Our bridge, our dilemma

The Old Highway 80 bridge across the Mississippi River belongs to us – the people of Warren County. An opinion editorial in the Post describes the present situation:

Management of the U.S. 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River remains as murky as the water swirling below.

It shouldn’t be that way.

The old bridge, now used exclusively by Kansas City Southern for its trains and as an attachment point for the cables of assorted utilities, is a public asset. It is owned by the people of Warren County who are being given absolutely no clue as to what’s on the minds of Warren County supervisors or the five members they appoint to the bridge commission.

Last week, for at least the third time in the past seven months, supervisors and commissioners met behind closed doors for well over an hour.

It’s their option to do so, they say, because KCS has threatened to take them to court and state law allows secret sessions when public bodies face “potential litigation.”

“Allows” is a key word here, because nothing in the law requires any of their discussions to be held outside the public’s hearing. If they had any desire to be open and forthright with voters, they could. That’s not the case. Even before and after such sessions, supervisors are coy and evasive in answering questions — and not just about what was said but also the topic being discussed. Their considered position is the less you know the better. It’s their right to have it that way — not even telling you the options being reviewed.

The facts are these:

* Warren County has owned the bridge, built privately and opened in 1930, since the end of World War II.

* From the start, the county’s plan was to use tolls to pay off the purchase price and thereafter to set tolls to pay for operation and maintenance on a break-even basis.

* The vehicular roadbed was closed 10 years ago due to deteriorating concrete. There are no plans for it ever to be reopened to traffic if for no other reason than it is too narrow to meet legal minimums.

* The long-term lease with KCS is a dead letter and has been for years. An earlier agreement by the commission and supervisors to sell the bridge to KCS was revoked by supervisors after public protest. For safety reasons, KCS strongly opposes any plan to allow regular pedestrian traffic on the old roadbed in the form of a park or overlook.

* In 2005, the commission started billing KCS for new, far higher tolls. KCS, for the most part, has continued paying at the old rate as “negotiations” continued.

* Engineering reports say the bridge needs some work, but remains stable for the foreseeable future.

Anything else said about the bridge is speculation.


Because the Warren County Board of Supervisors has decided that it’s none of your business.

The bridge and its baggage have been kicked around for far too long. Isn’t it time the Board of Supervisors showed a bit of leadership on the issues?

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 9:53 am  Comments (14)  

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  1. I do not expect the County Board to ever become forthright and open while the three good ole boys remain.

    Much is wrong with the setup of the board. Here are some solutions:

    1.) Redistrict the county to reflect an even distribution of city and county residents.
    2.) Hold county elections at the same time as city elections. It is more cost efficient and eliminates the opportunity for County supervisors to seek a city position while sitting as an elected county representative.
    3.) Make county board information available online. The current site is an embarrassment.
    4.) Mail property tax assessments prior to tax time along with an explanation of how to request a reduction.
    5.) Eliminate the inventory tax. It is a regressive tax that has cost us enough jobs.
    6.) Eliminate the pay and perks for County Supervisors. It should be a volunteer board that meets monthly to oversee a county manager. The most recent tax increase would have been offset by supervisors eliminating their pay, perks and offices.
    7.) Combine services with the city on recreation, administration, animal control, zoning, sewer, road, police, fire and ambulance protection. Include whatever else can be combined. The cost savings in facilities and manpower would be huge.
    8.) Mandate term limits with a maximum of two terms.
    9.) Enforce basic code in the county.
    10.) Change Warren County to a ‘metropolitan’ type of government with one governing body. By State law the county would be the authority. Thus change the board make up to four supervisors and an elected leader of the county. Each supervisor would represent city and county with the elected leader being the ‘at large’ representative, and swing vote.

    Our current board is a reflection of the antiquated mentality of the old south. If Warren County is to ever become a true destination for investment we must get the uninspired and old world thinkers off the board.

  2. Ouch, it could not be said better. But I place the odds of your recommendations actually taking place at less than 1%.

  3. Higher than the current odds I would give it.

    If the voters of Warren county want it, it will happen. To make the voters of Warren County want it would involve a well funded and well organized marketing campaign.

    The hard selling point would be county residents who like being able to trash their property, pay higher insurance rates and generally devalue our entire market. It would be an easy sell in the city because it would eliminate the city tax.

    The real issue is the ineffectiveness and leadership on the county board. The county board has roughly double the budget of the city and accomplishes nothing while it conceals meetings and your upcoming tax increase. The city has soared to incredible lengths with half the funding. It’s not about the money, it’s about the leadership.

    What a concept, a paid and accountable County manager under the supervision of a 5 member unpaid board. Isn’t that what government was supposed to be – involved citizens doing their civic duty to make things better for all?

    How far we have come.

  4. Again I agree with you. To make it happen would require an organized group of citizens who can gain the support of most of the population of the county. That would be next to impossible because the non-city residents like things just the way they are, i.e., city taxes paying for non-city expenses. There would have to be an intense selling campaign to get enough city residents interested enough to vote for change. Is that the way you see it?

  5. whatever happen to the idea of making the bridge a park bridge? That story faded real fast.

  6. According to the most recent census information we have 49,000 people in Warren Country, 26,000 of whom live in the city limits. That’s a majority. With any votes from the county and the obvious 100% approval from the city (who wouldn’t vote to have their city tax removed?) it would be a landslide to create one government, unpaid, for the entire county.

    The bridge park was blocked by KCS, somehow. The real question on the bridge and it’s use is why does KCS tell us how to use our bridge? They also pay only a portion of the fees assessed by the County, roughly 30%. What would happen if all the county residents decided to pay only 30% of their fees from Warren County?

    In my opinion just another example of ineffective leadership from the county. I hope it’s just ineffective leadership, if not something (or someone) is rotten on this deal.

  7. I believe Mike Chaney indicated some action by the legislature would be required in order to change the form of government.

  8. The State of Mississippi Constitution allows for a new county to be formed with a majority of voters.

    Art14, Section 260.

    Municipalities operate within a County, the County is the government if so voted by a majority of County residents. The vote would be to form a new government in Warren county as a singular municipality under one governing body as outlined by the State Constitution.

    A vote to do this would:

    1.) Eliminate any city government.
    2.) Create a new county government
    3.) Reduce our taxes by more than 25% via eliminating the duplication of services.
    4.) Include a redistricting of the county.

    The part of my prior suggestion that would involve legislative action would be changing to four county supervisors and a Lead Supervisor, in charge (basically a Mayor and Four aldermen). Everything else is already provided by state law. To simplify the process we can simply retain our current system in the county and then change it prior to the new board taking office. Anyone currently seated would retain their seat until the next election.

    A county manager overseen by an unpaid elected board of supervisors, with term limits, creates a situation where everyone is accountable for performance. In addition to the immediate reduction in taxes we have a situation where continuation of employment/office is determined by ones ability to improve performance while reducing or minimizing cost.

    Another option is to have the city and county work together.

    It’s a shame the voters would have to go the great lengths outlined above to get a government in this county that is actually concerned about reducing the cost of living in Warren County. The city has done a good job of keeping cost in line while improving services. The County has not. Wherever the fault lies is not important, what is important is making it work. The above plan would achieve that goal.

  9. And do not forget about the Justice Department. There can be no changes in any governing institution or district apart from an approval from “bureaucratic bog”.

  10. Ouch, Rev, why don’t you (we) organize a group and test the waters?

  11. If we do not redistrict the courts there is no need for the Justice system to be involved in the will of the people.

  12. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and succeeding amendments thereto could be interpreted to interfere with what is a desireable plan for simplifying county/city government. I suppose that packaging and presentation would be a must to consider here at this juncture.

  13. What in the VRA would present a problem?

    Packaging and marketing of this idea would be everything. Those who would oppose this idea are in the county but the numbers to support it are in the city. Marketing should focus on the short term benefits (reduced taxes) and hint at the long term gain. Those in the county can be assured of protection by including a ‘grandfather’ clause for their property. Any new codes or regulations on their land use would not be enforced until the property transfers via estate, sell or foreclosure of their property. We would have to include a provision that incorporated land chronologically transfers to the new code over X number of years.

  14. It is a good idea and I for one hope that it can be adopted.

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