Oakville panel looking at incorporation after favorable reaction to Haefner’s bill

Committee members agree annexation out at this point

By Gloria Lloyd

The positive reception that state legislation favorable to some Oakville residents’ hopes to incorporate as a new city has received at the Missouri Legislature has them focusing on that possibility rather than forming a new county, at least for now.

Citizens for Responsive Government, the steering committee of Oakville residents looking to form a new city in the unincorporated area or break off into a new county, met for the second time last week.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, said the positive response she received for her bill, House Bill 1638, earlier that day in Jefferson City gave her hope that the Oakville group’s efforts will be successful.

“The Speaker (of the House Tim Jones) is behind what we’re doing,” she said at the Feb. 13 meeting. “I had no opposition today.”

Haefner’s bill would allow unincorporated areas in St. Louis County to bypass the Boundary Commission to incorporate if the city of St. Louis re-enters the county.

“Anything this group decides to do is going to be challenging — not impossible, but challenging,” Haefner said. “There’s a lot of interest in a new county, I can assure you of that. But I really think it would be a mistake for this group to eliminate the possibility of incorporation. Annexation, I think, is off the table, I really do.”

Citizens for Responsive Government had roughly 13 members present last week, about the same number who attended the first meeting of the steering committee. However, many of the people in attendance were different than those who attended last month. The committee is intended as a smaller leadership group representing the 50 residents who attended an interest meeting in December.

The closest cities to Oakville include Green Park, with a 2012 population of 2,268, Bella Villa, with a population of 727, and Sunset Hills, with a population of 8,516. Oakville, with a population of roughly 38,000 people, dwarfs all these cities.

Since the first meeting, a committee member approached Green Park Mayor Bob Reinagel and Sunset Hills Mayor Bill Nolan to see if they would be interested in annexing Oakville, and neither was interested.

“They’re happy the way they are,” the member reported. “We do not adjoin Sunset Hills, and they said they can’t do it.”

The committee member looked at the taxes that Sunset Hills residents pay, however, and its residents are paying a lower tax rate than he is in Oakville, he noted.

“How are they paying less taxes in Sunset Hills?” asked another member.

“A lot of expensive assessed homes,” said Ken Meyer, a founder of the Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association.

“There are a lot of expensive homes in Oakville, too,” Haefner said. “There will be a lot of people who will discourage the effort because they will tell you your taxes are going to go up. No. 1, let’s look at what happened to other communities, let’s look at the real numbers. And No. 2, we know what kind of government we have now, and I believe you get the government you are willing to pay for.

“So if I have to pay a little bit more to be able to control the growth and the progress of my community, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

The committee heard a report from Milton Rudi, whose brother lives in Sandy Springs, Ga., which fought a long battle to eventually incorporate as its own city in a county shared with Atlanta. Its own incorporation committee, the Committee for Sandy Springs, formed in the 1970s after Atlanta tried to annex the unincorporated area of roughly 90,000 residents adjoining Atlanta in Fulton County.

The St. Louis County Boundary Commission is a barrier to incorporation — no municipality has incorporated in the county since the Boundary Commission was reformed in 1999, and the last cities to incorporate, Green Park and Wildwood, incorporated in between Boundary Commissions, after a previous version of the commission had been declared unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Similarly, Sandy Springs encountered a local committee that tried to block any attempt it made to incorporate for decades, despite support in the Georgia Legislature for the residents’ efforts to incorporate.

When state law eventually allowed a vote on incorporation in Sandy Springs, residents voted in favor of forming their own city 94 percent to 6 percent. Some of the primary reasons Sandy Springs voters cited for incorporating included local opposition to rezoning and the contention that Fulton County was using their tax dollars to subsidize other areas of the county, a claim some Oakville residents have also made about Oakville and St. Louis County.

Sandy Springs residents are happy with their city services and have saved a lot of money that way, Rudi reported. The city’s health and human services are provided by Fulton County, but everything else the city does on its own, often contracting with companies in public-private partnerships.

As a next step, committee members chose individual cities within St. Louis County and will study their budgets, taxes and how they operate.