Local officials this past week were made aware of a recent appeals court ruling on whether a Missouri county was subject to city police powers, a decision that has statewide implications.
The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, ruled Sept. 18 in the case of Engelage et al., v. City of Warrenton (No. ED 97965) that the city of Warrenton could require Warren County to comply with Warrenton’s building codes and pay the appropriate permit fees when constructing the county’s administration building inside the city limits.
Rolla City Administrator Jim Butz said it has always been implied that federal and state government facilities were not subject to local regulations.
In a memo from Butz to Phelps County Clerk Carol Bennett, Butz wrote, “The City has generally taken the position that we do not inspect/permit building projects of other political subdivisions, but I suspect the issue could always surface.”
Phelps County Prosecutor John Beger also submitted a letter to Bennett and the Phelps County Commissioners, noting that the county “is not currently engaged in construction of a building or buildings within the city limits (of Rolla) but I thought you should be aware of this for future reference.”
Butz said the city in the past has never inspected buildings, such as the ones owned by public universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture or U.S. Forest Service, but that “there has always been this dispute about other political subdivisions — libraries, fire districts, ambulance districts and school districts — and whether they fall under that.”
Butz said the court case “clears up what has been a gray area.”
Butz said in the past, the city has done planned reviews if a political subdivision makes a request to do so, but has not charged fees to a political subdivision or imposed its building regulations.
Butz said the city respects the county and other political subdivisions that they will meet the engineering, design, inspections and specifications for their building projects.
Several years ago, when the Phelps County Jail was being constructed, Butz recalled discussions began circulating as to whether Rolla did a planned review of the project or if the city even should be involved.
The Warren County Commission, which initiated the lawsuit, contended that under state law it was not required to obtain and pay for city building permits for the administration building. The appeals court rejected the county’s claim of “overreaching” because a city’s general police powers, like building construction regulations, are not the same as more limited zoning powers.
According to the decision written by Presiding Judge Lawrence E. Mooney, Warrenton could require the county to comply with its building codes to protect public safety.
The court concluded that “to hold otherwise ‘would be to create little separate and independent kingdoms within the city where the sovereignty given to it by the state could not operate.’ ”