Gathered around a table early Tuesday, members of the Pierpont Store Coffee Club discuss playoff baseball and lawn care. The possible incorporation of Pierpont, a small settlement nuzzled up against Rock Bridge Memorial State Park in unincorporated Boone County, is absent from the conversation.
Some members of the coffee club might not care about Pierpont’s political future because they live outside the settlement. But in Columbia, officials are paying attention to Pierpont and once again have expressed misgivings about the incorporation of small communities.
At its regular meeting Monday, the Columbia City Council authorized City Manager Ray Beck to write a letter requesting the Boone County Commission adopt specific guidelines before approving incorporation of additional towns or villages in Boone County.
City officials want guidelines for granting incorporation because of concerns that small municipalities might be unable to support themselves and might restrict orderly growth, said Public Works Director Lowell Patterson.
“They’re suggesting that it be certain that it’s a viable incorporation — that it’s an incorporation that can generally support itself and that can provide for expected services,” Patterson said.
Pierpont’s request for incorporation brought these issues to light, but the guidelines are not meant to target Pierpont exclusively, Patterson said.
Residents of Pierpont said they want to avoid annexation and preserve their way of life. Concerns arose when the city and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources reached an agreement under which part of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park will eventually be annexed in exchange for city sewer service.
Fearing the city’s southern expansion would eventually reach Pierpont, residents filed a petition for incorporation with the county commission in April.
“We just want to be left alone,” said Justin John, a Pierpont resident and chief petitioner.
After an inquiry from Fifth Ward Councilman John John, city staff determined the petition conflicted with a state law that said proposed villages must be more than two miles from an existing municipality’s limits. The petitioners redrew the boundaries of the proposed village and submitted a revised petition on Oct. 8.
City officials have repeatedly said there are no plans to annex Pierpont, but their interest in growth is well established. In an Oct. 18 report to the city council, Beck wrote that Missouri law allows annexation only when requested by property owners or approved by voters in both the city and the unincorporated area.
The city hasn’t forced any annexation since 1969, instead relying on property owners who request voluntary annexation, Fifth Ward Councilman John John said. In 2002, voters rejected a proposal to annex a large piece of unincorporated county land that did not include Pierpont.
Justin John and other Pierpont residents realize the city isn’t actively pursuing annexation in their area. But rather than face a vote, John wants to end the ambiguity over Pierpont’s fate for good.
“Let’s just settle it once and for all,” John said. “They’ll know what they can do, and we’ll know what we can do.”
But incorporation might give Pierpont residents more than they bargain for, Councilman John said.
“Whereas they think they are protecting themselves from the city’s rules and regulations, they end up being the makers of their own rules and regulations,” he said.
Bud Frew, another Pierpont proponent, said residents are ready to govern their village after meeting with county commissioners and officials. The challenges, he said, will be relatively minor.
Pierpont would be governed by five trustees selected by the county commission if it votes to approve Pierpont’s incorporation.
The village would be responsible for maintaining roads, enforcing any ordinances the trustees adopted, setting zoning regulations and enforcing building codes, said Patrick Cronan, the petitioners’ attorney.
Assuming these responsibilities would require little change, Cronan said. The only county road in the proposed village is Tomlin Hill Road, and the village would probably contract with the county to maintain it.
The village would continue to use the Boone County Fire Protection District’s building codes, and community leaders have discussed adopting county zoning regulations. As for enforcement, Cronan said Pierpont could employ a volunteer or part-time police officer, or it could ask for voluntary protection from the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
Although city officials expressed concern about the ability of small villages to pay for routine expenses, such as road maintenance and elections, Justin John thinks the money question has been settled in discussions with county officials. Residents have talked about imposing a sales tax on utilities and purchases at the Pierpont Store and expect expenses to remain below $10,000 per year. They also plan to apply for their share of state fuel-tax revenue.
“Of course ambitions grow, but they’re not thinking it will be very expensive,” Cronan said.
County commissioners have expressed a willingness to grant Pierpont residents’ request if it meets legal requirements and reflects residents’ will.
“If these people that have petitioned want to control their destiny by having a village, then we are not opposed to that,” said Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller.
A letter from the city won’t change her mind on Pierpont or incorporations in general, Miller said. Before taking up the Pierpont petition, the commissioners conferred with the county counselor, who said that Missouri statutes and case law already set sufficient guidelines for incorporation.
The county commission has scheduled a public hearing and vote on the Pierpont petition for its Nov. 3 meeting.