Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
Petition to become part of a district
Several options for changing fire protection district boundaries are set out in the statutes (321.300). The procedures for expanding the boundaries to include, or annex, an area are as follows:
A petition to be included must bear signatures equal to 25 percent of the most recent gubernatorial vote in the area asking to be included. If a city is partly in and partly out of the district, the entire city may choose to go either way. The petition follows the form for initiative petitions (see Chapter IV. Initiative, Referendum and Recall). The petition must include either property legal descriptions or, if more than 25 owners or registered voters sign, the addresses of the signers.
All owners of land adjoining the district may file a petition to be included. No minimum number of signatures is required in this case. “All” of the owners of the property described could be just a single owner. In either case, signing the petition is presumed to give the consent of the owner to be annexed.
Special rules govern annexation for a city that is partly in and partly out of St. Louis County, where a fire protection district serves only part of that city.
The petitions are filed with the district board, which determines whether serving the petitioning area is practical and in the district’s best interest. The board may, if it decides doing so serves the district’s best interest, exclude part of the area petitioning. Upon granting the petition, the board files it with the court that incorporated the district, through the circuit clerk. An “all-owners” petition automatically gets a court order. A “25 percent” petition must go through an election of those residing in the area proposed for annexation and receive a simple majority vote to pass.
Protest to an annexation
“Any person aggrieved” by the decision to grant an annexation petition can appeal the board’s decision to the circuit court within 30 days after the board makes its decision. The court then hears the arguments and decides.
Annexation by a city
For many years, it has not been clear whether the fire district or the city is to provide fire protection and emergency medical services to property within the district that is annexed voluntarily into the city. The conflict results from the existence of two potentially applicable statutes, Sections 72.418 and 321.320, RSMo, because application of each yields a different result.
Section 72.418 provides that fire protection districts serving an area shall continue to provide fire protection and emergency medical services to an area annexed by a city with a fire department, while Section 321.320 does not. It should be noted that both sections permit the district to levy taxes on the property to pay bonded indebtedness that existed prior to annexation.
The question was resolved by the Missouri Supreme Court with an opinion handed down on March 17, 2009 (SC89558, http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=30243). The court held that Section 321.320 excludes from a fire protection district any property located in a fire protection district’s boundaries and annexed by a city with at least 40,000 inhabitants that is not wholly within the fire protection district. In order to harmonize the conflicting sections and give both meaning, the conflict was resolved by applying Section 321.320 to counties without a boundary commission and Section 72.418 to counties with a boundary commission. St. Louis County is currently the only county with a boundary commission.
In its opinion, the court also stated that the population language contained in Section 321.322.3 excludes its application in St. Louis County, currently the only county with a boundary commission. Other specific language contained in Section 321.322.4, in effect, authorizes Section 72.418 to apply to Harrisonville, a city in a county with no boundary commission. This application was drawn narrowly, providing further evidence that Section 72.418 is intended primarily to apply in counties with a boundary commission.
Petition for exclusion
Any owner of either real or personal property may file a petition with the board to be excluded from an FPD (321.310). A property description and a deposit sufficient to cover proceeding costs must accompany the petition. The board publishes a legal notice and sets a hearing date. The notice includes information about how to file a written protest against granting the request (321.310.1).
At the time set, the board hears the petition and any objections that may have been filed. The board considers whether the property can be served as a practical matter and whether excluding it is in the district’s best interests. The board may decide the matter either way. If exclusion is granted to the petitioning property, a certified copy of the board’s order is filed with the circuit clerk and the county clerk of each county affected. The circuit court has authority to reverse the board’s decision, if it finds the board acted improperly. The matter may be appealed in a circuit court action filed within 30 days (321.310.2).
The owners of excluded property remain responsible for the portion of the district levy committed to payments on loans (debt-service levy) in effect at the time of exclusion. The property is exempt from being included in any bonded debt incurred after the exclusion (321.330).