Missouri Moments

Mrs. Crucis, a family friend, and I attended our local ‘Pub Central Committee monthly meeting last night. This is the third meeting I’ve attended in the last six months and the second for our friend and Mrs. Crucis.

We’re not official members of the committee. We may become members at some time in the future but at the moment we’re not and that gives us some freedom to comment.

It’s interesting to see how local and county governments operate. I learned a number of items that I hadn’t known.

For instance, it’s property reassessment time. Our county has approximately 50,000 pieces of assessed property. After assessment, only 3,000, about 6%, of that total had an increase in evaluation. (Our assessor is a realtor and has property value info readily at hand.) The property owners have until the 20th to protest the new assessments. If you didn’t receive a notice, your evaluation remained as-is or decreased. It’s interesting that when evaluations go up it is broadcasted all over the county but when they go down…(crickets…).

Our county has a Commission form of government. Three Commissioners are elected, one as Presiding Commissioner, the other two as Associate Commissioners. These three form a Triumvirate that governs the county. When you have a single party in those three seats, it can lead to abuse if there aren’t methods of oversight such as a strong Auditor. When a single party controls most of the county offices, abuse can be unrestrained.

Historically, our country has been controlled by the dems. Abuses happened. There hasn’t been an audit for twenty years and our county now finds itself in debt. An audit is scheduled and the newly elected officials welcome it. Once the audit has been completed, they can begin to insure their offices maintain compliance to state and county law.

The ‘Pubs now control the county government. Changes are being made and all the under-the-table deals are being discovered a bit at a time. Nothing illegal was done as far as can be determined. However, government with no oversight nor public control leads to abuses. Just tracking down all the county assets , when purchases were made by whim with little documentation, is a, uhhh, difficult job.

One of the acts by the outgoing dem commissioners was to committee the county to a multi-million dollar project controlled by the feds. The project, broadband internet, is funded, mostly, by federal grants. But—it commits the county to operate the system with all the attendant costs for headcount, operating and maintenance budgets. Some of that headcount is just to provide reports back to the feds.

The new incoming commissioners question what business has the county competing with private companies for internet access. Unfortunately, the commitment has been made and the county is stuck with the results. If the county tries to back out now, we’ll have to pay back all the money spent—more millions out of a budget with no surplus and barely sustained by a single revenue source, a county sales tax.

The county has a balanced budget. The task at hand is to insure it remains that way.

My local city government, on the other hand, is doing very well. We have a balanced budget with a 20% pad for unexpected needs and a “rainy day fund.” Revenue projections are stable and fiscal forecasts are good. A project to add sidewalks across most of the city is nearing completion, curb replacement and repair is progressing and will soon be finished. I even noticed the Parks and Recreation department was trimming trees and shrubs and the grass in the city parks is mowed weekly. P&R is often the first to feel the effects of a tight budget.

Our local state representative was present as well and gave a summary of the recent legislative session. He spoke about the budget (Missouri has a balanced budget requirement) and how the economy makes revenue forecasts difficult. The state receives income from three main areas: the state income tax, the state sales tax, and service fees from various state departments, such as the port authorities on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. I was surprised to learn (if I heard correctly) that the state receives more income from fees that from either income or sales taxes!

The primary item of news for me was the state budget. The overall budget was approximately $23Billion. Of that amount, only $8Billion was from state revenue and controlled by the state. The other 2/3rds was federal pass-throughs! The state has no control over those funds.

Medicaid is an example. That makes one of Paul Ryan’s budget proposals attractive. He proposed to make Medicaid funding block grants and would allow the states the freedom to spend those funds as would best benefit the state instead of how the feds thought would be best. Ryan’s plan followed the old adage, “The best government is at the local level.”

As I said, it was an interesting meeting and informative. Mrs. Crucis and our friend have decided we will attend more meetings in the future.