The City of Columbia over many decades has annexed land into its limits.
This has brought up jurisdictional questions regarding fire calls within city limits and its outskirts by the Columbia Fire Department and Boone County Fire Protection District.
The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals on Tuesday provided clarity, handing down its opinion in a lawsuit between the two entities.
Amendments to state law ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court reverted state law back to original jurisdiction rules, the appeals court wrote.
Therefore, the appeals court reversed a summary judgment by the Boone County Circuit Court that had been in favor of the county fire district. The fire district does not have jurisdiction within portions annexed into Columbia city limits, the appeals court ruled.
The appeals court sent the case back to Boone County with instructions to have it dismissed.
Cooperative agreements between city, county end
Until April 2018, the city and county had territorial and cooperative agreements that allowed the county to maintain stations and provide emergency services in areas the city had difficulty reaching, according to the court's opinion.
The county argued it was not receiving adequate compensation for its work within city limits. At this same time, a city ordinance stated that the Columbia fire chief had jurisdiction over all who responded to a fire within city limits, except police.
Agreements were renegotiated until 2017, when the fire chiefs of the city and county could not come to a consensus, leading to the expiration in 2018.
State law amendment leads to jurisdiction conflict
While all this was happening between three to four years ago at the city and county levels, the state was working on amendments to Chapter 321 of its revised statutes. This is the chapter that creates political subdivisions, such as fire districts.
A section of this law was amended in such a way that put the city and county fire jurisdiction ordinances in conflict. Before the amendments went into effect thanks to House Bill 1446 on June 1, 2018, properties within city limits, including areas recently annexed, were excluded from fire district jurisdiction.
There were requirements in the original provision: The city's population needed to be 40,000 or more people; the city needed to be not entirely within a fire district; and the city needed to have its own fire department.
The fire district has substantial portions that border the city, but the district does not surround the city completely. Annexations by the city have eaten into the 500-square miles the fire district covers, changing its boundaries and affecting its tax base.
Hence, the cooperative agreements that were made between the city and county.
The state law amendment went into effect two months after the cooperative agreements between the city and county ended and — based on a reading of the amendment — seemed to give jurisdiction to the county's fire district for recently annexed areas, including tax collection.
Fire district adopts new ordinance
The jurisdiction conflict was compounded when the fire district adopted Ordinance 21 to its code after the passage of HB 1446.
The ordinance was adopted in response to the amendment of state law.
The ordinance states the district will manage incidents it is "organized and empowered" to manage within its jurisdictional boundaries. Per the ordinance, the district has discretion when to relinquish its command to other agencies through a single-incident command structure.
Both city and county chiefs were under the belief the state amendment gave them jurisdiction over what were described by the appeals court as the areas in question.
Motions are filed in court
The city and county both filed motions to have the court declare who had jurisdiction. They also both filed countermotions for summary judgment, with the Boone County Circuit finding in favor of the county.
This was because of the conflicting language in city and county ordinances.
The trial court held "one jurisdiction cannot have 'full power, control and command' of fire incidents (the city) while another is 'solely responsible' for such incidents within the same area (the county)," according to the appeals court opinion.
The trial court had to decide which ordinance preempted the other and went with the county in light of its ordinance being based on the amendment to state statute.
The amendment is ruled unconstitutional
The city argued in its appeal that the amendment did not give the fire district command and control over fire incidents in the subject areas; did not allow the district to enforce its ordinance because incident command is not the same as fire prevention and control; and did not give jurisdiction to the fire district incident command.
Because Columbia is a charter city, it has all the power the General Assembly can give as long as it is consistent with the state's constitution, and is not limited or denied by the charter or statute, the appeals court opinion noted.
"(The) city's ordinance clearly gives the city's fire chief control over fire incidents within its jurisdiction, including the subject (annexed) areas, so long as it does not conflict with a statute," the opinion read.
The fire district argued the city's ordinance conflicts with the state statute as set forth in the amendment authorized by HB 1446.
Both the city and county filed briefs with the appeals court.
During this time, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the state amendment was unconstitutional, reverting the language in the statute to what it was originally, which gave the fire department jurisdiction to the whole city, including annexed areas.
"This is the version of the statute the city and (fire district) were operating under prior to 2018, when they reached multiple agreements giving (the district) the authority to provide some fire protection services within the city limits in the (annexed) areas," the appeals court opinion read.
The fire district's jurisdiction does not stretch into annexed areas, so the ordinance it adopted after HB 1446's passage still would not allow it to take over sole responsibility of incident management.
That power still lies with the city, within its limits, the court ruled.
"City maintains 'full power, control and command over all persons at fires' within the city, including in the (annexed) areas," the opinion read. "Because there is no dispute of material facts and no statute or agreement permits (the fire district) to have authority of emergency services (in annexed areas), the city is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its cross motion for summary judgment."
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Fire district does not have jurisdiction over annexed Columbia land