Legislative column

In the Senate, we have been focused this session on stimulating economic growth and creating more jobs across the state. But as we move forward, we also have to take some steps to undo some of the actions by the former administration that continuously sought to expand its powers without any thought or consideration for the people who will be directly affected.

For years I have worked hard to protect the lands in the 33rd District and across the state making sure residents are aware of the potential sale of lands, which in some cases may be removed from the county’s tax revenues. What is worse is that there have been instances where state departments seek to – and do – purchase these lands without notifying the citizens in the area until after the purchase has been made.

A couple of years ago, Oregon County experienced a major loss in revenue because of the purchase of Frederick Creek Ranch by the Department of Natural Resources. This property was privately owned until the department used 2009 lead mining settlement funds to make the land state property. Oregon County, already one of the poorest counties in the state, now has lost out on collecting personal property taxes. Approximately one-quarter of Oregon County’s land is owned by the state or federal government, causing a loss in property tax revenue. Not only do our two school districts suffer from the loss, but this aggressive land grab was done without public input or public notice. No one from Oregon County was able to give feedback so the department could better understand how this purchase would affect the community.

In order to make sure no other community is caught off guard again, this week the Senate advanced Senate Bill 35. The proposal deals with public notice requirements when the commissioner of the Office of Administration is wanting to purchase land. It will require the commissioner’s office to provide a public notice not only on its website, but it must be displayed in newspapers, and public hearings must be held. That way, the community directly affected by any private land purchased by the state will be given the opportunity to participate in the discussion and give their feedback before the final purchase

Government purchases of private land should be transparent, especially when those purchases could potentially affect the financial stability of a county. Senate Bill 35 ends the practice of shady land grabs. Counties depend on property tax revenue to survive and maintain critical services. While I still have hope that the state will eventually return the land that was wrongfully taken from Oregon County, at least we know we can slow down future aggressive land grabs.

Mike Cunningham is a Republican member of the Missouri State Senate, representing District 33. Contact him at 573-751-1882 or www.senate.mo.gov/cunningham

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