for Maryland Heights.