Fourteen county residents filled the Cape Girardeau County Commission meeting room Monday morning hoping to hear the county's response to an incorporation petition by Fruitland community members.
But they were told that commissioners were still preparing questions about the proposed village.
The agenda for Monday's meeting listed "Letter Re: Petition for Incorporation of the Village of Fruitland" under routine business. Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said the item was included so that it could be discussed and that the letter will be sent to the petitioners "in the near future."
"We've been notified by folks for and against, and we are very clear and aware of where people stand," Tracy said. He said the county intends to follow the law and "to be fair to everybody involved." More than two-thirds of the taxable inhabitants of the proposed village were verified by the assessor's office in November as having signed the incorporation petition.
Commissioner Paul Koeper said the county is working with legal counsel to put together questions for the petitioners to get more information about their incorporation plans.
Commissioner Jay Purcell complimented Tracy's efforts to collaborate but voiced opposition to the level of county involvement in residents' attempts to create a legally recognized community.
"He's been reaching out to me, trying to reach some compromise language on this letter," said Purcell, adding that he thinks the county is "trying to overburden the process."
"I'm having some real problems with that," Purcell said. Purcell has said he believes in the right of residents to form their own self-governing communities and has been vocal in his desire for the county to move the process forward.
Tracy said the letter will address three major areas of concern. The first is the type of land included in the proposed parcel, which is bound by U.S. 61, Interstate 55, Highway 177 and routes Y, W and FF. Because incorporation of agricultural land is prohibited and "a great deal" of the property involved falls into that category, he said, the county wants to ensure potential legal battles on that front are avoided.
Purcell said there are also questions about the budget outlined in the petition. He said budgets from similar small incorporated areas will be reviewed and compared with Fruitland's and questions will be drafted based on that study.
Finally, Tracy said, there are questions about the types of public services the area intends to provide, such as police protection.
William Penrod, a landowner within the incorporation boundaries who has been seeking to join his property to Jackson and desires an improved sewer system, said he thinks the village could not provide what he needs. Another attendee asked residents in favor of incorporation to explain the purpose of forming a village and how it plans to raise money for services.
Mark Berry of Fruitland said the village could create protection for residents through planning and zoning guidelines. He said one option for raising funds is a "very light sales tax."
Berry said afterward that he has been a proud resident of Fruitland his whole life. He wants to support good neighbor relationships among all local businesses and residents and preserve the "tidy" community.
Tim Sutterer, who delivered the 238 petition signatures to the county, said after the meeting that the county's questions were reasonable and that the community plans to "start small" and build infrastructure and services as it grows.
Tracy said that the letter from the county would be forwarded to the petitioners and the media as a matter of public record once finalized. A copy of the preliminary draft being discussed among the commissioners was formally requested by the Southeast Missourian on Monday afternoon.
Tracy said the commission did not want to immediately release the draft letter because it could cause confusion among residents if the final version had changes. He said the Sunshine Law allowed the commission 72 hours from the time of the request to make the document public. The Sunshine Law says public records should be made available "as soon as possible" but does allow public bodies up to the end of the third business day to respond.
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