On Monday, a Boone County judge approved a stay in a lawsuit filed by the Boone County Fire Protection District that requested the judge decide which fire agency holds primary jurisdiction in territories annexed into the city of Columbia.
The lawsuit was the result of legislation filed on the last day of the 2018 legislative session, which aimed to keep the Boone County Fire Protection District as the primary responding agency in territories annexed into the city after June 1, 2018.
The law also allows the district to continue collecting the property tax revenue it said it was losing when Columbia officials annexed county property into the city limits.
City attorneys argued that Columbia firefighters had an obligation to provide services to newly annexed areas, and that the legislation actually created a gray area as to which would be the primary agency in a dual-service territory.
At last Monday’s City Council meeting, a majority of council members voted to approve the agreement to ask for a stay. The Boone County Fire Protection District Board voted Wednesday to approve the same agreement.
Under the terms, the fire district would remain the primary responding agency until June 1, 2019 while they wait for the legislature to approve the fix.
But county and city officials aren’t sure if that will happen by the end of the session. When asked last Monday about whether it was possible, interim city manager John Glascock said they were asking lawmakers to do so, but couldn’t confirm that it would happen.
“I can’t force them to,” he told council.
Fire district board chair Dave Griggs said he thinks the fix would be easy, but shared Glascock’s sentiments.
“That’s a real trick, as late as it is,” he said. ” The opportunity may well be there, but may not be there.”
Representative Cheri Toalson-Reisch is the lawmaker behind tacking on the original amendment to the bill that passed last session. She said she just found out last week that the city and county were involved in a lawsuit over the legislation. She said she’s trying to get it done, but admits that it’s a long shot.
“There’s no time with three weeks left of session to get it passed as a stand alone bill” she said. “I’ve got my amendment ready to throw onto two Senate bills.”
She said she has to wait for them to come back to the House of Representatives. If approved in the House, then both bills have to go back to the Senate.
“It’s a Hail Mary,” she said.
If it doesn’t make it under the wire this session, it will have to be introduced as a stand alone bill next session.
Griggs said that he personally hopes that even if they don’t make the June 1 deadline, that the two municipalities can continue the stay.
He told ABC 17 News that he’s been impressed by the change in management in the city manager’s office.
“John Glascock is the new interim city manager,” said Griggs. “John is what I would call a community guya nd wants to do what’s right for the community. The community’s not bound by the city limits.”
Also under the legislation, individuals who own property in the dual territory have to pay taxes to the city and the county.
Mayor Brian Treece said he was concerned about the taxpayer “who’s now paying twice, after this agreement, for a city service they will not be receiving primarily.”
“That’s not acceptable to me, either,” he said.
Treece did not return ABC 17 News’ call for comment Tuesday.
Griggs said that when they bring up that fact to landowners at planning and zoning hearings, “they say it’s ok.”
“Is it a big deal? I’m sure it’ll be a concern to some folks, but I don’t think it’s a real major concern to the majority of folks,” he said.
He said property tax revenue may receive a significant boost from the annexed land being developed, and if that happens, he said he could see the potential for the fire districting lowering its tax base.
Since June 1, 2018, the city has only annexed a handful of properties into the city.