In another bid to convince the city to allow the everyday use of UTVs — popularly known as side by sides — on Farmington streets, the employee of a local recreational vehicle dealership appeared before the city council last week to once again plead her case.
It had been a little over two years since Sheri Pratt of Midwest Sports Center and the dealership’s co-owner Josh Harris last addressed the council about the matter. At that time, Police Chief Rick Baker expressed his opinion that the use of side by sides on city streets should only be allowed on special occasions, along with his approval and the issuance of a parade permit.
He also suggested the city consider requiring event sponsors to provide proof of liability insurance before issuing a permit. Mayor Larry Forsythe and the rest of the council agreed with the chief and the matter was dropped.
Appearing before the council at its March 22 meeting, Pratt brought along two letters written by police chiefs of other county municipalities where side by sides on city streets are allowed. Harris, who originally planned to appear with Pratt, wasn’t able to attend due to a health issue. Chief Baker, who typically attends city council meetings, was also absent because of an illness.
“So, I have had the opportunity to speak to Rick this week and his second in command,” Pratt said. “I also spoke to [Chief of Police] Bullock and [Chief of Police] McFarland of Desloge and Park Hills. I also spoke with Bonne Terre. Bonne Terre’s ordinances will not allow them to actually write a letter, but as you see in your packet, [Chief James Bullock] was actually nice enough to write me a letter and so was Chief McFarland. Also included in that packet is the ordinance for Park Hills.
“I know that one of the things that we discussed when we originally brought this up was the accidents and how to handle those. I know that Farmington is the center for St. Francois County, and I know it’s a very busy town. Different things happen in different towns. Sometimes they’re busy too. And I know that we’re unique — each one of the towns are — but as you can see, they’ve not had but one accident each, both of them minor. Thank goodness, obviously.
“They’re no different than cars. They’re actually having less problems out of them than they are the cars because people are more aware. The insurance — I mean, you’re paying $20,000, $30,000 for a side by side — obviously you’re going to put insurance on it because you’re not going to want to throw that out the window. I’m doing more insurance claims down at Midwest — almost as much as Redfield’s. You can ask any one of my insurance companies. I have a good working relationship with all of them.”
All about freedom
Pratt told the council that she didn’t expect an answer that evening but wanted them to consider the request on behalf of her customers.
“Some of them don’t purchase trailers,” she said. “They really just want to be able — just like your car — you take it to Quik Lube or Meineke for an oil change. Same thing for them. They want to come in, they want to have an oil change, they want to go back home. They want to take a day with their kids — you know, it’s 68 degrees on Saturday — you know, come in and pick up your groceries, go by and get an ice cream, whatever the case may be. They want that freedom to be able to do so.
“I brought this up before too. Once upon a time, we had horses and buggies, and nobody wanted cars on the roads. You know, they were causing problems. Well, look how far we’ve evolved from that — now we don’t want horses and buggies. We’re to that point, so maybe this is the next future thing. I’d just really like it to be considered. Especially since we’re selling more of them during COVID than we do any other time. This is something they’re doing as a family.”
Ward 3 Councilor Wayne Linnenbringer brought up the use of side by sides in the city of Bonne Terre.
“During the Bonne Terre parade, I had the opportunity to talk to the police officer over there and he told me that they’re illegal to operate in Bonne Terre, but they were not enforcing it,” he said. “I remember the last time you spoke Chief Baker was here and he mentioned about if he had a permit for a parade, he would do it that way. But as far as the state law, you cannot operate them on a state road… a county road.”
Responded to Linnenbringer, Pratt asserted the county wasn’t enforcing the law regarding side by sides, either.
“I mean, honestly, none of the towns are enforcing it,” she said. “The only one to put anything in action right now is Park Hills. The city of Desloge does not even have an ordinance, but yet they’re letting them and not having any problems. Bonne Terre, the same. They’re not illegal… they don’t have an ordinance saying they can’t. They’re just not going after them, but again, they’re also not having problems either.
“The county, as far as I’ve talked to Dan, he was also supposed to write a letter, and I’m sure he’s a busy man — between last week and today, you know, there’s a lot going on — so, he told me he also has not had any problems and was willing to write that letter, he just didn’t make it to me by today. But we’d also like to address that with the county officials as well. That could be a consideration for you guys, as well as in the upcoming [election]. We’re going to go after that.”
Linnenbringer asked Pratt how side by sides traveling on city streets could be safer than the ones ridden on the trails at St. Joe Park.
“There are countless accidents going on out there,” he said.
Pratt said, “You’re right, but they have a lot more of the dirt bikes and ATVs — and I’m not asking for the ATVs necessarily — I’m asking for the side by sides. Some of the cities allow them; some don’t. Park Hills — kind of weird, back and forth. Chief McFarland and I spoke extensively about this. He wasn’t exactly happy with the ATVs, but they really haven’t had a problem out of them either.
“At St. Joe, I think you get a lot of different people from St. Louis. You get a lot of different people that we are not necessarily seeing on the streets here or on the streets of Desloge. The people who are coming down, this is their weekend…you know, crazy world. I see that. I really do, but I don’t see that on our city streets. I see them trailering them in and then going back north every weekend.”
Ward 3 Councilor Chris Morrison brought up the subject of insurance with Pratt.
“When you talk about dealing with claims, I guess you mean on the physical damage on the side by sides,” he said. “Have you had to deal with any of the liability claims side of it?”
Pratt replied, “Yeah, absolutely.”
Morrison continued, “How many have registered them for road use versus? I have them come to my office. Some of them are registered for road use; some are not.”
Pratt said, “All of them can be road use. The dirt bikes are different. When anybody thinks road use, we’re just talking straight up side by sides. So, you get any side by side vehicle — they can be rode on-road, off-road. Some of them change tires so that they don’t eat up so badly, but they don’t change anything else. Some of them are putting blinker kits on them and different things for more comfort, more being able to do more of those things.”
Morrison asked Pratt if the state government had brought up the issue, but she was unsure if it had or not.
“I’d ask our state representatives to address that,” Pratt said. “But they have kind of decided they’ve got bigger issues right now than dealing with that, so they’ve just kind of put me off to the side. But I’m sure it’s very important to do that. It’s just that they haven’t done it.”
City Administrator Greg Beavers interjected that the state exempted the owners of side by sides from paying sales tax.
“You don’t pay sales taxes on them,” he said. “The premise for that approval under the law was that they were agriculture equipment, not recreational equipment, not intended for use on roadways. So, the state sales taxes when you buy one, which go towards street, road maintenance and those things… they’re not contributing to that either because they’re exempt from sales tax.”
Pratt brought up the side by side’s safety, saying that she’d seen cars that didn’t have as many safety features. The primary safety feature cars have that side by sides don’t is airbags.
“Most cars didn’t have them until 15 years ago,” she said.
Beavers said safety remains a significant concern regarding the road use of side by sides. He noted that he was unsure how a side by side would hold up in a collision with a pickup truck on Karsch Blvd.
“There’s a huge mass difference between that and a compact car,” he said. “I don’t know that they’re designed to absorb energy like a motor vehicle.”
Mayor weighs in
Mayor Larry Forsythe expressed his concern about side by sides being able to share the road with larger vehicles safely.
“What do you do when you’ve got one of these little things coming at you with no kind of anything on it except for a roll cage — made for the farm, or primarily built for the farm — you’ve got one of them coming at you, and you’re 97 years old, and you don’t know what to do," he said. "I think that’s what we’ve all got on our minds. What do you do with the citizens that don’t want them on the road… that don’t care about them and have no desire to even see them?”
Pratt replied, “What about the other 10,000 that want them off the road because they can’t see? It’s a tit-for-tat.”
Forsythe told Pratt the state spends “a fortune” building trails at St. Joe Park for the use of recreational vehicles.
“Now, I guess it’s not good enough,” he said. “Now you want to ride on the streets. Because I’ve had — I don’t know when this got started here a couple of months ago — but I’ve been barraged with people calling me on the phone about ATVs in town.”
Pratt said, “I don’t know why it just got started because I’ve been hearing about it for a couple of years since I addressed you guys before.”
Forsythe continued, saying, “I tell them the chief of police says ‘no’ and we’ll leave it at that.”
The mayor concluded his remarks to Pratt, emphasizing that the city’s overriding concern is the safety of Farmington’s citizens.
“Whatever decisions we make will be based on that,” he said. “Well, we’ll bring it to the committees and see how they feel again, and we’ll probably see you again.”
In legislation, the board heard the first reading of a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter an Architectural Preservation Grant Agreement for the Karsch Boulevard and Downtown Tax Increment Financing District at 101 W. Liberty St. The council also heard second readings of ordinances approving 1) a planned unit development by the Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services; 2) a change in the classification of the zone district for certain parcels at 418 N. Washington St., and 3) amending the city’s municipal code regarding utility connection fees.
The board conducted a public hearing on the proposed adoption of the 2021-2027 Comprehensive Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit; heard reports from the public safety, public works, public services, and administrative services committees; and received a “clean” audit report for the previous fiscal year from a representative of the CPA firm, Sikich LLP.
Farmington resident Kevin Berry informed the council he intended to be at the civic center pool at 6 a.m. April 1, to help anyone willing to take part in an “experiment” to learn whether or not full-immersion baptism could serve as a successful treatment for COVID-19. The mayor emphasized to Berry, the council and others present that Berry's baptism service is not a city-sponsored activity. Berry assured the council that he would not attempt to baptize anyone against their will.
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or email@example.com