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St. Charles County Council discusses resolution against statewide St. Louis City-County merger vote

The St. Charles County Council on Feb. 25, 2018. [Photo courtesy of SCCMOTV livestream]

At the Feb. 25 St. Charles County Council meeting, a resolution was introduced by Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] and Councilmember John White [District 7] that opposed unifying St. Louis City and County into a new form of government known as a “metropolitan city.”

More specifically, the resolution called for the opposition of the proposed merging by means that would not allow the citizens of each entity to vote independently on the matter before any action was taken.

Dual perspectives on the proposed city-county merger were present even during the meeting’s public comments section.

Brad Hildebrand, St. Charles County resident and owner of KSLQ and KRAP radio, requested that the county look into annexing some St. Louis counties, such as Wildwood and Chesterfield.

“I think that there’s already a lot of commerce that goes from St. Charles County into St. Louis County,” Hildebrand said. “A lot of people use Chesterfield Valley as their shopping spot. It would make sense, to me, to annex that and keep the people of Chesterfield and Wildwood out of the horrendous mess that’s going on in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.”

Chesterfield resident John Hancock, of Hancock & Prouty, testified against the resolution on behalf of Better Together during the Feb. 25 meeting. Hancock, who is the former Chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said St. Louis City’s debt would remain in the old city and would be paid off through an earnings tax set to decrease by one-tenth of 1 percent annually for 10 years, meaning the debt would not come into the new metro government. Hancock also stated that the merger would bring over $40 million in revenue to that state of Missouri, as well as decrease taxing entities and eliminate the Tax Increment Financing [TIF] competition between municipalities.

“We pay 44 percent more for government in St. Louis than any other city in America, and that’s city and county,” Hancock said. “It’s a mess.”

According to Hancock, an alternative would be for St. Louis City to go into default.

The focus of the resolution fronted by Brazil and White was opposition to putting the city-county merger to a statewide vote in order to amend the Missouri Constitution.

“Nobody in this city is opposed to St. Louis City or St. Louis County improving,” Brazil said. “We’re all in agreement on that. I’ve been in St. Louis my whole life … if it’s a good solution for them to merge … that’s perfectly fine, but what the resolution states is that the way they’re going about it is wrong.”

The resolution argued against the proposition of a statewide vote on that grounds that it would, “… disenfranchise local voters by submitting a purely local matter to a statewide referendum and subjugate the will of the voters in those political subdivisions to the will of the many.”

Brazil added, “It’s not the idea. It’s not what they’re trying to do. It’s the way they’re going about the vote … It’s wrong.”

Currently, the Missouri Constitution allows the voters of the city and county to independently approve a substantial portion of the changes necessary to complete the proposed merger. The process, outlined in Article VI of the Missouri Constitution, is more commonly known as the “Board of Freeholders” process. It would allow St. Louis City and County citizens the opportunity to petition local governments for the changes and to approve any changes by a referendum of only local voters. That process correlates with the plan promoted by the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis at its Jan. 24 membership meeting.

“If you read the resolution carefully, it’s not supporting or against Better Together,” Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] said. “It states that we don’t think it’s right that the whole state should determine a local issue, and it is a local issue between people in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.”

If passed, the certified resolution will be sent to Missouri state legislators and representatives to consider the implementation of the Board of Freeholders process.

Following discussion, a motion was made to table the resolution for a future meeting in order to pursue further discussion and allow two absent councilmembers the opportunity to weigh in on the matter. Additionally, it will afford the county time to await further news on Better Together as well as evaluate possible revenues from the annexation of communities like Chesterfield, Wildwood and Ellisville.

The motion passed 4-1, with Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3] voting in opposition. Councilmembers Dave Hammond [District 4] and Mike Klinghammer [District 6] were absent.

“We’ve already put it out there, so the public knows we have a resolution and how we feel about it,” White said. “I think it’s fair to the rest of the council if we table the bill and give them a little more time to breathe.”

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