Boone County commissioners struggle with new village incorporation laws

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 | 4:03 p.m. CDT; updated 5:47 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — A couple in northern Boone County wants to incorporate 93 acres as a village, and even though Boone County Commissioners are opposed to the idea, there is not much they can do to stop it.

A change in state law last August made it easier for property owners to form their own governments by lowering the percentage of residents required for incorporating land and eliminating the discretionary powers of county commissioners to oppose such requests.

Farrel and Valerie Pride filed an initial petition with county government in January to incorporate an area in northern Boone County as the village of “Yahweh.” The area is approximately two miles south of Sturgeon along Route V and consists of three tracts totaling 93 acres. It has five residents, according to the petition, including Farrel and Valerie Pride.

Boone County cartographer Linda Crane said, based on the map attached to the petition, one of the other tracts belongs to Gene and Hilda Pride, with the remaining tract owned by Terry Armstrong and Pamela Lambert.

The Pride’s petition was taken off the agenda for a Boone County Commission meeting in January and has not been discussed publicly. County Clerk Wendy Noren said the issue was on the agenda so it could be put on the April ballot. Because of legal description issues, the petition did not meet the deadline for April elections. If the commission discusses it by May, the incorporation request could appear on the August ballot.

Boone County attorney John Patton said the description issue was that the three tracts of land described in the initial petition had individual boundaries, but no unifying boundaries.

On Friday, the Prides submitted an amendment to their petition that provides the legal descriptions of the unifying boundary.

Asked last month why she wants to incorporate, Valerie Pride said, “It’s our legal right to do so.” She declined further comment.

Karen Miller, one of three Boone County Commissioners, said there were no circumstances under which she would agree that a five-person village should be incorporated.

A Missouri Senate bill passed unanimously in the Senate on Feb. 28 and was read for the second time in the House on March 3 could repeal the law enacted last year that makes it easier to create a village.

The Senate bill, along with two corresponding House bills, would restore the law that was changed in August. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Jack Goodman, would also dissolve any villages incorporated after Aug. 28, 2007.

Unless the legislation makes its way into law, county officials will continue to have little say in whether an area can incorporate.

“As long as their descriptions are right, anyone can incorporate,” Miller said. “You can take 10 acres and make it a village with its own government. There could be a junkyard in the middle of those 10 acres.”

The existing law requires a petition signed by 15 percent of registered voters in the area targeted for incorporation instead of the two-thirds required under the previous version. The previous law also allowed county commissions to deny a petition for incorporation if they believed it was not in the best interest of the county, Miller said. Now, commissioners are only able to check petitions for “technical errors.”

If no corrections are necessary, commissioners are required to put the incorporation on the ballot. Approval requires a simple majority of voters within the proposed village.

The existing law also specifies that areas do not need to have “regularly laid out streets” or a minimum number of voters to incorporate. Villages of fewer than 100 inhabitants do not need to “furnish normal municipal services.”

Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said that villages may likely exceed that number of residents in the future.

“They need to be in a certain position to provide services like water and power,” Elkin said. “They may have fewer than 100 residents now, but what happens when there are more?”

Elkin believes that villages should be incorporated for “the right reasons.”

Pierpont, a village near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, incorporated in 2004 to avoid annexation by Columbia.

“Pierpont wanted to preserve its rural characteristics and self-control, and I see no problem with that,” Elkin said.

Several petitions for incorporation have been submitted to counties around the state since the current law came into effect. The first was submitted on the same day the law was enacted.

Five people filed a petition to incorporate an area in Stone County near Table Rock Lake on Aug. 28. The land, according to The Associated Press, is owned by Robert Plaster’s company, Evergreen National Corp.

Evergreen National Corp. filed a lawsuit in September against Stone County for denying the petition.

Stone County Presiding Commissioner George Cutbirth said he feels that the current law was written for Plaster’s benefit. According to The Associated Press, the law was supported by House Speaker Rod Jetton and passed quietly.

“It was a smoky barroom, backroom, sneak-it-into-the-omnibus, bill-at-the-last-minute deal,” Cutbirth told the Missourian.

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