Commissioners to discuss Prop 1, Sunshine Law compliance

Friday, September 8, 2006

The Cape Girardeau County Commission faces an agenda over the next two weeks with several major issues to decide.

The work begins Monday, when commissioners will meet with Weldon Macke, the former county auditor, to discuss the impact of Proposition 1 on road and bridge property taxes.

Other items include a discussion of which, if any, applicants for an old county bridge will receive it, a public hearing on property tax rates and a discussion of how to strengthen commission compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law.

The tax hearing and discussion of the Sunshine Law is slated for Thursday. A discussion of how to dispose of the bridge will be held Sept. 18.

Macke, who was credited by commissioners with being the architect of Proposition 1, will appear at 10 a.m. Monday to explain whether the measure was intended to have an impact on the property taxes county residents will pay this fall.

Proposition 1 is a half-cent sales tax that takes effect Jan. 1. Voters approved the measure on Aug. 8. During the campaign for the tax, commissioners promised that property taxes would be paid this fall but they would eliminate the tax in future years.

The Proposition 1 discussion was prompted by a Southeast Missourian editorial Sunday that questioned whether collecting the tax this year amounted to double taxation. The money collected in December will be spent during 2007, when sales tax revenue has begun to flow.

Part of the Proposition 1 revenue will be used to replace the money lost by elimination of the property tax now earmarked for operations and maintenance of the County Highway Department.

"I don't understand what the rag had in mind when they printed that," Commissioner Larry Bock said.

The Sunshine Law discussion was prompted by accusations from Bock that Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and Commissioner Jay Purcell have held private meetings to discuss county business. Purcell, in response, pushed for the discussion to consider whether more formal and informative agendas are needed for the county.

The commission regularly approves items that never appear on the agendas posted 24 hours in advance of their meetings. On Thursday, commissioners approved spending more than $3,000 for envelopes for mailing tax bills on the request of Collector Diane Diebold. The collector's office has new computers and the envelopes need to be compatible with new printers.

Diebold's request wasn't on the agenda, and the total cost fell below the threshold for formal bids.

In another item not specifically listed on the agenda, commissioners considered, but rejected, spending $4,800 for culvert pipe for County Road 361. County Highway administrator Scott Bechtold had a timed appointment with commissioners but the agenda did not state his business.

During their discussion, commissioners noted that the $4,800 quote for the pipe was above the $4,500 threshold for advertised bids. Since the purchase is for two 10-foot sections, they considered buying each piece separately to avoid the legal requirement for bids.

Bechtold suggested buying the pipe in separate purchases but having it delivered on the same truckload.

"I don't like these ways of getting around the purchasing laws of the state of Missouri," Purcell said.

In reply, Bechtold said: "You could say you are trying to circumvent the law. You could also say you are trying to fit the law."

In discussions, Bock indicated he was willing to buy the pipe in a way that didn't require bids but that he was also comfortable with advertising for bids.

335-6611, extension 126

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