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Building permits and property damage were two of the main topics discussed when the St. Francois County Commission met in regular session Tuesday morning on the third floor of the courthouse annex in Farmington.

County Clerk Kevin Engler brought up the issue of building permit fees and enforcement to the commissioners, recommending it raise the cost of purchasing a building permit.

“The cost of issuance is around $20 and I’m going to recommend that we make that the fee,” Engler said. “The true reason we do this is not to make the assessor aware when building projects are occurring. The more important thing will be on the back end if they don’t get the fee."

Engler noted that less than 10 building permits were issued in 2018 for all of St. Francois County.

"Six buildings last year was not all that happened [in the county],” he said.

According to Engler, as of now, there are no penalties for someone not purchasing a building permit in the county, adding that this creates an enforcement problem that is difficult to overcome.

“There is no hammer,” he said. “The way we make the hammer is through the collector. She’s going to check next week when they have the collectors' meeting [to find out] how some of the other counties do it. Most of them have the ability because they have a building inspector. They have a much higher rate and they go out and inspect."

Once an enforcement mechanism is in place, Engler is considering the institution of penalties to be incurred for not obtaining a building permit.

“All we want to do, is make sure they do it so that our assessor knows that building is going on," he said. "[County Assessor Dan Ward] and I have talked. We think that getting the $20 permit — and if you’ve already started with your foundation, and you didn’t get it, and they have to remind you to get it, then there should be a $25 penalty.

"And then if you have substantial completion — if the vast majority of it is done — then that will be $20 permit plus a $50 fee. The question is, how do you collect that? And that’s why we’re going to work with the collector’s office to figure out the method. Today, I’m just recommending the $20 to get it up to the cost to issue the permit.”

The county commission approved a motion to increase the cost of a building permit to $20.

In other action, a concerned resident of St. Francois County brought a petition to the commissioners seeking to put an end to disturbances and damage in the area of Little St. Francois Road and West Road along the St. Francis River.

The resident read aloud the petition signed by residents in the neighborhood:

“We the residents of the area on or near the St. Francois River, on West Road, are concerned about the apparent illegal activity and shooting of guns along the north side of the river. There have also been stolen vehicles left by the river which have been towed away by the sheriff’s department.

"During warm weather there have been frequent parties going on late at night with loud music and gunshots. During warm weather families of our area take their children to enjoy playing and swimming in the water. The activities listed previously have an impact on the safety of these families. Often there have been needles and broken bottles found in the area which is a major safety risk.

"We would like to encourage the St. Francois County Commissioners and sheriff’s department to address the issues occurring at the Little St. Francois River Ford on West Road, we would like to see more visibility of law enforcement in this area.”

The resident explained that she recently moved into the area to be near her parents and had contacted the sheriff’s department to deal with the issues.

“I have lived there one month,” she said. “I have already called the sheriff’s department three times. The gunfire is happening between the hours of midnight and 4:30 a.m. The last time it happened, it was at 4:20 a.m. After that I went down and took pictures — there are also pictures of gun casings.

"I picked one up — they’re not shooting BB guns. This is a .45 [shell] case. If that happens to come in my direction, it will come through my bedroom window. I’ve stood in my bedroom window and watched the people shoot the guns. I could see the fire coming from their guns. If they have their headlights just right, I can actually see the people.

“As I’ve gone around the neighborhood, both sides of West Road and on Watson Road and collected signatures of people who have concerns. I’ve heard multiple stories of different activities that go on down there. One time, my dad and my husband ran off some people who appeared to be cooking meth. They had the appearance of people on meth.

"In the summertime, I see vehicles parked in the water. Many of the neighbors have told me that there have been so many people down there partying that they’ve had cars parked all along on the south side of West Road all the way to Watson Road. Lots of underage drinking is going on down there.”

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher interjected, “Looking at your petition, looks like all of your neighbors are in agreement with you.”

The petitioner continued, “Mr. Campbell that has the dump trucks, he owns that property where they’re all gathering. My husband has spoken with him. He says he doesn’t want people down there either. You can see that he has a sign that says ‘private property, no littering.' He also has purple painted along that area.”

Sheriff Dan Bullock explained that they have dealt with that [river] ford for many years and some incidents that have taken place there in the past.

“Actually, Larry Campbell who owns the excavating company, is a reserve deputy," Bullock said. "He doesn’t want people down there. He’s put up barbed wire and purple paint. He doesn’t live there. They tear his barbed wire down. Since January of 2018, we’ve only been called down there three times.

"Officers have made some arrests down there. We’ve towed some vehicles. It’s a party place for the kids. Many years ago, they approached the commission about shutting down West Road where it crosses the road. There was some people against it. It didn’t happen. Shutting down the river crossing there probably would not stop the partying.”

Bullock pointed out some of the difficulties with enforcement in the area and what his department can and can not do.

“There’s no law against shooting a gun out in the county, night or day,” he said. “Shooting at inhabited structures or across private property is something we can do something about. I encourage all your neighbors call us. If you don’t call us, we don’t know. My guys answered over 20,000 calls for service in 2018. There’s only 17 of them. We don’t have enough people to send somebody down there and stay there.”

Missouri Conservation Agent Jacob Plunkett, who is assigned to St. Francois County, discussed the illegal behavior observed at the river crossing.

“The main violation that we see at this spot is some ATVs in the stream,” he said. “Driving ATVs up and down the river is an issue and we will certainly address that.”

An audience member asked if there was a noise ordinance or if one could be enacted.

“No, because that would be the start of planning and zoning," Gallaher said. "The voters have said they don’t want that at all. If you have any planning and zoning, you have all planning and zoning.”

Another audience member asked if shooting next to a road is illegal.

Plunkett answered, “Shooting from the public roadway and anything that the highway department maintains is illegal.”

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Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com.

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