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Category Archives: Ozarks economy

Timeshare resale scam uses my name. Ugh.


I received a call today from a man who claimed I advised him a few days ago send $800 to a timeshare resale company called Timeshare Concepts.

I told the man that I didn’t remember having spoken to him. He claimed that I had answered the phone and identified myself as Counselor Harry Styron when he called a number that Timeshare Concepts gave to him. Turns out the number he called was not my number. Today, he found my actual office number on the internet, dialed it, and got the real me.

My partner called the imposter’s number and a recording answered with “Counselor Harry Styron,” and promised to return the call. She didn’t leave a message, but has received several callback attempts.

I checked with the Missouri Attorney General’s consumer division and learned that scammers, some of them outside the US, are using names of individuals and businesses to gain credibility. I’m not flattered.

I wish I knew a legitimate timeshare resale company or some other option for disposal of timeshares by people who are unhappy with timeshare ownership.

 

Shooting on a Meramec gravel bar draws attention to uncertain property rights


The July 20 shooting on a gravel bar along the Meramec River,  downstream from the Highway 19 bridge south of Cuba, Missouri, has drawn attention to the uncertainties of the rights of floaters to be on gravel bars and areas adjacent to the river.  This section of the Meramec River, downstream from Maramec Spring, carries thousands of canoes, rafts and kayaks every year.

The reports of the shooting incident recount an argument between James Robert Crocker, apparently the owner of land along the river, and a group of floaters who had stopped on a gravel bar for the usual reasons. Crocker confronted the group of floaters. An argument ensued over whether the floaters were trespassing, according to Crocker’s statement to the police. Crocker shot one of the floaters, Paul Dart, who died on the way to the hospital.

On Monday, I received the first of several calls from the media. Kim Bell, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told me that somebody at the Missouri Department of Conservation told her that I was knowledgeable about issues relating to rights of property owners and persons using streams for recreation. The story that Kim Bell wrote for the Post-Dispatch’s online edition has been widely copied, and my flippant remark that Missouri doesn’t yet have a stand-your-gravel-bar law became the basis for a Post-Dispatch editorial that has also circulated around the internet and appeared in several newspapers.

Kim Bell accurately reported what I said, but part of my remarks appear to be a misstatement of law. I said, “You are on private property, but you have a right to be there if it’s a navigable stream and as long as you are on a gravel bar that is submerged during parts of the year, because it’s part of the stream bed.”

I should have also explained that the public’s right to be on a stream doesn’t depend solely on whether the stream is navigable. In Elder v. Delcour (1954), the Missouri Supreme Court held that the public has an easement over the Meramec River, even though it was not navigable:

we must and do hold that the waters of the Meramec River are public waters and the submerged area of its channel over and across appellant’s farm is a public highway for travel and passage by floating and by wading, for business or for pleasure, and that in traveling the course of the stream by canoe or wading, respondent was not a trespasser on the property of appellant.

Even though the Meramec River in Dent and Crawford counties has been determined to be non-navigable by the Missouri Supreme Court, it is still a public highway as a matter of law. A trespass does not occur by canoeing or wading on it. The issue of navigability has to do with ownership of the stream bed, not the right to be in a the bed of a stream. Neither the Missouri Supreme Court or the legislature have given us any clear way to determine whether any other stream’s waters are “public waters.”

To get to the heart of the dispute between Crocker and the floaters, what about the right to be on a gravel bar?  In Elder v. Delcour, the court cites another case for idea that the right to float on a stream includes other incidental rights:

The right to float is but a right of passage, and includes only such rights as are incident to the use of the stream for that purpose, and necessary to render such use reasonably available.

If people could not stop on a gravel bar to dump water out of a swamped boat, eat lunch or attend to calls of nature, the rights of passage would be greatly inhibited if not denied. But permissible incidental rights do not ordinarily include the right to walk outside the course of a stream  into pastures and woods,  dump litter, broadcast music, shoot fireworks, cut firewood, pilfer outbuildings and disturb livestock and human residents.

My essay on Missouri stream law is here.

Skills gap leaves Missouri manufacturing jobs unfilled


Manufacturing in the United States and the export of manufactured products from the United States is growing. If jobs could be filled, production and exports could rise. Nobody is opposed to products being manufactured in the US for domestic use and for export.

According to an article in St. Louis Today, citing a study by the Manufacturing Institute, with results confirmed by St. Louis area businesses, thousands of manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because of lack of qualified applicants. And technical colleges have additional capacity to provide the needed training.

After World War II, manufacturers of shoes, clothing, furniture and other products moved into the small towns and cities of the Ozarks, taking advantage of a surplus of mostly non-union, low-skilled workers. Manufacturers later arranged for their products to be made in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin American, then in Asia, seeking lower labor costs and less environmental and worker-safety regulation. Most towns in the Ozarks have vacant manufacturing facilities, even though transportation systems and location with respect to markets have never been better.

Universities and colleges are everywhere, offering all kinds of courses in residence programs and at satellite campuses, with opportunities for online education for students of all ages.

Where are the students who want to learn practical mathematics and how to operate computer-controlled design and manufacturing equipment? Some of them are in the military services. Others are working in unskilled jobs, never having become aware of their own potential to learn and earn. Others are in the gray-collar world of retail and services, where hours are long and wages and benefits skimpy.

While the St. Louis Today article blames the shortage of trainees for modern manufacturing jobs on the widespread acceptance of the value of a college education–as though the college credential had value even without skills to go with it–I’d place part of the lack of interest in manufacturing on the bad experience with manufacturing in the Ozarks. In the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, the manufacturing workers in the Ozarks experienced low wages and benefits, workplace injuries, frequent layoffs, and union-busting, ending with their abandonment (I am not forgetting that these low-wage jobs were better than no jobs and sometimes were the best jobs ever available in some communities for many people).

Manufacturers locating plants in the Ozarks asked poor communities for subsidies in the form of property tax abatement and general-obligation bond issues to for construction of facilities. Some plants polluted streams or left toxic wastes.

The manufacturing of today is much different. It’s cleaner and safer. Workers with training and skills can earn as much or more than many people who have college degrees and obtain as much or more job security. Here’s hoping that Missouri’s technical schools will be seen as the gateways to the good life, rather than an undesirable alternative to college.

Will Northwest Arkansas ramp up?


Successful businesses spawn–and depend on–other businesses. The scale of Walmart’s success has changed the face of Northwest Arkansas and spilled over to some extent in to adjacent areas. What next?

Matt Fifer and Grace Calloway sketch out a scenario of an astounding escalation in creation of opportunities for building on Walmart’s success: The Boom Ahead–Why Northwest Arkansas Could be the Next Silicon Valley.

Matt’s own career exemplifies what he’s writing about. I met Matt about five years ago, when he asked me to assist him with a small real estate deal in the Table Rock Lake area. He told me that he grew up in Stone County, Missouri, and had graduated from Reeds Spring high school. He worked for Walmart several years after college and rose through the ranks. He left Walmart not long before I met him and started a business called 8th & Walton, which teaches how to do business with Walmart. That business has grown steadily.

As this essay points out, if you can do business with Walmart as a vendor or service provider, you probably have the ability to do business with other large companies. Because so many companies located in Northwest Arkansas have honed their skills in product development and marketing by learning to do business with Walmart, the next stage may be for venture capitalists to move in and provide the funding that will allow many new efforts to succeed.

Missouri governor signs HB1103, giving courts power to order maintenance of “private roads”


The Missouri General Assembly enacted HB 1103 in the past 2012 regular session, which explicitly grants circuit court judges the authority to impose financial responsibility for maintenance of certain “private roads” onto parcels of real estate that benefit from these roads. Governor Nixon signed the bill into law on July 12, 2012. There are many problems with rural roads in Missouri. Simple questions–such as determining who owns the road, whether it is a subject to property taxes, who has the right to use it, and who is obligated to pay for its maintenance–are often impossible to answer. HB 1103’s provisions regarding private road maintenance change section 228.368 RSMo and add three new sections to Chapter 228 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri. This legislation is an attempt to solve the problem of nobody stepping forward to pay for road maintenance in situations in which no provision was made when the road was created. But its definition of “private road” greatly limits its applicability. According to the new section 228.341, a “private road” means “any private road established under this chapter or any easement of access, regardless of who created, which provides a means of ingress and egress by motor vehicle for any owner or owners of residences from such homes to a public road. A public road does not include any road owned by the United States or any agency or instrumentality thereof, or the state of Missouri, or any county, municipality, political subdivision, special district, instrumentality, or agency of the state of Missouri.” Got that? Read the rest of this entry

Great food in an unexpected location: Sparta’s Mossy River Pie Hole


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I felt that the words above the window were speaking directly to me.

I couldn’t help but pull over while I was on one of my noontime foraging expeditions on the east side of Ozark, Missouri.

Set up under a shade tree at the corner of Missouri highways 14 and 125 in Sparta, about eight miles east of the Ozark WalMart and US 65, Gjetta Moss has just started her second month serving delicious lunches and suppers.

I keep coming back for more. Today I had lemonade from just-squeezed lemons, which paired perfectly with a BLT and peppery coleslaw.

Despite a couple of college degrees and years of restaurant experience, Gjetta hasn’t found the job she needs. She’s trying the time-honored bootstrap method of making her way in the world, keeping the overhead low and the quality of the food as high as she can make it, served with a big smile.Image

Court forces Missouri church to pay its attorney

Posted on

There’s nothing less spiritual than a bill from a lawyer, except a judgment against the church in favor of a lawyer who sued a church for an unpaid fee.

Lawyers and courts are worldly by their very nature. While churches and courts want to do what is right, they have different standards for determining rightness. The Missouri Court of Appeal’s decision in Teasdale & Associates v. Richmond Heights Church of God in Christ demonstrates just how differently courts and a church Read the rest of this entry

St. Louis area stormwater charge is affirmed as illegal tax


Judge Mooney’s dissent notes the enormous cost of dealing with rainwater in urbanized areas, but the other two members of the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals were not moved to overturn the trial court holding that a stormwater charge was an illegal tax, not a lawful user fee. The appellate opinion is Zweig v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.

Under Missouri’s Hancock Amendment, no tax may be imposed without voter approval. Since voters (and non-voters) insist on receiving government services beyond their willingness to tax themselves, governmental units may try to dress a tax in the guise of a service charge. MSD’s monthly stormwater did not pass the “Keller test,” which comprise five criteria that the appellate court characterized (adopting the words of former Missouri Supreme Court justice John Holstein) as “so vague and manipulable that they necessarily result in repetitive litigation and are ultimately unworkable.”

Regardless, the majority for the Eastern District found that at least two of the Keller criteria were not met, since the charge is applied to MSD customers whose rainwater drains outside the MSD area and because the charge is applied without a direct relationship to the service provided. The appellate court accepted the trial court’s conclusion that gave credibility to expert testimony that indicated that there was no relationship between area of impervious surface and stormwater runoff; impervious surface area was the basis for the amount of the charge.

Cassville Aldermen take on Cassville Board of Adjustment to challenge carport variance


It might seem odd to you that the Cassville board of aldermen would appeal a decision of the Cassville board of adjustment, since the board of aldermen appoints the members of the board of adjustment, and both boards are a part of the same city government. It seems odd to me that the point was not raised by the respondent on appeal.

Under Missouri statutes, boards of adjustments have some independence, and the appeal of the board of adjustment’s decision to grant a variance is the novel method that the Cassville board of aldermen chose to maintain the uniform application of their zoning regulations.

In Board of Aldermen of Cassville v. Board of Adjustment and Gerald Shaffer, nobody raised the question of whether the Board of Aldermen had the right to attempt to control the board of adjustment by appeal to circuit court. The Southern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the board of adjustment, with the effect of requiring Shaffer to remove the portion of his carport that extend over the setback line.

What are these boards?

A board of aldermen, under Missouri’s statutes for fourth-class cities, is the governing body of the city. It is the city’s legislative body, by adopting ordinances, and also the city’s executive branch, by giving orders to the mayor and city administrator. The mayor doesn’t even vote, except to break a tie.

The board of adjustment is authorized by Missouri’s planning and zoning statutes for cities, (Missouri counties have separate planning and zoning statutes) specifically sections 89. 080 through 89.110. Section 89.090 gives boards of adjustments three kinds of power:

  1. to hear and decide appeals of errors made by the planning and zoning staff,
  2. to hear and decide other appeals, as required by city ordinances, and
  3. to hear and decide applications for variances from the city’s codes relating to construction and alteration of buildings and the use of land.

The board of adjustment has the power to reverse, affirm or modify decisions of the planning and zoning board and its staff.

Under section 89,110, persons aggrieved by the decision of the board of adjustment may appeal the board’s decision to the circuit court of the county. Rather than hear evidence, the circuit court reviews the record of the proceedings of the board of adjustment, as though the circuit court were an appellate court.

Why did the Cassville board of aldermen take this matter so seriously?

Was the Cassville board of aldermen aggrieved by the decision of the board of adjustment to allow  Mr. Shaffer to have a carport that extended closer to his property line than the five feet allowed by Cassville zoning regulations?

In most challenges to the right of a party to appeal a board of adjustment’s decision, Missouri courts have been reluctant to give that right to just anyone who claims to be aggrieved. In other cases, neighbors who did not protest the decision at the board of adjustment hearing have been denied the right to appeal, as has a St. Louis alderwoman.

Regardless of the issue of whether the Cassville board of aldermen had the right to appeal the decision, the aldermen apparently wanted to hold the board of adjustment to compliance with the standards of the Cassville ordinances pertaining to variances.

Variances for structures and uses

Variances from strict application of zoning codes are allowed when the board of adjustment (or another board having such powers) has determined that the criteria for granting variances have been met. Cassville’s ordinances required that all five criteria contained in the ordinance be met, all highly subjective except that the hardship alleged to exist must not have been created by the owner or applicant and that the condition for which the variance is required must be unique to the property.

The Court of Appeals judges agreed with the Cassville aldermen’s contention that nothing about the Shaffer property was unique and that the alleged hardship–which was that visitors might have to walk to his door in the rain–was trivial.

 

Strong Towns: a nice idea


Structures that keep expanding bear the risk of collapsing under their own weight. As towns and cities grow, they have more and more roads and sewer and water lines to maintain. Even though developers are generally required to install streets and sewer and water lines, at least part of the cost maintaining and replacing these facilities falls on local governments, i. e., taxpayers.

Through a mention on the always interesting land-use blog Austin Contrarian, I learned about Strong Towns, an organization whose mission statement makes the claim that our preference for growth by adding infrastructure should be replaced by a focus on getting a higher return on existing infrastructure. The existing approach, Strong Towns argues, causes economic stagnation and decline and a dependence on public subsidies, because it is a “Growth Ponzi Scheme.”

While many of the ideas mentioned on the Strong Towns website, especially the blog, include concepts that are common with New Urbanism, the Strong Towns movement is founded on the forecasts of civil engineers–not the dreams of idealistic planners–who believe that that the mechanism of developers adding infrastructure to facilitate growth is financially unsupportable.

In Missouri, where much growth takes place outside incorporated towns and cities, homeowner associations (HOAs) rather than local governments have the burdens of maintaining and replacing some of the infrastructure for planned communities and subdivisions. At the same time, no funding system is in place to support the public infrastructure (arterial roads, sewer plants, etc.) which serve planned communities that have HOAs. In addition, HOAs have their own problems, especially their dependence on volunteers to handle complex issues.

The hard reality is that residential developments rarely generate enough sales tax or property tax to make the residential development pay its way in the long run. Unless we want to raise property taxes, we need to get more from the infrastructure we’ve got.

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