Oakville citizens eye proposal of incorporating area as a city

Wildwood organizer outlines that city’s incorporation effort

By Gloria Lloyd

Although Oakville County could still be an option, Oakville residents considered what a proposal to incorporate Oakville as a city might look like at Rep. Marsha Haefner’s town-hall meeting last week.

“There has been so much interest with, ‘What is Oakville going to do?'” Haefner, R-Oakville, told the crowd of roughly 50 people at her May 29 meeting at the Cliff Cave Branch County Library. “I think that the sleeping giant woke up again with the (National Church Residences) senior center at 6050 Telegraph, which is about to be open for business. They must be having problems filling it, too, because they advertise every week in the paper.”

Jimmy Morani of Oakville, who works as a city administrator in Illinois, presented a comparison of property tax rates in St. Louis County and found that Oakville pays much lower taxes than comparably sized areas, which he attributed to the Mehlville School District’s low tax rate.

Morani and Haefner are members of Citizens for Responsive Government, the steering committee researching incorporation, annexation or a new county for Oakville — a committee spurred by the widespread opposition in Oakville to the federally funded, three-story senior apartment complex on Telegraph Road, which is scheduled to open soon.

The committee is currently studying other cities and gathering information on incorporation, a new county or the least likely option, annexation into an existing city.

If Oakville residents choose to go the city route, their first opportunity to present a plan to the county Boundary Commission would be in 2018. Previous incarnations of the Boundary Commission have been found unconstitutional when challenged, but no one has challenged the current panel. As it stands now, the commission only offers windows every five years for annexation and incorporation proposals.

Some of the members suggested a tentative outline of Oakville Township and the 63129 ZIP code could serve as the boundary for the new government, but Concord resident Nancy Matlock said she hopes they think larger.

“I had envisioned the (boundaries of the) Mehlville School District or the fire district, because it seems like it’s something that’s already established that would work well,” she said. “I’d just appreciate staying on your horizon, because I’m very passionate about this south county endeavor — I think we are a community, but I would hate for you just to draw the line in such an arbitrary way without feeling out the greater populace.”

The problem with expanding the boundaries of the new city or county is that it has to be voted on by the potential residents, and the more it expands, the less the community might have in common, Morani said. However, he noted that the boundaries are simply a concept and not yet set in stone.

An effort to incorporate the entire south county area into a city called South Pointe was overwhelmingly defeated in 1995, the same year that Wildwood and Green Park incorporated. After Wildwood sued the Boundary Commission and successfully had it declared unconstitutional, the cities could incorporate before another Boundary Commission was established. No city has since formed in the county.

Oakville resident Joyce Connolly, however, said she believes a vote on a larger city or county could pass since a series of events — the trash districts, the senior apartments, the relocation of the Tesson Ferry Branch Library, a potential city-county merger — have changed the dynamic in south county and are causing residents to rethink their representation.

“What we all have in common is we’re tired of Clayton running our lives,” she said. “This isn’t your father’s south county.”

When the committee first met in January, a member suggested approaching Chesterfield, Wildwood and Ballwin to see if they want to break off with Oakville into a separate county, a suggestion critics at the time said seemed farfetched.

However, last month Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation said that his city might secede from St. Louis County and join St. Charles County over the distribution of sales taxes, since he believes that Chesterfield subsidizes other cities with fewer retail outlets.

Although Chesterfield and Oakville together comprise nearly 10 percent of the county population, County Executive Charlie Dooley downplayed the possibility that residents of either area would actually vote to leave, comparing their secession to Texas threatening to leave the United States.

“It’s a great county — why would you secede? People can say all types of things. I just don’t believe that’s going to happen,” Dooley told the Call. “People say things out of frustration. That doesn’t make it so … The talk about leaving St. Louis County — that is not fruitful discussions. Let’s talk about something that is real, that is meaningful, so we can move forward, and let’s be responsible people. And especially — people expect that of elected officials. Let’s talk sense.”

Haefner invited one of the founders of Wildwood, Don Kozlowski, who chaired the city’s Incorporation Steering Committee, to give a presentation on what it is like to incorporate a city.

Kozlowski pulled no punches on how difficult a project incorporation is, but he also said a city — and the ability to change things in your own backyard — is worth it.

“It’s unbelievably magnificent in scope, it’s got all potential,” he said. “It’ll take every dime and every hour and every minute of your life until you can get through the laws and get something done.”

Residents in then-unincorporated Wildwood spent five years trying to incorporate. The first two years, they banded together to fight an interstate to be called the “Outer Belt” that was going to run right through their houses. After that victory, it became a rallying cry that spurred them on to a three-year fight against the Boundary Commission, which they successfully sued to declare unconstitutional.

The county government at the time was uncooperative and clearly did not want Wildwood to incorporate, Kozlowski said.

“It became obvious they just weren’t going to be convinced,” he said. “What they were doing was essentially telling us, ‘You people should not have a right to vote for controlling your own destiny for your own town.'”

Like Green Park, Wildwood keeps a small city staff and contracts out many city services, including police, for which it contracts with the St. Louis County Police Department. Kozlowski reported that the city is doing well, financially and otherwise, and residents are happy with their decision 20 years ago.