By Gloria Lloyd
Some people in south county may not even know the municipality of Mackenzie exists, but the village of 134 residents and 0.24 acres near Route 66 and Mackenzie Road could finally be in the spotlight as it tries to disincorporate.
Village trustees gained enough signatures from Mackenzie residents this fall to place a measure to disband the city on the ballot, likely in the April municipal election. The county Board of Election Commissioners is verifying the signatures now. If the petition is certified, the measure would go through the County Council for final approval to place a measure on the ballot.
To disincorporate, the majority of voters would have to agree. That may not be a tall order, however. In the April 2014 election, only nine of the city’s 90 registered voters voted. Only 25 signatures are required to place disincorporation on the ballot.
If the disincorporation is successful, Mackenzie would be the first south county city to disband since St. George in 2011.
Like St. George, Mackenzie residents would become residents of unincorporated south county and would receive city services from the county just as residents do in Affton, Oakville, Concord and other unincorporated areas.
Small municipalities in the county have made news nationwide since the unrest in Ferguson because of what observers see as abusive municipal court systems and shoddy police departments.
With budgets tightened by new laws governing the percentage of city budgets these cities can fund with court fines, some cities in north county are looking to consolidate. The number of municipalities in the county has gone down from 90 to 89 since Ferguson. Vinita Terrace consolidated with Vinita Park, and other mergers are being considered.
But none of those issues exist in Mackenzie and those are not the reasons the city seeks to disincorporate, said former St. George Mayor Carmen Wilkerson,who led the effort to disband her own city.
At the request of Mackenzie trustees, she collected the signatures so that city could disband too.
Mackenzie is the fourth-smallest municipality in the county, above only the smallest city Champ, population 11, and such tiny cities as Glen Echo Oaks.
Money has not been an issue in Mackenzie, which has no employees and money from various taxes it receives as a municipality, such as the road and bridge tax from the state, along with a small property tax. It was even set to receive more money this year for public safety from the new Proposition P sales tax.
But the small city runs on a dedicated core of volunteers who serve as elected trustees. The women in charge are getting older and no one has stepped up to take over leadership, Wilkerson said.
“They just came to the conclusion that there was really no reason to be an incorporated village,” Wilkerson said. “It wasn’t serving any purpose other than paperwork and a reason for them to have to meet once a month.”
In advance of the trustees collecting the signatures, the city’s county legislator, 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, organized a town-hall meeting at an Affton fire station where residents could talk to him, the trustees and county officials from various departments, including planning and transportation.
The meeting was well-attended with only one resident speaking against disincorporation. Wilkerson drafted the petition to move forward and went around collecting signatures.
“It’s really a sweet thing,” Wilkerson said. “They really didn’t want to give it up, because they’re proud of the job they’ve done with it. And they have done a good job of taking care of it.”
Mackenzie residents are part of the Affton Fire Protection District and contract with the Shrewsbury Police Department for police service. The city also contracts for snow removal, trash service and mowing for the city park, which would become a county park.
It is possible residents could pay less for services like trash once they are part of the broader county, Wilkerson said.
“That’s one of the advantages of disincorporating is economy of scale,” she said. “For trash service, they don’t get the same price for that many houses per house as we get.”
One of the few reasons Mackenzie gained the spotlight recently was when county election officials partly blamed the city and Uplands Park for spurring the election ballot fiasco that disenfranchised hundreds of voters in the April 2016 election.
Mackenzie and Uplands Park did not submit their paperwork in time to meet the filing deadline, but a judge ruled close to the election that the county had to add them to the ballot anyway.
When the new ballots were printed and introduced into the existing ballot matrix, errors and mix-ups were introduced into the matrix that caused the wrong number of ballots to be printed, officials said.