Proposed bills would allow road districts to consolidate

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shell Knob, Viola district requests spawn possible statewide change

Crafted in Barry County, two bills, one in the Missouri House and another in the Missouri Senate, would open up road districts statewide to consolidation, starting with Shell Knob and Viola.

Cherry Warren, Barry County presiding commissioner, said he and the commissioners drew up the bill, as when Shell Knob and Viola road districts came to the commission looking to consolidate, it had to be done on a state level.

"Shell Knob and Viola spearheaded this, but it would be for any road districts in the state to consolidate," Warren said. "We put the bill together and talked to [State Rep.] Scott [Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob] and [State Sen.] David [Sater, R-Cassville], because we have 25 road districts, the most of any county in the state."

The summaries of bills read the same, saying, "This act allows a county commission or similar authority to combine two or more road districts upon request by a petition signed by a majority of the commissioners in each of the road districts seeking to be combined. The county commission shall hold a public hearing after publishing notice for a period of four weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. The county may issue an order to consolidate the districts if it finds, after the public hearing, that the consolidation is in the public good. The act further designates the procedure for appointing commissioners to the new consolidated district and transferring of assets, liabilities, and tax levies. The provisions for consolidation do not apply to road districts located in two counties."

Sater said Warren was invited to speak about the bill on the Senate floor recently.

"We had a hearing where Cherry testified, and I just want one of these bills to pass," Sater said. "If Scott's passes first, that's fine."

Fitzpatrick said the reason for the state-level bill is that there is no statute on the books that would allow for the Shell Knob and Viola request to occur.

"[Under this bill], the road district commissioners would have to agree on consolidation, and the county commission would have the authority to do it," he said. "I hope it opens the door, because Barry County has way too many road districts. There's about 70-some road district commissioners in the county, and that's ridiculous."

Warren said more consolidation is something he would like to see.

"I think we need to consolidate more, but that's up to the districts," he said. "I think if we can get down to six, that would be good, but a lot don't want ro relinquish control. A lot of the smaller road districts could benefit from the resources the larger districts have."

Sater echoed the sentiment about the benefits.

"It's a good thing because Shell Knob and Viola can share resources more easily and combine equipment more easily," he said.

Split by the lake, the Viola Road District has 35.13 miles of roads and is south of Table Rock, and Shell Knob has 59.95 miles of roads on the north side of Table Rock. Even though Shell Knob has more miles to cover, Viola has the larger assessed valuation, at $25,012,207, meaning it gets more money but has less roads to maintain. the Shell Knob Road District's assessed valuation is $23,038,593. Assessed valuation is the total worth of all residential, agricultural and commercial real estate within the district.

"[Consolidation is] a win-win for both districts because [the entire Shell Knob area] will have a lot better resources if they merge," Warren said.

"The solution to consolidate is a good start, and hopefully other [road districts] will follow suit," Fitzpatrick said.

Another benefit to consolidation, Fitzpatrick said, is less opportunity for fraud.

"Any time you have really small political subdivisions, not just road districts but small subdivisions in general, they may not necessarily know the right protocols or have the resources in place to make sure things are done by the books," he said. "I have no first-hand knowledge of any fraud in Barry County, but I think if you look very closely, there would be things to ask questions about."

Sater said there is always the possibility for fraud, but does not know if there's any fraud going on right now.

"I've heard there's the possibility, but I also know it's sometimes hard just to get people to run [for road district commissioner]," he said. "But, there is the old saying, 'If you want to get your road paved, just run for road district commissioner.'"

Warren said the commission worries about fraud, but does keep tabs on each district's spending.

"The commission gets reports on road districts' expenses, so we have a good idea of what they're spending money on," he said. "The larger ones submit expense reports every month, and the smaller ones submit reports, but not as often. So, we have some oversight there, and we also have auditors who deal with road districts as well."

Fitzpatrick's bill, HB 2180, was unanimously reported do pass by the House Committee on State and Local Governments on Feb. 18. Another hearing has not been scheduled, and it is not on the House calendar.

Sater's bill, SB 867, was voted do pass by the Economic Development and Local Government Committee on Feb. 17. It has also not been placed on the body's calendar.

If either bill is passed, the statute would take effect on Aug. 28.

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