The Horseshoe Bend Road District says Camden County owes it some money ― like nearly $51,000.
The HBSRD says the county was short by $50,888.47 in its annual County Aid Trust Fund (CART) payment for 2011, received in September 2012. Another payment for 2012 is due this September, and HBSRD officials are concerned there could be a shortfall again.
"This puts a damper on things," Road District Superintendent Kevin Luttrell said. "We won't have the funds we need for road improvements."
The mid-summer flooding hit the Road District especially hard, and officials have to adjust the budget because of the shortfall from the county.
Marcy Meisner, HBSRD office manager, said she discovered the discrepancy in the fall of 2012 when the regular payment was received from the county. She said based on the same formula the county and HBSRD have used for 20 years, the Road District had calculated it would receive $313,794.59. Instead, the check was only for $262,928.12 ― a $50,888.47 difference.
"That was a red flag to us," she said.
Meisner contacted the Missouri Department of Revenue to verify what the state had sent to Camden County for disbursement. She found that what the state sent was different from what the county said it received ― by $400,000.
According to figures compiled by Meisner ― again based on DOR figures ― Camden County was to receive $2,574,759.75. However, the report from Camden County says the county only received $2,170,023.86 ― a difference of $404,735.89.
After consulting with the HBSRD Board of Directors, Meisner said she politely pointed out to county officials there was an accounting error and that the HBSRD was still owed $50,888.67, and please remit the balance.
HBSRD officials say they have received support in their efforts from First and Second District County Commissioners Bev Thomas and Cliff Luber. In fact, one of the commissioners alleged on a local radio station recently that Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken said, "I didn't think they would catch it" in reference to the CART fund discrepancy.
Road District officials confirmed the comment, and added that, "yes, we were told that last winter prior to Mr. Luber's election to office."
In response to the Road District's request that the balance be remitted, the County Commission sent a two-page letter dated Jan. 23, 2013, that ultimately said that under new guidelines adopted by the county there would be a 20 percent reduction in "available distributable funds" per year. In fact, the letter stated, the county was actually paying the Road District $12,940.13 more what was necessary "in good faith."
HBSRD officials were taken aback by the comment about "new guidelines" since the county and the Road District have been operating under an annually renewable contract for two decades.
The letter from the commissioners said, in part: "The distribution to your district for FY12 was based on a preliminary formula that was intended to reduce the amount available for distribution to your district. Upon review of the formula, the…Commission has decided to use straight percentages for this calculation to simplify the process…"
Page 2 of 3 - The letter, signed by all three county commissioners, said that county revenues have declined since 2007 yet contribution rates to the HBSRD have remained the same. The Camden County Road and Bridge Department has been underfunded by more than $1 million every year since then, the letter said.
The county letter said the HBSRD has taken on 21.34 additional miles of private roads from the Four Seasons Property Owners' Association.
Road District officials note that road districts do not own the roads ― the county owns them. The HBSRD only maintains the roads. The Road District cannot take on any additional roads without the official approval of the County Commission.
The letter continues: "It is difficult to continue the same rate of CART contribution to HBSRD when you are taking on more responsibility, which is a direct reflection of excess funding…and when we are having serious difficulty maintaining the level of service that we think is appropriate to the rest of the county. Finally, by statute it is clear that CART fund expenditures are clearly at the discretion of the County Commission, and no legal claim can be reasonably made to those funds by HBSRD."
The District Commissioners emphatically disagree that the HBSRD has no legal claim to funds since there is a binding, renewable contract between the two entities.
Lew Bridges, Road District attorney, said the Road District is attempting to negotiate a new agreement and has countered the county's 20 percent reduction in CART funds with a 15 percent reduction with a change in the formula used to distribute the funding.
A response is pending after the Road District sent its proposal several weeks ago.
Bridges noted the Road District and the county have had a good relationship for many years, and he anticipates that relationship will continue after a new formula is worked out.
"It's in limbo. We anticipate we'll get something, but don't know how much," Bridges said.
HBSRD President Jerry Jackson said, "we need to know for the future what we're going to get. It's hard to make a budget without knowing."
He offered a special thank you to County Commissioners Thomas and Luber who have been supportive of the Road District's efforts in the dispute with the county.
The county's side of the story
It appears a resolution may be in the works.
After months of discussion and no action, the Camden County Commission is planning to discuss the funding for Horseshoe Bend Special Road District next week.
Camden County Associate Commissioner Bev Thomas, who represents the Horseshoe Bend area, said the shortage was an error and they intend to address the issue. Thomas said there has been a proposal by Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken to address the formula the county has been using since 1989 to distribute funds to the HBSRD.
Page 3 of 3 - "First, there has been no decision on this item at this time. It is on our agenda for next Wednesday for discussion on how we will proceed," Thomas said.
Thomas said the state statute gives 100% authority to the county commission for distribution of CART funds.She cited a decision issued by the Missouri Attorney General upholding the statute that outlines how CART funds are to be distributed.
"Having said that, there was an agreement made between the Horseshoe Bend Road District and the County Commission in 1989 that used a formula to give a portion of the CART funds from Horseshoe Bend to the Horseshoe Bend Road District for maintenance on their roads as an independent road district within the county," Thomas said. "Subsequent commissions have honored this agreement. The discussion now is whether the current financial situation of the county has impacted this agreement. By statute the county is not bound by agreements made with previous Commissions, however, good faith should always be acknowledged."
Associate Commissioner Cliff Luber does not characterize the shortage as an error. Luber alleges there was no error. He said the shortage was intentional.
"Commissioner Franken intentionally misinformed the HBSRD before I came into office by claiming Camden County only received 1.6 million in CART funds when he knew they received 1.9 million," he said. "This resulted in approximately $50,00.00 in reduced operating revenue to the HBSRD. The delay has been his refusal to give them what is owed." I asked Commissioner Thomas for this to be put on the agenda so we can resolve this issue immediately. I will vote to give them the additional funds that was agreed upon. I am saddened that Camden County politics has reached a new low to purposefully and deceitfully change the written agreement and reduce funds Camden County contractually owes to the good folks of the HBSRD."
Franken did not respond to an email request for information.