Washburn looks back on county commissioner job

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A reception is planned for 1 p.m. on Thursday at the historic Barry County Courthouse in Cassville for Frank Washburn, who is leaving office as northern commissioner of Barry County. Washburn, 61, of Monett, served two terms.

Washburn said his successor, Gary Schad, will find himself quickly immersed in the most intense part of the county government's duties: preparing the annual budget in the first three weeks of the year. Decisions will be particularly difficult with the Missouri General Assembly providing no resolution for the loss of sales taxes on vehicles purchased outside of the county.

The loss of the tax income may cut revenue to Barry County by another $100,000 in 2013. Lawrence County has a use tax and consequently has not lost those collections.

"That will really make a difficult time for folks trying to get things done, trying to provide services folks want with less," Washburn said.

The ability of office holders in Barry County to operate leanly, with fewer staff members than other counties, impresses Washburn. The lack of extra funds has made raises unavailable for five years and stalled any long-range planning. He observed the commission recently paid off the small loan taken out to finish the last jail expansion.

"We laid off four deputies in the 2012 budget," Washburn said. "It's hard to plan when money's that tight."

The county commission also has the budgeting responsibility for around 10 miles of county roads. Washburn said the commission often ends up as the middle man for contractors and others involved in road projects. The commissioners try to put the outside parties in touch with the individual road districts, but sometimes end up involved in the discussion.

County commissioners take care of all county bridges 20 feet in length and greater. Washburn said the addition of retired engineer Leon Glover as bridge designer and inspector has made bridges in Barry County cost about 30 percent less than projects in other counties.

"I think the county is in pretty good shape with its bridges," Washburn said. "We build five or six a year. Recently we let out contracts for the Big Bass Bend bridge in the Shell Knob district. During the high water a few years ago, that bridge was submerged and the neighborhood became an island. The road district wants to raise the road elevation if we raised the bridge."

Washburn has represented Barry County on an area transportation advisory council and the solid waste management group for the past four years. He has also met with an economic development group in Springfield and attended semi-annual county association meetings.

Washburn's background at Jack Henry and Associates enabled him to use his technology background to help the county when he started his duties on the commission. Computer maintenance issues arose where he took the lead in establishing a better back-up for county records.

Serving northern Barry County offered Washburn insight into how similar his territory was to the rest of the county. He noted his district includes rural areas from Butterfield to Wheaton. Coming from a rural background himself, as a past student at the Kings Prairie school, Washburn saw his role also as representing rural interests.

"One of the most rewarding parts of the job has been driving on good roads," Washburn said. "If you go to other parts of the state or another county, the road systems are not as well taken care of as ours. We also did a good job taking care of our jail and not having to deal with overcrowding. Our judges and our prosecutor do a great job keeping the jail population down as well."

As with any organization, Washburn said there are areas in county government he would like to improve.

"I don't like the way the budgeting system works," he said. "The general ledger system in the state government adds in one-time events like grants that make it difficult to compare this year to last year.

"You've got to make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time," Washburn said. "You always end up with conflicts between someone on the left side of the road and someone on the right. You try to come up with a decision and go from there."

The part of the job Washburn will miss is relationships with people he will not get to see regularly.

Washburn's advice to Schad is: "Sit back, analyze the decisions that you make, and make them based on what you think, not on what you're told by groups of people."

Looking ahead at the next eight years, Washburn said the big challenge for the county will be how to provide services with greatly reduced revenue.

"There's no doubt in my mind, the citizens are going to have to decide if they want reduced services or increased revenue," he said.

Washburn has no immediate plans for his future. His middle son is moving to Austin, Texas, which will require more travel time. He now has six grandchildren with whom he can share time.

"If an opportunity is out there, I can always think about it," he added.

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