ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Could St. Louis and St. Louis County eventually merge? A new 16-month study kicked off Tuesday that might help answer that question, or it might not.

The study was initiated by a group called Better Together. Executive Director Nancy Rice says despite the name, the group's only goal is to provide information about the city and county governments that will allow citizens and leaders to draw up their own plans for the region's future.

But what happens when that 16-month study is complete is anyone's best guess.

On November 30 the first "sponsored discussion" will be held by Better Together. The group will gather data and citizen input on public finances of the 116 governments in the St. Louis metro area.

"This year will be spent looking at how we spend $2 billion a year and if we're getting the best services that we can for that or if there is a way to do it less expensively," said Rice.

As the group moves forward it will focus on economic development, public health, public safety, parks and recreation and finally general administration. By 2015, Better Together will present its study to citizens and area leaders. But after that…

"I'm not aware of any plans for going forward past this stage period," said Rice.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley are "ex-oficio" members of the Better Together Board. Slay is openly in favor of merging the city and the county.

"They need my assistance for services," said Slay. "But I am not directing the approach that we take, nor am I directing an outcome."

"I will tell you this," said Dooley. "Mayor Slay and County Executive Dooley cannot make any decisions about this region without the vote of the people of this region."

Critics with the Facebook group Stop the City County Merger are skeptical of Better Together's motives.

"It certainly sounds like this is a huge effort to concentrate government which I think is a dangerous thing," said Jennifer Bird. "I think the objective should be to clean up the fraud and the waste and resolve a lot of the fiscal issues before we decide we want to re-partner."

Parts of the City of St. Louis and county governments have already merged including the Bomb & Arson Squad, police helicopter use, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the Convention and Visitors Commission.

Mayor Slay says he'd like to see St. Louis added as a municipality within the county, while still maintaining the city government. But he and County Executive Dooley are adamant Better Together's effort is strictly to find information on whether that's even a good idea.

Financial expert Juli Niemann says a merger between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County would save money.

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