The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in favor of the city of Warrenton in a long-simmering dispute with Warren County over the construction of its new administration building.
The court ruled the county is subject to the city’s building code and is not exempt from paying various city building permit fees.
The decision, which has statewide implications, turned on the issue of whether the city or county had superior rights in the delegation of governmental power from the state.
The county commission, which initiated the lawsuit, contended that under state law it was not required to obtain and pay for city building permits for the $6.5-million administration facility located on Highway 47 and Mockingbird Lane in Warrenton.
City officials disputed the county’s interpretation of the law and maintained the county was in violation of city building codes by not obtaining and paying for the building permit.
Under protest, the county commission eventually paid a total of $27,406 to the city for separate building and stormwater permits. Of that amount, $26,781 was for the building permit.
In a 19-page opinion, the appeals court for the Eastern District held that Warrenton, in the exercise of its police powers, could require the county to comply with its building codes to protect the welfare, health and safety of the public.
“Indeed, the county has not cited one case, nor have we found any, where a third-class county was exempted from a city’s building code,” Presiding Judge Lawrence E. Mooney wrote for the court.
The decision affirms a December 2011 ruling by Franklin County Associate Circuit Judge David Tobben and comes four months after county officials moved into the new administration building.
Construction began on the 36,670-square-foot building in early October 2010. Commissioners filed the lawsuit the same month after the city posted a stop work order at the job and issued a summons to an employee of T.S. Banze Construction after he continued performing grading work that same day.
The suit requested that the court decide the permit issue and require the city to return the money the county paid under protest.
Warrenton City Attorney Chris Graville said Tuesday that historically the county has always paid for city permits. He added that he hoped both parties in the case would accept the court’s decision and move on.
“I hope we’re finished,” he said. “First the circuit court ruled in our favor, now the court of appeals. I don’t think we could have any more clarity.”
According to city records, the county obtained a building permit in 1995 for demolition of the courthouse, a demolition permit in 2008, a land disturbance permit for the county shed in 2008, a commercial building permit in 2008, and a sign and building permit in 2009.
Jay L. Levitch, an attorney for the county, declined to comment on the court’s ruling Wednesday saying he had not had an opportunity to discuss the opinion with the county commission.
Warrenton Mayor Jerry Dyer, who was elected in April, said he has met with county officials several times over the past few months and both parties have concluded it’s time to put issues that surfaced during the prior administration to rest.
“We agree those issues are in the past and out of the city and county’s hand,” he said. “We have a good working relationship now and are doing everything we can to keep it that way.”