Merger between Vinita Park and Vinita Terrace first in recent history
By Nicholas Elmes
On May 10 the staggering number of municipalities in St. Louis County got a little bit smaller when the city of Vinita Park and the village of Vinita Terrace officially merged, marking the first municipal merger in the county in recent history.
The merger was approved by voters in November 2016 after lots of work by both communities and with help from nonprofit Beyond Housing.
“The merger is a community-driven effort and the result of months of tireless effort by our elected officials to communicate the benefits to our residents,” said Mayor James W. McGee, city of Vinita Park. “By becoming part of Vinita Park, Vinita Terrace residents will keep the local representation they desire and obtain new professional, full-time services such as public works, clerks, financial services and free trash service.
“Our two communities will greatly benefit from joining together,” added McGee. “Among other things, it is believed that the merger will help stabilize and could even increase property values and strengthen the fabric of both communities.”
“This is going to be good for our residents,” said Chairman Dan Clasby, Village of Vinita Terrace. “A lot of thought and time went into planning this merger and it would not have been possible without the help of Vinita Park and the St. Louis County boundary commission.”
Chris Krehmeyer, CEO and President of Beyond Housing, said the merger represented the ability for municipalities to work together to achieve better governance for their residents, noting that Beyond Housing had been happy to help develop the relationship and then to help with actual consolidation process.
“For the past several years we have been working with the leadership of the 24 communities in the Normandy Collective on a variety of things that they have indicated are things that are important to them,” said Krehmeyer. “Part of that process is we meet with between 12 and 18 mayors to talk about a whole variety of things. In this case, there was an opportunity for these two neighboring communities to merge and make things better for both of them.
He said the because of its size, Vinita Terrace did not have the staff or capacity to go through the merger process on their own.
“Our job was to be, in essence, adjunct staff to put the binder of information together, answer all of the questions and work with them and submit all of the documentation,” said Krehmeyer. “For us, the best news about the merger is it is really driven by the people who live in both communities. It is them deciding that they think it is in their best interest to move down this path versus being pressured by regional forces.”
Beyond Housing is also working to assist a merger proposal between Normandy and Glen Echo, a measure which will be on the ballot this November.
“Mergers like this are about bringing about efficiencies,” said Krehmeyer. “Vinita Terrace realized that managing the community well was just no longer feasible for them and this just made all the sense in the world to them.”
The merger impacts more than 2,000 residents who live and pay taxes in the two communities, especially the nearly 300 residents of Vinita Terrace. Both municipalities already share a common past and a history of cooperation, including shared police services. The North County Police Cooperative’s headquarters will move to the former Village Hall building in Vinita Terrace. The new headquarters will allow the department to be centrally-located and able to provide more services to residents.
Krehmeyer said that the close ties between the two communities were key in achieving a successful merger.
“Unless you have relationships and full confidence then you are hard pressed to go through this in a way that people are coming to the table on their own volition,” he said. “We are not a fan of consolidation just say that we only have so many municipalities, but we believe that if consolidation makes sense to local communities then absolutely they should pursue it.
“This is the first merger ever in St. Louis County,” he added. “There was a learning curve. The folks at the boundary commission will say that we all learned together but now we have a bit of template that we know how to follow and use.”
Vinita Park and Vinita Terrace are part of the 24:1 Initiative led by Beyond Housing which supports the 24 communities within the Normandy Schools Collaborative. The 24:1 Initiative brings partners together to rally around a shared vision of community, drawing especially on the wisdom, voice, and experience of residents themselves.
CUTLINE: Submitted photo St. Louis County Council District 1 representative Hazel Erby stands with Vinita Park Mayor James W. McGee and Village of Vinita Terrace Chairman Dan Clasby during the merger ceremony of Vinita Park and Vinita Terrace on May 10.