St. Francois County will start an examination of first class status at a public meeting 6 p.m. Thursday in the Commission chambers. The meetings were discussed in detail at the Tuesday meeting of the St. Francois County Commission.
Presiding Commissioner Dr. David Cramp said the purpose of the committee is to help county officials view the matter of first class status from many different citizens’ viewpoints. He wants the committee to come in, without bias or preconceived ideas, and sift through all the data so that an objective decision can be made.
“Unfortunately there have been some myths out there,” Cramp said. “The irony about this is, we had already triggered first class status. Missouri statutes said we were going to be a first class county by the end of this year. That was never a vote at all. We had no choice. The statute required it.”
There were legislative changes to the rules that Cramp says might have resulted in St. Francois County and a couple others being bumped down to third class.
“I complained, why are you forcing us down to third class county status? Shouldn’t we get a choice on this? Now they are going to allow us to examine whether we want to be first or third class.”
It is uncertain exactly how the new statute would play out, Cramp later explained, as to whether it would really force the county from second to third class. A county’s status is currently pegged to its total Assessed Valuation, and the state sets different rules and guidelines based on those classes.
The parameters of the new legislation have not been tested in the courts yet, so the exact outcomes aren’t known. The county might also have legislative remedies if it came down to it, to prevent a shift to third class status.
Commissioners said they want to really examine all the issues first and make sure it’s the right thing for the county to do.
“The committee will be a non-voting entity,” Cramp said. “I formed them to have a different set of eyes, different types of view points, different professions — I want those folks to actually delve into those statutes and ask questions I may not have thought of or may not have looked at.”
Cramp said the decision will ultimately be made by commissioners, as per statute, but he believes this will help them all in making an informed decision that is based on an objective, educated analysis of the data.
There will be three meetings in all. The first, Thursday night, will give office holders a chance to ask questions about how first class status would affect their offices. It will be the first of three meetings.
On Feb. 16, Van Schrader from the Missouri Association of Counties will come and answer legal questions. Then on Feb. 23, Gerald Jones, who was presiding commissioner of Cape County will come and talk about Cape Girardeau’s experience moving to first class status.
Cramp briefly addressed some of the common misconceptions about the potential shift to first class county. While the county would be delivering more services and salaries would require an increase, it would not necessarily require an increase in taxes. And any increase in taxes would have to be approved by voters.
Planning and zoning is not a requirement of first class status, Cramp added. Cape Girardeau County does not in fact have planning and zoning, despite being a first class county. Planning and zoning also requires the approval of voters and cannot be imposed without it.
One advantage to first class status that hasn’t been much discussed would be local control, Cramp said. “If you believe in local control, this gives more power to first class county commissions to control what’s happening to the county, as opposed to the state.”
Cramp pointed out the commission could have voted to move to first class status without benefit of a review by a citizen’s committee.
“That might have been the easier thing to do,” Associate Commissioner Bret Burgess said. “But it wouldn’t have been the right thing.”
“It would have been the easy thing to do,” Cramp agreed. “We could have put it on the agenda and voted it, but you are exactly right, Commissioner Burgess. It’s not the right thing to do.”
Cramp said he hoped everyone would remain objective and consider all the evidence first.
“If a preponderance of evidence suggests to me it’s not a good thing, I’m not going to vote for it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work,” Cramp said.
Renee can be reached at 573-431-2010 ext. 117 or email@example.com