Missouri Supreme Court Upholds Law Mandating City to Pay Fire Protection District

The Supreme Court of Missouri has upheld a state law requiring cities that annex property in a fire protection district to pay the district “what the district would have collected in tax revenue within the annexed area.” The case involved a challenge brought by the City of Crestwood against the Affton Fire Protection District in 2017.

Crestwood alleged that the law was unconstitutional. Here is earlier coverage of the suit. Cole County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the fire protection district and upheld the law, prompting Crestwood to appeal.

Quoting from the supreme court’s decision:

  • Crestwood is a constitutional charter city located entirely within St. Louis County. The Affton Fire Protection District provides fire protection services to an unincorporated portion of St. Louis County that lies adjacent to Crestwood.
  • In 1997, Crestwood annexed a portion of the unincorporated area within the Affton Fire Protection District.
  • Pursuant to section 72.418.2, the district must continue to provide fire protection services and emergency medical services to the annexed area but no longer can levy taxes on property in the annexed area, except for bonded indebtedness that existed before the annexation.
  • Instead, the district taxes property within its territorial limits that lies outside the annexed area, and that tax rate determines the amount of the fee Crestwood pays to the district.
  • Crestwood must pay to the district an amount equal to what the district would have levied on the taxable property within the annexed area had annexation not occurred.
  • In other words, following Crestwood’s annexation of the previously unincorporated area, Crestwood now pays to the district what the district would have collected in tax revenue within the annexed area.
  • In 2017, the plaintiffs filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the defendants.
  • In their amended petition, the plaintiffs seek a declaration that sections 72.418.2 and 321.322.3 are constitutionally invalid special laws.
  • They seek a further declaration that section 72.418.2 violates … the Missouri Constitution … prohibiting certain tax increases and unfunded mandates; and the due process clause of both the Missouri and United States constitutions.
  • The parties do not contest the language of the statutes or the manner in which they operate.
  • Rather, they disagree only as to whether the classification scheme in the challenged statutes is supported by a rational basis.
  • The plaintiffs’ arguments are not persuasive because they challenge the wisdom of sections 72.418 and 321.322.3.
  • This Court does not question the wisdom of a statute.
  • Nor does this Court question the economic policy underlying a statute. Id. Instead, this Court asks only whether there is “a plausible reason” for the classification created by the statute.
  • Here, a plausible reason for limiting the application of section 72.418 to St. Louis County is the unique risk of annexation that exists in St. Louis County, which in turn presents a unique risk to the economic viability of fire protection districts levying taxes in areas subject to annexation.
  • The plaintiffs themselves admit the challenged classification scheme “insulates the fire protection district from a loss in tax revenue resulting from annexation.”
  • This is a rational basis for the challenged classification.

Here is a copy of the decision.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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