Annexing Fort Leonard Wood could complicate elections, Ransdall warns
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Friday, October 16, 2009 10:35 pm
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Oct. 16, 2009) — Efforts by city officials in Waynesville and Saint Robert to annex Fort Leonard Wood’s housing areas could substantially increase the cities’ populations for the 2010 census and spur economic development, but Pulaski County Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall warned that there could also be unforeseen complications.
Speaking at Thursday morning’s county commission meeting, Ransdall advised County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer that as the county’s election authority, she ought to seek legal advice on how the proposed annexation would affect her work.
“It would be my suggestion that you call the secretary of state’s office as the chief election authority; somebody needs to do some research on how state law affects annexing federal property,” Ransdall said. “State law says you can’t divide a city unless it reaches a certain population.”
If the annexation takes place, the inability to divide a city’s population could create serious problems when state legislative districts and county commission districts are redrawn after the 2010 census for the 2012 elections, Ransdall said.
Ransdall noted that Fort Leonard Wood’s population has been used in recent years to allow the county’s Western District, whose voters are primarily drawn from Crocker, Richland and Laquey, to remain mostly rural and agricultural even though a majority of the county’s non-military population now lives the Eastern District communities of Waynesville and St. Robert as well as the part of the Dixon R-I School District stretching south of Dixon along Highway 28. Including Fort Leonard Wood residents has also allowed heavily rural Texas County to retain a seat in the legislature. Farther back in history, using the population of Fort Leonard Wood allowed several counties to keep their own legislative districts following the 1990 census, Ransdall said.
Fort Leonard Wood’s military population is useful for redistricting purposes because while active-duty military personnel often vote in national elections or cast absentee ballots in their hometowns, due to frequent moves, they aren’t as likely to register to vote in local elections where they’re stationed because they’re not as likely to be familiar with local issues. Also, the large on-post population that isn’t part of any incorporated city makes it easy to take pieces of the on-post population and assign large groups of residents to a particular district, knowing the assigned residents aren’t likely to actually register and vote on local issues.
That probably couldn’t continue to happen under current state law, Ransdall said, if the cities of Waynesville and St. Robert annex on-post housing areas.
“I guess I need to get off my chest — and it falls on the clerk, this isn’t the presiding commissioner’s responsibility — but somebody has to ask the question that if you go out there and establish the lines and put half the population in one city and half in the other, how does that affect elections?” Ransdall asked. “I want to make it perfectly clear that I am in favor of doing this for the cities to better market themselves … The problem I see is that (the county clerk) can’t divide municipalities for the purpose of commissioners or for state representatives.”
Eastern District Commissioner Bill Farnham said using Fort Leonard Wood’s population for various purposes is nothing new, noting that the county has the highest population of any third-class county in Missouri because county classifications are based on assessed valuation but the Army’s property isn’t subject to taxes.
“They’ve always in the past used Fort Leonard Wood when it suits their purposes. I’ve made the comment some time ago that if we could count Fort Leonard Wood in the county for assessed valuation, we’d be a first-class county,” Farnham said.
“Yes, but you can’t do that, they’re not taxable,” replied Ransdall, who noted that the joint proposal by Waynesville and St. Robert officials doesn’t call for taxing the installation, which wouldn’t be legal under federal law.
“In this proposal they are going to annex them for the purposes of population,” Ransdall said.
Later in the meeting, Linnenbringer and Farnham said that regardless of redistricting issues, they hoped something can be done to improve the county’s financial situation for the benefit of military personnel who aren’t used to living in communities with poor infrastructure.
“We have some of the most important people in the country coming here and living on our potholed roads. But we’re a lot better off than some other places, I’ll say that,” Farnham said.
“We’re a third-class county with first-class problems,” Linnenbringer said.