This Week in Lincoln County – May 1, 2018

It’s been an exciting week as we held our first pre-construction meeting of the season, and the new bridge on Bunker Hill Rd. will be starting in mid-May. Hopefully many more projects are to come this summer, so please slow down when you see workers on the roads.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• I want to give an update on the hospital tax. It is important to stress that Lincoln County still owns the hospital facility, which is operated by the Mercy system. Your tax bill includes 2 separate levies for the purpose of servicing the debt. For 2017 the levies were Hospital Maintenance .1583 and Debt Service .1113. The Debt Service levy will still appear on your tax bill in 2018 but will be retired April 1, 2019, so the end is in sight. The Hospital Maintenance levy, which is currently being applied to 2 bond issues that will be paid off on August 1, 2021, and August 1, 2022, respectively, is required by Missouri statute as long as the County owns the facility. As debt is retired, an adjustment in the levy might be made, but that remains to be seen. Love the hospital or hate it, the County had received no offers to buy it when we entered into the agreement with Mercy. The alternative was to board up the facility, put local people out of work, and continue to collect the same tax as we are now anyway to service the debt.
• As a follow-up to my article 2 weeks ago regarding the powers of County Commissioners, I would like to clarify that the Commission is a 3-member body and no single member has the ability to unilaterally issue mandates, especially when it comes to how other elected officials run their office. Once the budget appropriation has been made, each elected official has great latitude in how they spend their funds, whom they hire, etc. Furthermore, there is no statutory authority to withhold budget funding from a particular office. While the Commission has the authority to cut budgets, there are even statutory restrictions as to the extent to which this can be done and in some cases cuts are specifically forbidden. As the Presiding Commissioner, my duties are in some ways similar to the Mayor of a city in that I only get to vote in the event of a tie between the other two Commissioners. My signature is required on all contracts, but I can only sign what the Commission as a whole has given me the authority to sign. If you research the statutes, you will find that there exists a thorough system of checks and balances.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – April 24, 2018

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s report. This was just a glimpse into the many misconceptions about what a Commissioner does. If I ever write my memoirs, it will have to include a chapter on some of the bizarre situations that I have experienced, including being pulled into a lover’s quarrel involving folks who happened to be next door neighbors; however, that is a story for another day!

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• The anticipated correction in sales tax receipts continues to take place as preliminary reports indicate that March receipts for 2018 far outpaced those of March 2017. Year-To-Date (YTD) 2018 collections are only $25,000 less than 2017. It is important to remember that sales tax collection is a marathon and not a sprint. Where we are at the END of the “race” is more important than our position throughout the “race.” Our Treasurer Brenda O’Brien does a great job keeping us up to speed on the trends in sales tax collections.
• The economic development success we experienced in 2017 appears to be continuing into 2018. Already this year the Economic Development staff has been working with a new sporting goods retail business, as well as a business working towards an expansion and a relocation into a newly constructed facility that is much larger than the current location. The relocation is particularly beneficial as it not only creates new commercial construction, but it also frees up additional space to offer to prospective businesses. On an unrelated note, the staff has been working with a group to secure a venue for a potential roller derby event in the area. I didn’t realize that the roller derby still existed, but if you are a roller derby fan we may be able to accommodate you.
• This week we are meeting with Sheriff Cottle to address his ongoing issues with attracting and retaining quality POST-certified employees. Our current wage scale is far below that of most agencies in the area, so when we do land a good officer, we soon lose them to another entity for significantly better pay. Unfortunately, the failure of our sales tax issue has caused us to spend revenues on building repairs, etc. that otherwise could have been devoted to improving our pay scale and putting additional officers on the street. Sheriff Cottle and his staff get the max out of every dollar they receive, and I can assure you we will get this situation addressed.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – April 17, 2018

Over the last several weeks, the Commission office has seen an uptick in the number of calls and complaints we are receiving relating to topics that are outside our authority. Even though Missouri statutes do not grant us the broad authority that some folks perceive, frequently there is still an expectation that the Commission can somehow wield this imaginary power to make things happen the way people want them to happen. Because of this, we are going to call this week’s column, “Jesus is not a Commissioner so, please, stop expecting miracles.”

• Other elected officials – a common misconception is that the Commission has broad power over other elected officials. To the contrary, in most cases we approve their budget, set their employees’ salaries, and provide them an office; however, the manner in which they run their office is entirely their business. There is no statutory provision that allows us to withhold pay, cut or withhold budgeted funds, or remove an elected official with a simple Commission vote. So, no matter how disgusted you might be with an office holder, the Commission cannot take action against them simply because you don’t like the job they are doing. These situations need to be resolved in the voting booth. If you are unhappy with an elected official, make sure you show up on election day.
• Other government entities – the Commission has no authority over schools, municipalities, fire districts, the Health Department, public water and sewer districts, and other entities that have their own separately elected Board and revenue source. While we interact frequently with these community partners, we do not have, nor do we want, the ability to interject ourselves into their decision-making process. Again, folks need to get to the appropriate board meeting to have their voice heard and get to the ballot box.
• Ordinance making – as a 2nd class County, our ordinance making ability is limited to Public Health and Public Safety. The Commission does not have the ability to unilaterally pass ordinances such as Planning and Zoning. These decisions reside with the voters. 1st class Counties such as St. Charles, which have passed a Charter form of government (also referred to as “home rule”), have broad ordinance making abilities. Lincoln County cannot adopt a Charter until we become a 1st class County. As I have mentioned in past writings, that transition is in our near future.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – April 3, 2018

After spending the last week on the beach in south Alabama with the family, I have returned just in time to enjoy a snowy Easter. Upon my return to the courthouse, I noticed that the screen saver picture on my desktop had updated to a gorgeous sunset on a beach somewhere. Talk about adding insult to injury!

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• I am pleased to announce that after nearly three years of submitting and resubmitting documentation, going through an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit, and enduring countless meetings with countless agencies along with various other activities, we have begun to receive the balance of our reimbursement from FEMA. I am so proud of the yeoman’s work performed by County staff in this effort. Again, success was achieved through teamwork and a dogged determination to get the job done. We have received an initial deposit of $77,009.37 and there is a second deposit of $621,462.65 scheduled in the next few days. Additional large deposits for our bridge projects are being processed as well. Our ability to withstand the financial blow of this disaster without depleting our reserves is a testament to the financial stability of this County.
• The next time you have your 2017 real and personal property tax bill in hand, take a look at it and see how much you paid to the county road tax. I suspect that the answer for many residential taxpayers will be less than $100. How much buying power does $100 generate? At today’s prices, your contribution will pay for materials for a 20’ wide piece of asphalt that is just over 2” long. That’s right, I said inches. That same $100, if applied to gravel, provides enough material to cover a 20’ wide road for 45.5’ which is approximately the distance from one side of your driveway to the mailbox on the other side. Keep in mind that this only covers material and not equipment, wages, maintenance, etc. The purpose of this information is to demonstrate the importance of a diverse tax base. Without a diverse mix of residential, agricultural, and commercial taxpayers, all County functions, particularly road maintenance, would be a challenge. The commercial construction boom that started in 2017, coupled with continued strong residential growth, will provide the building blocks for future success.
That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – March 20, 2018

Today we kicked off our celebration of Lincoln County’s 200th birthday. Keep an eye on the website, Journal, etc. for information regarding upcoming activities leading up to the official date of our founding, December 14.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• This week I want to shift the focus from road and bridge activities to some of the financial workings of the County. Within the Treasury, there are over 60 individual funds, each with its own specific purpose, but the day to day operation occurs largely in the “Big 5”: General Revenue; Road and Bridge; Law Enforcement Trust; Assessment; and the 911 Fund. When I took office in 2011, only 2 of these funds maintained a reserve balance (GR and Road and Bridge) while the other 3 carried little or no balance and were dependent upon a sizable subsidy from GR to operate every year. At the beginning of the 2018 Fiscal Year, I am happy to report that all of the “Big 5” accounts reflected a reserve balance and only Law Enforcement and 911 will receive a modest transfer from GR, amounting to a fraction of what used to be required. I cannot state emphatically enough that this was accomplished through a TEAM effort and a dedication to fiscal responsibility. Looking at our overall financial health, a rule of thumb in County government is that a healthy reserve balance should be 15-20% of the annual budget. The 2018 budget of $28,166,432.33 is supported by a total reserve balance, as of today, of $10,966,063.09, or 38.9%.
• Speaking of the “Big 5,” it is important to note that each fund has a very specific purpose for which it is to be used, and there are strict limitations on the movement of money between funds. It has been suggested that projects from one fund should be cancelled and the funding used to support something done under another fund. While folks may be able to develop their own rationale for such things, the statutes simply do not allow this and for good reason. For instance, money raised for Law Enforcement needs to be spent on Law Enforcement, and road taxes need to be used to build/maintain roads and bridges. Anything contrary to this would be a breach of our fiduciary duty.
• Our Assessor Kevin Bishop provided some interesting statistics regarding new home construction dating back to 2004. During this time period, 2006 was the highest with 844 new homes constructed. Conversely, the lowest year was 2013 with just 81. Since the low point, home construction has rebounded at a rate of 360% with 373 new homes built in 2017. From 2016 to 2017, the average market value of each new home jumped 21.8% to $145,745, so as you can see, the trends are positive.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – March 13, 2018

Now that I have seen an ultrasound “picture” to confirm, I am happy to announce that my daughter and son-in-law are expecting my first grandchild in early November. As the 50th of 50 grandchildren in my Mother’s family, I don’t know how Grandma and Grandpa dealt with the excitement of that many, let alone one!

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• The County has received a release of claims with prejudice for Case #17-CV-0072-DDN John C. Askey v. Lincoln County Sheriff/Lincoln County Commission. This suit, which alleged illegal search and seizure, was released “with prejudice,” meaning that the release is permanent and the action cannot be refiled against the Sheriff or Commissioners at a later date.
• I want to give a quick clarification on the financing of our plan to hard surface 20 miles of gravel roads per year over the next 5 years. Our philosophy has been and will remain that we must keep a healthy reserve balance, perform maintenance in a timely fashion, and then, and only then, add to our pavement inventory. Converting a road from gravel to pavement is an expensive proposition but makes long term sense financially. For instance, a portion of South Chantilly Rd. will be converted this year at a cost of $10,000-12,000 per mile per year over the useful life of the road surface. Our maintenance records indicate that in 2017 we spent $21,350 per mile to maintain the gravel on that road. While this individual road doesn’t equate to an enormous savings, repeating this process on other high maintenance roads systematically over 5 years will generate tremendous savings without tapping our reserves or neglecting maintenance.
• Our 911 Advisory Board has overwhelmingly voted in favor of a sales tax initiative to support 911 Dispatch Services for everyone in the County. If all member entities are in favor of this approach and contribute their proportional share of the costs, this issue will be on the ballot in April 2019. Counties, cities, fire departments, and ambulance districts have waited for years for our state legislature to pass a measure to enable the collection of a fee on wireless devices, which account for the vast majority of 911 calls, with no relief in sight. Nobody likes taxes, but everyone wants professional dispatch services.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – March 6, 2018

Short sleeves one day and snowflakes the next! Before we know it spring will be here (for real) and it will be time for gardening, baseball, and BBQ. I, for one, can’t wait.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• As we ramp up for what promises to be a busy construction season, we are in the process of wrapping up permit and easement details. Bridge construction is not a “one size fits all” proposition, so each site has its own unique characteristics. For example, one bridge project includes accommodations in the tree clearing phase to minimize the disturbance to the nesting of the Indiana bat, while another involved an easement on a piece of property that had small portions claimed by multiple landowners. Getting these details right the first time might seem like a pain, but it prevents problems down the road. An old friend once told me, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when do you have time to do it over?”
• As the County continues to grow, there are a number of new positions that need to be added to keep pace with the growth; one of which is a Human Resources director. For years, the County Clerk has been the de facto head of human resources, but the Clerk’s position is busy enough without adding what should be a department of its own to the job description. We are in the process of refining our job description for the HR position and would like to have someone in place by the end of the year.
• Another position that is on the horizon is that of an in-house Engineer. The transition from 2nd class to 1st class will necessitate the hiring of a “County Highway Administrator,” which does not require engineering credentials; however, the duties of the position, combined with our needs, make it a logical decision. Keep in mind that having our own engineer will not eliminate all need to hire outside engineering firms. The engineering firms that currently handle bridge projects for us employ a small army of people who perform surveying, permitting, drafting, and engineering tasks. In order to replace these services in-house, we would have to hire a significant staff as well as make an investment in CAD equipment, etc. – an expense which we simply cannot justify at this juncture. We would like to get this position established and filled prior to the transition to 1st class which is eminent.
That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – February 27, 2018

Warmer weather has arrived at last and we have received some much-needed rain. While Fall is my favorite season, I must confess that Spring is a close second.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• Today was the first day of filing for the upcoming August primary election. Activity was brisk this morning and it looks like we will have a number of contested races for various County offices. I was the fourth person in line and will be making a bid for a 3rd term. This decision was not made lightly, and as long as I can continue to devote the time and energy to the position, I owe it to the people of Lincoln County to finish the things I have started.
• I recently was asked to speak to a men’s group at a local church about County government and the workings of the Commission form of government. For a youngster that was afraid of his own shadow, I honestly enjoy the opportunity to speak in front of crowds. If you belong to an organization that is interested in a speaker for a meeting, get in touch with me. These events have a twofold benefit: I get to hear directly from folks regarding the issues that are important to them and I am able to explain some things about government that are often misunderstood.
• Speaking of misunderstood issues, I often field questions about road issues on city streets and state highways. There are four distinct groups of roads, each with a specific group responsible for the maintenance: state, county, city/village, or private. State roads are lettered or numbered, such as 61, AA, etc. County roads are located outside of municipal limits and marked by a green sign with a road name and number, such as #645 McIntosh Hill. City/village roads lie within municipal limits, such as Main St. in Troy. The remaining roads in both the County and municipalities, often marked by a blue sign, are maintained by private parties. If you have a road concern, hopefully this information will help point you in the right direction to the proper party. As is the case with everything, I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – February 20, 2018

Yesterday I celebrated my 49th birthday. I know I am another year older, and time will tell if I am any wiser. The highlight of the day was a voicemail from my 98 year old uncle in Texas, in which he sang Happy Birthday, with an emphatic “and many more” at the end.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• I want to devote a significant amount of this week’s update to the discussion of one of the most hotly debated topics perhaps in the history of Lincoln County. Brace yourselves folks, we are going to talk about Planning and Zoning! In my time as Commissioner, I have discovered that there are two distinct schools of thought on the issue: passionately for and passionately against. While Lincoln County has had P and Z in the past, currently there is no P and Z in the unincorporated portions of the County. The decision as to whether or not we have P and Z is made by a vote of the people. Contrary to what many proponents of the measure might think, the 3-member County Commission does not have the ability to unilaterally dictate what people may or may not do with their property. This decision belongs, rightfully so, with the voters. I am amazed at the number of people who, while objecting to the current level of government involvement in people’s lives, are vigorously advocating for the Commission to implement various facets of P and Z for which the Commission has no legal mandate to enforce. As a Commission we are called upon to lead within the confines of the law; however, we are often criticized for failing to spend tax dollars to create additional levels of bureaucracy without the voters’ consent. The people have, and will continue to have, the power to make the determination at the ballot box if and when the issue is presented to the voters. I encourage folks on both sides of the issue to let me know their thoughts on the matter.
• Just a friendly reminder, if you have not already returned your personal property tax list to Assessor Kevin Bishop’s office, please do so by March 1. You should have received a listing in the mail, but if you haven’t, call the Assessor’s Office at (636) 528-6300.
• In upcoming weeks, I will address the rejuvenation we are experiencing in the local housing market and the effect it has on our Economic Development efforts. While we are not back to the levels prior to the crash in the market, we are back on an upward trend. More to come.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – February 13, 2018

This morning I had the pleasure of speaking to the students at the Troy Holiness School about leadership. The Principal Kevin Weinand and I have been friends since childhood. I am sure the folks in the neighborhood where we grew up would be surprised to see that the two of us turned out all right.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• On Sunday I attended the wake of Mrs. Betty Creech. I worked my way through college for Betty and her husband Charles. With her passing, Troy and Lincoln County has lost a true pillar of the community who impacted hundreds of lives, mine included.
• There has been renewed discussion regarding the collection of sales tax on the purchase of vehicles, trailers, boats, and outboard motors outside the state of Missouri. The County currently receives sales tax on these purchases, but this will not continue unless we obtain voter approval in 2018 to continue the practice. Tentative plans are for the County to put the measure on the ballot in November. Passage of the measure will keep the playing field level for local car dealers, particularly in areas such as ours that border other states, by preventing out-of-state dealers from capitalizing on this tax loophole. More information will be forthcoming.
• While we are on the subject of the dreaded “TAX” word, I think it is important to have an open dialogue on the effect that on-line merchandisers are having on local brick and mortar enterprises. The price of goods purchased locally is increased by the amount of local sales tax, putting them at a distinct disadvantage to the on-line retailers who, with limited exceptions, do not have to charge local sales tax. Similar to the measure mentioned above, the approval of a local use tax would, at least from a tax standpoint, give everyone an equal chance to earn your business. The folks doing business in our community not only provide opportunities to buy goods and services near home, but they also employ local people and support dozens of local activities such as youth sports, school groups, etc. As is the case with any issue, I want to do more research before I take a hard stand one way or the other, but my initial impression is that Lincoln County needs to seriously consider acting to support local business. Let me know what your opinion is.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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