Local Government

Paul Martin, Esquire

County must comply with city’s building codes in construction of county administration building. Engelage v. City of Warrenton, No. 97965 (Mo. App. E.D., September 18, 2012), L. Mooney, P.J.

Warren County (third class) decided to build a new administration building in the City of Warrenton (fourth class). The city notified the county that it would be required to apply and pay for building permits. The county began construction without doing so. The city issued a stop work order, but the county did not stop. The city cited the county’s contractor for violating the city’s building code. The county applied and paid for the required permits under protest, then filed for declaratory judgment regarding the validity of the protested fees. The trial court ruled for the city, and the county appealed. 

The county argued that the broad language of Chapter 49, RSMo, granted it plenary authority to construct county buildings. The city argued that Chapter 79 granted it paramount police power authority to adopt and enforce ordinances necessary for the public health, safety, and welfare, specifically including building construction regulations. The Eastern District found that Chapter 49 merely granted construction authority to third-class counties, while Chapter 79 granted specific police power to fourth-class cities authorizing the enforcement of their building codes against the county to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.

In reaching this conclusion, the Eastern District relied on and distinguished § 64.170, RSMo, which grants police power authority to first and second class counties but specifically limits that power over “federal, state or local governments”. The court acknowledged the Missouri legislature’s treatment of the specific issue in § 64.170 prohibited the county’s expansive view of its general Chapter 49 construction authority, thus precluding any conclusion that Chapter 49 superseded the city’s Chapter 79 police power to adopt and enforce its building regulations.

Editor’s Note:
The court’s conclusion that a county’s police power under § 64.170 did not apply to local governments, while dicta, could be helpful in resolving similar disputes between cities and their first and second class counties.