Rules for Missouri Townships
Roads in general
General road laws can be found in chapters 228, 229 and 231 RSMo. All road laws apply to township counties unless the law specifically states otherwise (231.150). Roads vary widely from one that was built yesterday to one that was there when a county was first organized. According to John Ballard, when the state was first organized, law defined a road as "eight feet wide with stumps no more than 12 inches high." Under current rules, any road for which federal money is spent must have a 60-foot-wide right-of-way. During the time the King Bill aided rural roads in Missouri, minimum rights-of-way were required, but the dimensions changed more than once. Consequently it is not possible to say: "A road is feet wide." They are many widths.
During statewide reassessment in the early 1980s, assessors had to try to determine property lines accurately. The results of these assessments gives us better records of where rights-of-way start and end than we have had, but they still are not fully complete.
Establishing and dedicating
It takes 12 registered voters of the township to petition the county commission to open a road. In this case, the commission has statutory procedures to follow. If the commission orders the road established, it becomes the township's to maintain. Similarly, 12 voters may petition the county commission to vacate a road. Statutory procedures must also be followed for road closure. A road may also be disestablished if it is not used for a five-year period.
There is widespread misunderstanding about dedications. Developers will put on their plats: "This road is dedicated to public use" and think that makes it a public road. It does not. Until a road is accepted formally by the county, it remains the developer's responsibility. A gift has two parts: offer and acceptance. The offer does not make the transaction complete.
A road becomes public if sufficient public funds are spent on it to enable public use for 10 years. In summary, a road is considered public based on dedication and acceptance, expenditure of public funds and public use (228.190).
A county can condemn and acquire the land necessary for a road. When this is done, appraisers set land values and owners receive compensation for land they lose.
It is well known that an owner must be granted access to his or her property, often referred to as "ingress and egress." However, the access does not have to be on a path the landlocked owner prefers. The owner who must be crossed to get to the other property decides where to locate the access.
A common misunderstanding is that a public road must be provided to all cemeteries. This is not correct. Access must be permitted to all cemeteries, but there is no mandate that it be by a public road.
The township may spend up to one-fourth of the road and bridge revenue collected from within the city limits of any incorporated place on the city or village streets. However, there is no requirement to do so. Should the city limits cross a county line, no money may be spent outside the home county (65.295). The township may spend road and bridge funds on a city street that connects to a township road at the city limits if the street "forms a part of a continuous highway of the township" (137.585 ).
Roads on township line
Statutes provide that, where roads are on the boundary line between townships, the line will be at one edge or the other, not the centerline. If the two township boards are not able to agree on the boundary, the county commission settles the issue (231.160).
Many of the state's road laws are old and a bit obsolete. For example, the township board, in its April term, is charged with dividing the township into road districts and appointing a road overseer for each. The overseer is to be "a practical road builder, or possessed of technical or scientific knowledge of such work." After appointment, he or she is to be paid not more than 30 cents per hour for time actually worked (231.170). Not many road builders still work for that rate. FLSA minimum wage standards prohibit it as well. Similarly, the township is to build all bridges costing less than $4,500 (231.230). The county builds the rest, unless township and county have reached a different agreement. The township is charged with repairing bridges, up to $25.
Weight and speed limits
The county can establish weight limits for roads and bridges. It can also establish speed limits on rural roads. However, counties often lack capacity to enforce such limits. While most counties post bridges as protection against liability, fewer try to set speed limits.
For convenience, the township may divide the roads into as many districts as it chooses. Changes of district boundaries may only be made at the April meeting (65.390).
A part of the township may be split off and withdrawn from the township's road system by voters who form a Special Road District (233.320-.445). When this happens, roads in that district are no longer a township responsibility. Four-fifths of the road and bridge tax collected from within the district is then turned over to the commissioners of the district, with the balance remaining as township revenue (137.555).
To create the special road district, petitions with signatures of owners of a majority of the acres within the boundaries drawn are presented to the county commission. The commission notifies the public either by publishing notice or by posting five handbills. A date is given for filing remonstrances, or protests with the district being organized. Any owner within the boundaries may file a remonstrance.
The commission then hears the petition and reviews any remonstrances filed, makes such adjustments in the boundaries as necessary, and either declares the district to be organized or the petition to be denied. If the special road district is approved, three commissioners, who must be registered voters living in the district, are appointed. One serves one year, one two, and one three, and each year thereafter, one commissioner is elected to a three-year term. The new commissioners receive all machinery, equipment and revenues the township has for working on roads in the newly formed district.
Special road district commissioners have the power, subject to voter approval, to issue road and bridge bonds. These bonds, together with current indebtedness, may not exceed the value of 5 percent of the assessed property in the district. Proceeds from the sale of bonds shall be used for constructing, repairing and maintaining bridges and culverts within the district and for dragging district roads (233.345).
An additional method of funding road improvement in the special district is the benefit assessment. Petitions requesting improvement and signed by owners of a majority of the acres within a half-mile of the road are presented to the special road district commissioners. The commissioners prepare a plan for improvement, subject to review by the state highway engineer, and prepare a valuation listing. This looks at all property in the district (the value of land only, exclusive of buildings). Land is sorted into taxing categories based on distance — land that is within a half-mile of the road, one-half to one mile, one mile to a mile-and-a-half, and then the balance. All of this information is filed with the county commission.
Any owner within the half-mile category may file an objection or exception. These are considered by the county commission before it makes a final decision. Then an estimate of improvement costs is calculated, with allowance for overruns.
A special tax is levied against the owners to pay for the improvement. Owners within a half-mile pay 100 percent of the tax rate. Owners one-half to a mile pay 75 percent, owners a mile to a mile-and-a-half pay 50 percent, and all other owners pay 25 percent. Tracts are considered wholly within the bracket where their bulk lies. Tax is assessed on the proportion of total value of each tract.
Each tax bill becomes a lien against the property it benefits. Bills may be paid in full or within a year with interest. Interest is 8 percent. Landowners can make as many as 15 annual installments, at 6 percent interest. The county clerk and county collector keep books on the amounts due. They receive small extra compensation for doing this.
This structure has been in the statute books for over 80 years. No one recalls it ever being used. In the right circumstances at the right place, it could be an attractive alternative to later forms invented such as neighborhood improvement districts. The benefit assessment has the unique feature of valuing land only and disregarding value of buildings, which could be advantageous in some instances. It appears particularly attractive where a considerable portion of the land is absentee-owned.
Property owners in the 14 township-organized counties north of the Missouri River and west of Highway 63, plus Schuyler and Worth counties, are required to remove brush adjacent to county roads. If brush is not "cut, burned or otherwise destroyed as often as necessary in order to keep such lands accessible for purposes of maintenance and safety of the county road," the county may, after proper notification, clear the brush and levy the expense against the property. This levy is then collected along with other taxes on the property (263.245).