Despite years of complaints from voters, the Crawford County Commission can’t seem to bring itself to make a needed change in the way it operates when it comes to road maintenance. It may not be a classic case of taxation without representation, but it’s certainly antiquated and a change is long overdue.
Crawford County Assessor Kellie Vestal recently questioned the commission about the change that had been voted into place last January to adjust the district boundaries so that property owners’ tax payments will go to the correct road and bridge district, and they will be able to vote for the district commissioner who oversees their roadwork. She told the commission she didn’t have the information needed in order to move the parcels into the correct districts, and stated it was “a lot” of revenue.
Following discussion about where the new lines will go and the legal allowance for the change, where Treasurer Karen Sikes questioned the legal advice provided to the commission, stating attorneys often don’t read the statutes. The commission agreed to ask a county attorney to attend an upcoming meeting to provide more information on the topic.
If you have ever seen how the voting districts for associate commissioners are defined, you’ll easily understand the problem. District one encompasses about two-thirds of the county, while district two is about the top one-third, roughly everything north of Interstate 44. The county’s website used to have the map on it, but when it was recently updated it is no longer on there.
Historically, the voting districts have also been the same as the road maintenance districts, with each commissioner overseeing their operations. As the voting districts have been adjusted over the years to maintain an equal population of voters to be represented by their associate commissioner, however, the road district boundaries no longer matched. In fact, the changing voting boundaries have made it so that the District #2 maintenance shed is right on the line, meaning numerous nearby roads are actually in District #1.
Given how the voting districts have been changed over the years—making District #1 larger and larger and District #2 smaller and smaller to account for where Crawford County’s residents are living—it has become even harder for each road district to maintain the roads that are actually in their commissioner’s district.
It’s time for a change. Or more accurately, it’s way past time for a change.
There is no requirement that the associate commissioners voting districts match the road districts. There is also no requirement that each associate commissioner oversees the day-to-day operation of the road districts. It’s just what Crawford County has always done.
A better system would be for the county to have a unified road department, which is then managed by the entire commission and a road foreman or superintendent. Numerous counties, including Phelps County, handle their road maintenance this way.
Crawford County’s Health Department already operates this way. There is a head of the department but its entire operation is managed by the Crawford County Commission. There are not two health departments operating in each associate commissioner district. Why, because that would be stupid.
Continuing to operate the county’s road districts in the way they are currently being operated is also stupid. Plus, under a system where the entire commission manages road maintenance, rather than just a single commissioner, voters would have two people (an associate commissioner and the presiding commissioner) to go to with their road complaints.
This simple change would ensure better representation for voters, potential cost savings on equipment, better cooperation on maintenance, and would eliminate the need to worry about dividing up tax money by district because there would only be one road department.
This change is long overdue and should be made immediately.