Commissioners discuss planning and zoning concerns, state bills

By Colin Willard, Staff Writer
Posted 3/15/23

VIENNA — At the beginning of March, the commissioners attended a statewide county commissioner training conference in Osage Beach. When the Maries County commissioners returned for their March …

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Commissioners discuss planning and zoning concerns, state bills


VIENNA — At the beginning of March, the commissioners attended a statewide county commissioner training conference in Osage Beach. When the Maries County commissioners returned for their March 6 meeting, Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman said that during a session for commissioners of third-class counties, a commissioner of another county expressed some issues his county was having because it did not have planning and zoning regulations.

Stratman said the other commissioner told the group how a company bought some land in his county. The company cleared timber, and the commissioner expected the company to use the land for cattle or something similar. Instead, the company divided the land into five-acre lots. People then moved onto the land in tents and cars without utilities such as electricity and water. The county’s lack of planning and zoning regulations meant law enforcement could not do anything about the situation because a company owned the land.

“We might have to pass some planning and zoning if something like that was going to happen,” Stratman said.

“It’s already happening,” Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel said. “It’s just not that widespread yet. All these cities have these people. They’re overloaded. These people are going to go someplace eventually. It may be 10 years down the road, but they’re going to be in Maries County. They’re going to be in Osage County. They’re going to be everywhere eventually.”

Last December, State Representative Bennie Cook mentioned in a phone call to the commissioners that camps like this were a topic of discussion at the Capitol when it came to areas without planning and zoning restrictions.

The commissioners had initially called Cook to ask him about planning and zoning after they received a letter from Azimuth Renewables, a company planning to install solar panels in the Lanes Prairie area of Maries County. In the letter, the company had asked the commissioners to sign and return it to confirm that Maries County has no planning and zoning restrictions. The commissioners did not respond to the letter.

During the meeting on March 6, County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers said she had received another letter from Azimuth Renewables asking for the same confirmation about the county’s planning and zoning regulations.

Western District Commissioner suggested talking with Maries County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Skouby about the county’s options. In January, Skouby told the commissioners that they could look at adding planning and zoning restrictions in the county, but they would take time to enact.

At the March 9 meeting, Skouby joined the commissioners and discussed planning and zoning options again. Stratman said his biggest concern with companies installing solar panels was holding the company doing construction liable in case damage occurred to roads.

“If you guys want to regulate that, you’re going to have to put it to a vote of the county and establish a planning and zoning commission, and then you’re going to have to start making your ordinances and zoning plans,” Skouby said. “That’s how that’s done.”

Skouby said he did not think the county could take any preemptive action to establish liability for road damages. The county could pursue legal action if damages were to occur, but he said thinking about it now is like “putting the cart before the horse.”

“If you think that we’re getting to the point that this is necessary, then you need to start looking into creating a planning and zoning board,” he said. “And we’d have to put it to a vote of the people to establish one. I think you all need to do some soul-searching and decide if you’re going to take it to the voters to do a planning and zoning commission.”

The commissioners were reluctant to jump into the process. All three said they believed pursuing planning and zoning would be unpopular with the people of Maries County.

Skouby said for now it might be best to monitor the roads in the construction areas to make sure there is no damage once construction begins. He also suggested meeting with project managers when the company starts building.

Stratman also mentioned wind turbines as a potential cause for concern about the county’s lack of planning and zoning ordinances. He said that the noise from a turbine can be a nuisance and the county might want to regulate how close turbines could be to property lines in case anyone in Maries County began using wind power.

During the discussion, Skouby also mentioned that there had been no movement on the county’s lawsuit concerning the Fish Hollow Access.

Tax legislation

The commissioners had previously discussed exemptions for personal property taxes that the state legislature had proposed. Stratman said the belief around the commissioners’ training conference was that the bill had a lot of support in Jefferson City.

“How are the schools going to get their money?” Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre asked at the March 6 meeting.

At the March 9 meeting, the commissioners discussed a couple of bills in the Missouri Senate that would eliminate state and local taxes on retail food sales.

The original bill is Senate Bill 161. It would only end sales tax on retail food sales. However, the measure was later added to Senate Bill 131 as an amendment. Senate Bill 131 also includes tax exemptions for purchases of diapers, feminine hygiene products and some medical equipment. The bill also allows tax credits for business firms that engage in providing affordable housing assistance activities or market-rate housing in distressed communities and taxpayers making sales of firearms or ammunition.

According to data provided to the commissioners by David Owen, deputy director of the Missouri Association of Counties, Missouri counties would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. That only factors the bill to eliminate retail food sales taxes. The data said Maries County collected $371,863.97 from 2022 retail food sales taxes. Larger counties passed into the millions and tens of millions. St. Louis County collected $135,181,142.78 in 2022 retail food sales taxes.

“The way the tax is right now, there’s not hardly enough money,” Drewel said. “If you take one dollar away from it, you’re in trouble. In the next year or two, it’s going to get pretty tight anyway. It’ll kill all the counties.”

“This is all money statewide,” Stratman said. “It’s going to have to come from someplace.”

License office fees

Stratman said at the March 6 meeting that he had received a call from State Representative Bruce Sassmann, who updated him about a bill in the State House of Representatives that would increase license office fees.

In January, Sassmann had asked Stratman for the commissioners’ thoughts on the proposed increase from $12 to $18 for the fees. All three commissioners expressed concern that the increase was too high and it was too soon to do another increase after the fees had already gone up a few years ago.

Stratman said in the more recent call, Sassmann had told him that the proposed increase was now $3 instead of $6, and he expected the bill to pass. Under the new proposal, the county would choose how to appropriate $2 of the new revenue on each fee. The other $1 would go into a fund to quarterly disperse evenly across all the county’s offices.

Marijuana tax

Stratman mentioned that the April election is coming up. Maries County has a measure on the ballot that would add a three percent tax on sales of recreational marijuana in the county. He wanted to make sure voters knew that the only people who would pay the tax are those who purchase marijuana.

“That’s like any sales tax, basically,” Drewel said. “If you don’t buy it, you don’t pay any sales tax.”

“It’d be a plus for the county,” Fagre said.

RACS statistics

The commissioners received a brochure from the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service (RACS) in Jefferson City that reviewed some of the organization’s statistics for the year 2022. RACS helped 793 survivors from 29 counties, including Maries County.

Cole County received the most RACS services at 39.6 percent. Maries County received 4.3 percent of RACS’ 2022 services.

Of those helped by RACS, 80 percent survived domestic violence, 8.6 percent survived sexual assault, 5.7 percent survived stalking and 5.4 percent survived other forms of victimization. About 87 percent of the people helped were female, and about 81 percent were adults. About 40 percent of the people helped were in the 30 to 49 age range.

RACS most often helps people through shelter services. More than 40 percent of RACS’ service is sheltering survivors. Other services include personal advocacy, legal advocacy, counseling services, follow-ups, referrals and crisis intervention.

Courthouse roof

Stratman said someone had reported a leak in the roof over the women’s jail. He had gone up on the roof and saw several puddles. The seams on the roof had started to come up and collect what he estimated was about five gallons of water.

Later, Stratman called Kevin Bullock, general manager of RSS Roofing Services & Solutions, the company that installed the courthouse roof in 2012. The roof has a 20-year warranty. Stratman said someone from the company would look at the roof within a week.