Seventeen months after county residents began their efforts to form a village in Fruitland, the Cape Girardeau County Commission declined to approve the final step in the process Thursday, saying there was a flaw in the legal description of the village boundaries.
State law that governs becoming a legally recognized village required Fruitland to apply for annexation to cities within two miles and be declined and also to be approved for incorporation by the county.
A petition signed by 79 percent of the 302 taxable inhabitants living within the potential village borders was delivered to Jackson in December 2010 and to Cape Girardeau in January 2011, and both had a year to respond. Cape Girardeau declined two months later, advising petitioners that the area did not meet required annexation guidelines. Jackson considered the question until November and decided to annex part of the land, a decision that was overturned at the ballot in February.
With the Jackson question still up in the air, the petition was presented to the county last August, containing as required signatures of two-thirds of inhabitants of the area seeking incorporation along with a boundary description.
County commissioners waited to act until Jackson responded, then in February identified three "points of contention" regarding the proposed financial plan, services to residents and the types of land included in the village borders.
Fruitland residents countered that their original plan was sound and met or exceeded all state guidelines and refused to amend their petition.
But none of those points caused the petition to ultimately fail -- it all came down to a mapping problem discovered in the original petition documents.
Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said the county requested in January a clearer visual map than was provided with the incorporation petition. Not having received that map, Tracy said he asked county mapping services to provide him with a detailed map in April because he wanted to identify which property owners had signed the petition and which had contacted the commission in opposition to the village.
Tracy said he was informed by mapping that the formal description of the village boundaries was invalid.
Following the legal opinion that the mapping problem caused the basic incorporation statutes to have not been met, stated in a letter by Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle dated Wednesday, the commission voted 3-0 to deny the petition.
Associate Commissioner Paul Koeper said he would have denied the petition anyway, based on the concerns raised in February, which he said have not been rectified.
Three Fruitland petitioners, Tim Sutterer, Brinda Luttrull and Shiela Luttrull, attended the meeting and said they became aware the issue would be discussed by the commission when Associate Commissioner Jay Purcell forwarded Swingle's letter to them Wednesday evening.
Purcell said he called Brinda Luttrull to apologize when he learned of the prosecuting attorney's opinion and said that, though he had mixed feelings, he had to follow Swingle's legal recommendation. Purcell has said on several occasions that he believes county residents should have the right to seek self-governance and has supported the petitioners' efforts.
Sutterer said the legal description was based on county plat maps and that it was valid. Tracy said the description was based on an outdated version of the county plat map and that the petition description as written left a gap in the boundaries.
The area under scrutiny falls within the Arbor Trails, a growing subdivision that has filed several plat additions and amendments as it has developed.
Tim Baer, the engineer who prepared the document for Fruitland, said Thursday he believed the boundary description was correct. Since details describing the problem were not included in Swingle's letter, he said he was not sure what specific portions were being disputed and that he would be glad to consult with the county to discuss the issue.
However, Tracy said the petition had to be evaluated on what was submitted and that the mistake discovered was so central to the statute requirements that the matter was nonnegotiable.
Fruitland petitioners said they felt the county took swift action upon identifying the conflict to dispose of the issue because it had been threatened with legal action by two quarries that fall within the village boundaries who oppose incorporation.
"This is an easy out," Sutterer said to the commission.
After the meeting, the petitioners said they were undaunted and would continue to pursue incorporation.
"We have no intention at all of dropping this," Brinda Luttrull said.
County commissioners said the petitioners could reapply, and the petitioners said they'd like to collaborate with the county in order to increase their chances of success.
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