Commissioners voice concerns after attending Jeff City conference
Ozark County Presiding Commissioner John Turner and Western District Commissioner Greg Donley recently attended the Missouri Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Jefferson City, where an estimated 150-200 county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, county treasurers and others discussed matters of concerns to counties, including proposed legislation. Eastern District Commissioner Gary Collins was unable to attend but told the Times he stayed at the commissioners office to handle calls during that time. In the Capitol, Turner and Donley met with Rep. Lyle Rowland and Sen. Mike Cunningham – and also had an opportunity to bring up flood-related issues with a Missouri Depart-ment of Conservation official.
Turner summed up the conference as being “very productive … well worth the time to travel up to Jefferson City.“ He and Donley agreed they would plan to attend again next year.
Raising age to be tried as an adult to 18
Among the matters of interest to the Ozark Countians was Senate Bill 793, which would raise the legal age to be tried as an adult from 17 to 18. According to www.house.mo.gov, the act “provides that, unless the child is certified as an adult or is being prosecuted for a traffic or curfew violation, children who are 17 years of age must be prosecuted in the juvenile court system. Under current law, children who are 17 years of age are prosecuted for criminal offenses in courts of general jurisdiction.”
If the legislation becomes law, it could have a notable financial impact on counties, Donley said. Because of the way the juvenile court system is funded, an increase in defendants being tried as juveniles would shift costs from the state onto the county. “I voice my opposition to it,” said Donley. “I’m in favor of helping the young people, but if your child isn’t on the right track by the time they are 17, I don’t think one year will make a difference.”
The major sticking point for the commissioners is that the bill does not specifically address how funding will work. A $3.50 filing fee would be collected to help cover juvenile court costs, but it isn’t clear whether those funds would help counties defray their added costs. “I wouldn’t count on that money” said Donley.
Another bill of concern to counties is Senate Bill 592, which modifies several provisions relating to elections. Currently, local elections do not have to be held if the number of candidates equals the number of open seats. While this can save money for districts with uncontested elections, supporters of the bill say there are several negative impacts. The county still has to maintain the equipment necessary for holding an election, and when some districts hold elections while others don’t, the cost gets split fewer ways.
Donley also pointed out that if potential candidates feel pressure not to run in order to save money in their districts, board members become “more appointed then elected,” he said. The provision also eliminates the opportunity for write-ins.
During the conference, County Clerk Donna Neeley from neighboring Taney County voiced her concern that if fewer elections are held, voters will get out of the habit of showing up at the polls. Neeley reported that only 8 percent of voters turned out for the April election in Taney County. While Ozark County’s voter turnout for April elections is generally a bit higher, in the 15-18 percent range, the commissioners say they’re still concerned about potential impacts.
While Turner and Donley were meeting with Sen. Mike Cunningham, Missouri Department of Conservation Deputy Director Aaron Jeffries happened to walk in. “We collared him quick and said, ‘We need to work with you,’” Turner said.
Unfortunately, their takeaway from the encounter was that the Missouri Department of Conservation is not interested in opening an additional river access on the North Fork of the White River in Ozark County; nor can MDC do anything to speed up the repairs at Tecumseh park on Lake Norfork because that land – and the work to repair serious flood damage there – is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. However, according to Donley, Jeffries did confirm that if someone wanted to donate a piece of land for the county to make into a public river access, “it could happen.”
The county would have to obtain the appropriate permits from the MDC and the Corps as well as the Department of Natural Resources, he said, and liability issues would need to be researched and addressed.