House backs measure on classifying counties

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Dozens of Missouri counties could maintain their current classifications even if their total property values grew under a bill endorsed by the House on Monday.

The issue is important to county officials because moving into a higher classification gives a county more authority over its governance but also adds to its costs, in part by requiring that some positions be made full-time.

The bill before the House raises the upper limits of total assessed property valuations for the three highest classifications, to account for inflation since the classes were last revised in 1998. There is also a fourth class, which is based on other factors and includes just two of Missouri's 114 counties.

House members gave the bill first-round approval on a voice vote. A second favorable vote would send the measure to the Senate. Legislators approved a similar measure last year, but other provisions in the final bill prompted a veto by Gov. Bob Holden. Current law designates counties with at least $450 million assessed valuation as first class; those with $300 million to $450 million as second class; and those with less than $300 million assessed valuation as third class.

Under the bill, those limits would be raised to at least $600 million for first-class counties; $450 million to $600 million for second-class counties; and up to $450 million for third-class counties.

About 90 Missouri counties are third-class. They tend to have the fewest powers, fewest elected officials and pay the lowest salaries.

Second-class counties typically get extra powers are also saddled with extra costs -- hiring a full-time county auditor, making the county prosecutor full-time instead of part-time and having a juvenile detention center.

Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, sponsored the bill. He said the legislation must be approved in time for counties to know if they would have to hold elections for auditor this year.

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County classification bill is HB950.

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

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