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County may maintain classification

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

BENTON - Scott County is among the dozens of counties that may be able to maintain their current classification despite growth in total property values under a bill endorsed by the House on Monday.

"We need it," said Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel during the Scott County Commission meeting Tuesday.

While moving into a higher classification gives a county more authority over its governance, it also adds to its costs. By moving up to a second-class county from third class, Scott County would have to have a full-time county auditor.

Butler County is also being pushed into the higher classification unless the bill passes, and Stoddard County will be affected soon, being presently in the "holding pattern" phase. "They're one year behind us," said Commissioner Jamie Burger.

Scott County already voted to make its county prosecutor full-time, but other counties moving from third to second class would have to make this change, too.

Commissioners also learned in an Associated Press article that second-class counties must have a juvenile detention center, but are hoping Mississippi County's juvenile detention center will fulfill that requirement as it is in the same judicial circuit.

The bill before the House raises the upper limits of total assessed property valuations for the three highest classifications to account for inflation since the classes were last revised.

Current law designates counties with at least $450 million assessed valuation as first class; those with $300 million to $450 million as second class; and those with less than $300 million assessed valuation as third class.

Under the bill, those limits would be raised to at least $600 million for first-class counties; $450 million to $600 million for second-class counties; and up to $450 million for third-class counties.

Scott County's assessed valuation is $348,475,717. "We sent letters to our state representative and state senators," said Burger. "This is what we wanted - to raise the bar to $450 million. We want to be held as a third-class county."

About 90 Missouri counties are third-class. They tend to have the fewest powers, fewest elected officials and pay the lowest salaries.

There is also a fourth class for counties, which is based on other factors and includes just two of Missouri's 114 counties.

House members gave the bill first-round approval on a voice vote. A second favorable vote would send the measure to the Senate. Legislators approved a similar measure last year, but a crime reduction attachment in the final bill prompted a veto by Gov. Bob Holden, according to commissioners.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter. Mayer said the legislation must be approved in time for counties to know if they would have to hold elections for auditor this year.

"The state auditor will notify us in May if we have to have a county auditor in place on Jan. 1, 2005," said Priggel.

Priggel said having a county auditor would actually make their job easier, "but would be an extra cost for the county. That money's got to come from somewhere."

Even if a juvenile detention center is not needed, commissioners estimated going to a second-class county would cost the county an additional $200,000 per year.

Butler County also is likely to see a cost increase of $200,000 and Stoddard County could see an increase of $400,000 as several offices would need to be separated creating more elected official positions.

In other Scott County business:

* Commissioners went over road improvement plans for Highway 266 with Norman Lambert of Lambert Engineering and Surveying.

The Delta Regional Authority funded project will repave approximately one mile of pavement and pave just over four miles of gravel road on County Road 266, connecting Highway P at Perkins with Highway 77.

The county was approved for $127,500 in Delta Regional Authority funding toward the project's total cost.

Officials reviewed in particular plans to enlarge the turning radius at the intersection of 266 and 77.

"We're going to have to get MoDOT's approval," said Priggel.

Commissioners also looked over elevation figures for the road.

* The sole bid for the county's video arraignment system from High Tech Communications in Sikeston was opened, but commissioners will take the next week to review the bid and make sure all equipment bid matches specifications.

Because the video arraignment bids came in lower that expected, Missouri Department of Public Safety officials approved the addition of two sub-projects totaling $17,979.35 which will put additional cameras and monitors in the courtrooms and at the jail.

County classification bill is HB950.

On the Net: Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us