McDonald County voters will decide on Tuesday if the county's planning commission is worth keeping.
By Whitney Saporito
Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
By Whitney Saporito
Updated Oct. 31, 2012 @ 10:32 pm
By Whitney Saporito
Updated Oct. 31, 2012 @ 10:32 pm
» Social News
PINEVILLE — McDonald County voters will decide on Tuesday if the county's planning commission is worth keeping.
The heated ballot issue, which was first brought to the McDonald County Commission last December, asks voters, "Shall the McDonald County Planning Commission be terminated?"
Art Waggoner, treasurer of the Committee to Terminate the McDonald County Planning Commission, says the answer to that question is "yes," as the group is putting too many regulations on rural residents, while Beverly Prentice, planning commission secretary, and Keith Lindquist, presiding county commissioner, say the organization is beneficial to the county and maintain that the planning commission has no authority to institute regulations.
The McDonald County Planning Commission, established in the 1960s by a vote of McDonald County residents and formed under Missouri State Statute 64.800, is made up of 19 appointed members, representing all of the county's 19 voting precincts, and works as an advisory committee to the county commission.
After their initial activity, the planning commission sat dormant for decades, before reorganizing in 2006. At that time, upon the request and appointment of the McDonald County Commission and pursuant to RSMo 64.815, the members began work on a comprehensive master plan for the county, which was voted on and approved by the county commission following public hearings.
"If you were running a business, wouldn't you want to have a plan? We feel like that is the way to look at this," Lindquist said. "We're the second or third biggest business in the county and we need a plan and these people were very helpful."
The group's comprehensive plan, which addresses the future goals and growth of the county, was not the controversial issue.
It was the group's most recent activity, when the 19 volunteers began working to write subdivision standards for rural McDonald County, compliant with Missouri statute RSMo 64.825, that drew opposition from some county residents.
"They wanted us to work on standard subdivision regulations to make all of the new subdivisions in McDonald County standard, all of them the same," Prentice said. "Mainly it was for safety's sake, because some of the ones going in were not exactly desirable."
Lindquist said the group met once a month, for hours at a time, for no pay, to draft the county's subdivision standards.
However, that work was never voted on by the county commission, Prentice said, because it was at that time that the county commission was met with a petition from the Committee to Terminate the McDonald County Planning Commission.
Lindquist said once they were presented with the petition, the commissioners opted to table the issue until after the election.
"We were just looking into subdivision plans because we have a lot of junky places in the county and we were trying to figure out some way to spruce up the county," Lindquist said.
However, Waggoner said it is the potential that those standards and the planning commission have of instituting regulations on rural McDonald County residents that makes he and other residents fearful.
"Those people worked their heads off, it was just amazing how many man hours they put into all this," Waggoner said of the planning commission. "I don't feel real good about telling them 'we don't want you anymore,' but the bottom line is it's just the nature of this beast. We know it's going to eventually become something that's just another bureaucratic outfit that's got a bunch of rules we're going to have to follow."
Both Lindquist and Prentice disagree, noting that the planning commission has no authority and cannot institute any regulations.
At the time the petition was presented to the commission, committee chairman John Bunch said in a written statement that the commission had pursued an ordinance to grant the planning commission voting authority, though Lindquist said on Wednesday that that allegation is untrue.
Additionally, Prentice said subdivision requirements would have little to no effect on those living in rural McDonald County.
She said the standards primarily affect contractors, who are building five or more homes in an area.
The regulations address where roads and electrical lines go, to make conditions easier for electric companies, emergency personnel and school buses.
She said the regulations are also intended to discourage contractors from doing "shoddy" work.
Subdivision standards are not unique, and are present already in some McDonald County towns, such as Pineville, Prentice said.
However, those building at least 1.5 miles outside city limits are considered rural and fall in the non-regulated area.
Prentice alleged that some McDonald County residents have misrepresented what the planning commission's subdivision work is about, leading residents to believe that the planning commission would be very involved in the lives of rural residents, such as dictating the color one can paint their house, or where on their property they can build a barn.
"We don't have any authority," Prentice said. "We don't have the authority to tell people where they can build their fence!"
Waggoner said another primary concern of the county's rural residents is that the planning commission could begin rural zoning.
"What it boils down to here in McDonald County is that it only affects the rural people," Waggoner said. "Most of the towns have their own planning commission and we don't have a say in that, we don't really care. Those of us that live in the rural areas here, we're just dead set against the rural zoning. We don't want the building codes, we don't want the permits and the enforcers and the fines. It's just inevitable that that's what this thing would degenerate into."
Lindquist said both the planning commission and the McDonald County Commission are aware that rural zoning is not what the county needs.
"We never one time used the word zoning," Lindquist said. "We know that does not work in McDonald County and we never said that word one time."
Prentice said the planning commission has not addressed zoning and does not have the authority to do so.
Bev Largent, chief elections deputy for McDonald County, said the Committee to Terminate the McDonald County Planning Commission presented a petition signed with more than 500 signatures, while only 412 were needed to appear on the ballot.
The planning commission has not met or acted in at least six months, and Lindquist said they would wait to see what the county's voters say before meeting again.
Though Lindquist said the advisory group provides a valuable service to the county commission, he said he will support the decision of voters if they opt to discontinue the planning commission.
"I just think anything runs better if you have a plan but if the voting public does not want them, that's OK," Lindquist said. "I think they're useful and they have no voting power, there's people saying that they can but that's not so, it's through the (county) commission."
When McDonald County voters head to the polls on Tuesday, a "yes" vote for the issue would eliminate the planning commission, while a "no" vote would allow the commission to continue.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.