New Franklin County Sign

With the final days of 2019 closing in, the Franklin County Commission has several areas of unfinished business to wrap up before the end of the year, but some will have to wait even longer.

Since September, the commission has held budget meetings with nearly all of the county departments for which it holds the purse strings and with other elected officials whose budgets are approved by the commission.

Thus far, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said revenues for 2019 are near or a bit higher than 2018 and the overall budget will look much the same with some increases or decreases where needed.

As of October, the county’s half-cent sales taxes for roads and bridges and general revenue have generated an average $545,000 per month for totals just under $6 million each.

One major factor concerning Brinker for the 2020 and 2021 budget is the increase in county employee insurance costs.

“We got hit with a 13 percent increase for next year,” Brinker said. “As of now, the county is going to absorb that increase and keep the rate the employees pay the same. This will be the fourth year in a row we’ve been able to do that.”

In speaking with officials from other Missouri counties at a conference last week, the commissioners learned premiums for employees of other counties have gone up as well, but said Franklin County’s out-of-pocket costs for employees is still lower by comparison.

Highway 47

In the few months since the city of Union and Franklin County took the lead in seeking to upgrade the Highway 47 corridor, more has been done than in the past five years.

The roughly $12 million design for the Union Expressway to straighten Highway 47 and bypass the existing Highway 50 intersection has been submitted to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

“A new account has been established and county funds will be budgeted beginning in 2020,” Brinker said. “The (expressway) design plans have been submitted to MoDOT and further reviews are going back and forth between the state and Cochran Engineering.”

Brinker noted all entities are on board and the project could begin in 2023 or 2024 instead of 2042, which was originally suggested by MoDOT in previous years.

Also in 2020, Franklin County will say farewell to Highway Administrator Ron Williams, who has managed the highway department since 2014. His replacement, Jim Grutsch, of Berger, began his duties Monday, Dec. 2, and will train under Williams until his departure, which is still not certain.

The decision to leave the county was made solely by Williams, who took the county position after a long career in engineering and administration in other municipalities.

Brinker said Grutsch has many years of experience and will play a more “boots on the ground” supervisory role of highway crews and moving forward much of the engineering work previously done by Williams may be contracted to outside engineering and consulting companies.

In all, the county had four applicants for the highway administrator position, some of whom were current employees.

Special Road Districts

Another county transportation issue that is sure to be in contention in 2020 is the debate over special road districts and the services they provide.

In late September, Brinker broached the subject of their usefulness and called the districts antiquated and a form of double taxation.

Special road districts exist near Washington, Union, New Haven and Sullivan, and all four encapsulate most, if not all, of the neighboring municipalities.

Funding for the road districts comes from real estate and personal property taxes paid by residents living in those areas, totaling more than $1 million in 2018 to maintain just 60 miles of roadways.

In some cases, the special road districts do not own their own equipment and do not have employees, but Union and Washington do, and have at times assisted the city of Washington on road projects.

Williams has said taking over the roughly 60 miles of roads currently maintained by four separate special road districts in the county would cause minimal changes to current operations.