Six residents of the Village of Dutchtown signed a petition at a town meeting July 18 to begin the process of disincorporating their town. An additional six land-owners (who don’t reside on their property in Dutchtown) signed a separate petition in support of the residents.
A total of nine residents and nine land-owners attended the meeting, which was held at the Dutchtown Furniture store.
Ken Eftink, floodplain manager with Cape County, led the town hall meeting. He explained that there are five-and-a-half acres of property in Dutchtown whose owners were bought out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following recent floods. The homes on those properties were demolished and the land must remain open in perpetuity.
Those properties belong to the village, and the village is responsible for the maintenance of those properties. Unfortunately, the floods in recent years have decimated the population of the small town. There is no one left who wants to run the town.
Two people ran for the Village Board in 2014 and three people ran in 2015. Each were elected for two-year terms. But all have resigned or moved away. No one has run the village the past two years. The property tax rate must be set by the Village Board each year before property tax can be collected. Since there was no board to set the rate, no property tax has been collected.
The rate in 2014 was 34¢ per $100 assessed valuation. That rate, plus some personal property tax, would have generated about $1,300 revenue a year for the village.
There is a 1¢ sales tax that is collected by the businesses in Dutchtown and a few people have paid some past-due property tax. Currently, there is about $103,000 in the village’s account.
If the village disincor-porates, that money will be turned over to the county and the county will become responsible to maintain those buy-out properties.
“We can do a lot with that,” said one attendee regarding the account balance. He seemed intent upon keeping the village incorporated.
“Who’s going to be in charge of it?” asked another attendee. One person volunteered to be mayor but his offer wasn’t taken seriously by the other attendees.
Eftink explained that FEMA will be back if the land is not maintained. In a worst-case scenario, FEMA can ask for the money to be returned that was paid to buy the properties and to demolish those homes.
Dutchtown has two options. The first is for at least three residents to get elected to the Village Board. To run for office, one must be 21, a citizen of the U.S., a resident of the village at the time of the election and a resident for a full year prior to the election. (The election would be next April.)
The Village Board would then be able to set property tax rates and use the city funds to maintain the vacant lots.
The second option is for the village to disincorporate and let the county take over the assets of the village and become responsible for the maintenance of the buy-out properties.
If this happens, life in Dutchtown will not change much. “You’d notice very little difference,” Eftink said. The 1¢ sales tax would go away. The county sheriff will continue to provide law enforcement. Residents would continue to take care of their own septic service and trash. Their street address would remain the same (mail is delivered to the area from Cape Girardeau or Chaffee, depending upon the part of Dutchtown). Road maintenance would remain the same. Residents would receive a new voter registration card because they would not longer be listed as residents of Dutchtown.
The county would most likely mow the buy-out properties only twice a year.
Someone asked about creating a park on the empty land.
Eftink said that could happen if a Village Board is elected and chose to do that. Although no enclosed structures can be built on buy-out land, park shelters and playground equipment can be erected. (If a park is created, it would require more mowing and maintenance than the county would do if it takes over the land.)
Some residents whose properties abut a buy-out land have taken it upon themselves to mow the empty land next to them. “It’s all we can do to keep our own land mowed,” complained Charlie Scheffer, one of those residents. “I go for the letting the county take over. I realize what [effort] it will be for the village to take it over themselves.”
“As a property owner,” said one woman, “I say, hands down, go to the county. We can get more [services] out of the county.”
“I’m not a resident,” said one property owner, “but I can’t see the benefit of remaining a village.”
Eftink stressed that the county is not wanting to take over Dutchtown unless that is the desire of the residents. “The county wants to do what you want them to do,” Eftink said.
Now that a petition has been signed to disincorporate, the county will give time for at least three people (a quorum) to run for village trustee and form a Village Board. Meanwhile, the county clerk will verify and certify the petition results. The matter will come before the Cape County Commission in early to mid-August. At that time, public hearing will be set on the disincorporation of the village, so all interested voices can be heard.
If, after the public hearing, the desire of the residents is still to disincorporate, the county will appoint a trustee to handle the legal proceedings, and the assets of the village will be turned over to the county. Unless sometime in the future, enough residents choose to reincorporate as a village, Dutchtown will become just a memory.