County, Jackson squabble over new rest room

Friday, July 23, 2004

City of Jackson to Cape Girardeau County in 2002: When you build in our city limits, you have to have your buildings inspected by us.

County: You have no jurisdiction over us. We don't need your permission.

City: Yes you do. Our laws say so. You must conform to the same laws as everybody else in the interest of safety. We'll agree that you shouldn't have to pay, so we'll inspect the buildings and the construction for free and waive permit fees.

County: Well, the laws we found suggest we don't have to do what you say. We'll build our building anyway, without your permission.

City: Go ahead. It'll be in violation of the city codes.

County: Fine.

County, on Wednesday: We built a picnic shelter and a rest room facility at Klaus Park without inspections and permits. Now we need city water and electricity.

City on Thursday: I don't think so.

The city and county waged another round of building code warfare Thursday as city officials told the county they would not connect an uninspected building with city utilities.

City officials say hooking up utilities puts them at the risk of a lawsuit if someone were to get injured. While they're not accusing the county of doing shoddy work, they say there have been instances elsewhere where ground wires and water pipes come into contact, and people have been electrocuted while using the water. There are other concerns, too, such as accessibility for the disabled.

The county and city have been at odds over various issues for the last couple of years, whether it be a $500,000 lawsuit over road and bridge taxes or a dispute about the sheriff department's involvement in an investigation of the mayor.

County commissioner Gerald Jones isn't buying the safety line.

"We've exceeded regulations," the commissioner said. "Why they want to hassle their biggest customer is beyond us. This is for an outhouse -- a rest room at the county park."

City administrator Jim Roach and city attorney Tom Ludwig said they'd "throw a party" if they found solid evidence suggesting that the city would be relieved of its obligation to uphold the city code. The two Jackson officials said they realize the public image of both the city and county is tarnished over this disagreement, but Roach and Ludwig agree the city is following the law.

"I feel that I need to stand by what the staff says," said Alderwoman Barbara Lohr. "If our staff is trying to follow the rules and regulations, we have to support them. If we don't like the rules, it's up to us to change them.

"I feel that we really need to have better communication with the county so that they don't misunderstand our motives for doing these things."

The county's argument to the contrary dates back to April 29, 2002, when Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle issued a memo that cited several instances where one government didn't have to pay another government for services or fees. One case, Appelbaum v. St. Louis County, said the county did not have the power to enact zoning ordinances upon a county.

There are many instances in Cape Girardeau where the city has no jurisdiction. For instance, the city does not inspect university projects, or the new federal courthouse, which is being built next to city hall.

Trapped in between

County building superintendent Don McQuay is just a guy who wants to get his work done, collect a paycheck and go home, he said. But he's been caught in the middle of this power struggle.

"I have to abide by what my bosses say," he said. "Cape Girardeau County has probably one of the best park systems in the state, and we're wanting to develop Klaus Park for the residents of Jackson and the residents of the county. We didn't have to develop this park."

McQuay said he has done plenty of work in the Cape Girardeau County north and south parks without having to get permits from the city of Cape Girardeau. He said he built a shelter and installed brand-new 2,200-amp services for Christmas light displays. He said Stoddard County built a juvenile center in Bloomfield without getting Bloomfield city permits.

McQuay was somewhat surprised on Thursday morning when city employees refused to allow access to utilities. McQuay said on Wednesday he met with Mayor Paul Sander and public works director Rodney Bollinger, and that the men had an agreement that the county could get connected on the condition that McQuay provide a drawing.

The next morning, after a staff meeting, other city officials apparently said otherwise.

This is the second time this year the city and county have disputed this issue. In February, the disagreement centered on renovations for public defender services. Several walls were put up in the part of the old sheriff's department building.

The county made the changes without inspections. The county allowed the city to do a walk-through and found several violations, most of which were addressed. The city's biggest beef was not having any drawings for the building. The city has never received the drawings.

In February, Roach told the Southeast Missourian that the city would expect the county to comply, and that without the proper permits, the city would not connect utilities.

In a May 11 memo sent from the city to the county commission, the city officially stated that the public defenders new building was in violation of the city code. It also said that the Klaus Park rest room facility and picnic shelter were in violation.

The city is asking for the drawings of the rest room facility, too.

McQuay said he is trying to come up with a drawing to satisfy the city.

"The city and the county had a good relationship until about two years ago. Now, it's been set back 10 years, it's so bad."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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