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'This is about a new beginning' | 3 Metro East cities officially merge to form Cahokia Heights

Curtis McCall Sr. is the new city's first mayor. His son, the former mayor of Cahokia, was one of the 150 people who lost their jobs in the merge.

ST. LOUIS — It's a historic day in the Metro East.

Back in November, voters decided to merge the cities of Alorton, Cahokia and Centreville.

Thursday morning, leaders were sworn in, making it official. It is now the combined city of Cahokia Heights.

Curtis McCall Sr. is the new city's first mayor.

He was the Centreville Township Supervisor prior to this mayoral role.

Three years ago, the three cities teamed up to attack money troubles.

"The number one struggle was finances," former mayor of Alorton JoAnn Reed said, "I mean our cities were all struggling. We were all starving."

After consulting with financial advisors, they had two options: raise taxes on citizens or cut payrolls. Cutting jobs from mayors to treasurers to clerks. 

That's how the unification process began and last year, voters approved the merger.

As part of this process and to bounce back financially, the combined town eliminated jobs.

150 employees lost jobs Thursday.

"I am going to do everything I can for them to transition out of this after losing their job," Mayor McCall Sr. said.

This job cut even hit close to home. 

His own son was the mayor of Cahokia, Curtis McCall Jr. 

"I laid off a family member that also felt the lay off of this," McCall Sr. said. 

He said sacrifices needed to be made and "this is about a new beginning."

Transitioning the roles, McCall Jr. handed the gavel to his dad and they both embraced in this moment.

Credit: KSDK

McCall Sr. said with these job cuts, it was able to balance its budget and put $2 million in the bank. 

In the next 45 days, the new leaders will do an assessment and see if they need to bring back any employees that lost their jobs. 

Each city has seen a decline in population over the years, leading to a financial crisis. Cahokia lost more than 1,300 residents in the last 10 years according to the U.S. Census, a significant decline for the city with less than 15,000 residents.

Cahokia Heights has several issues to tackle. With this merge, McCall Sr. believes it can get access to more state and federal funding to fix one big issue: sewage problems.

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Every time there's heavy rain, some residents can see that sewage in their back yards. 

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He plans to have a meeting Friday with residents who are having these issues.

Another issue is not having enough law enforcement to patrol the streets.

"I had about seven officers and on a good day, one," Reed said.

After 28 years with Centreville Police, Steven Brown transitions into a new role as police chief for Cahokia Heights.

He'll lead a department of 36 to tackle crime.

"All police departments are now all one police department and I was able to recruit from each department," he said. 

The new police department will be at Centreville City Hall.

It's a new beginning and as the new mayor points out, it's something residents wanted.

"They approved of this referendum by 79%. They voted for change and that is about what today is about," McCall Sr. said.

He hopes this will attract new residents, too.

"By fixing infrastructure, I think people will move to the community. When people see us making a difference, they will come back. We’re going to give these people a reason to come back," he said optimistically.

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