An active winter and a wet spring are leading to a flooding season that likely will stretch beyond summer and may end up being comparable — if not worse — than the flooding of 1993.
“It’s been a very wet year,” said Chris Gitro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. “But it’s definitely not uncommon, I don’t think, across this part of the country.”
What has been more uncommon, Gitro said, is the constant nature of heavy precipitation events along the Missouri River Basin.
“We’ve been in just a very active weather pattern across the area,” said Gitro, who compared this flooding season to that of the Flood of 1993.
Rainfall statistics are one thing, but the ongoing impact is something that some feel is worse than ‘93.
“We had severe flooding in 1993 and again in 2011, but to me this seems to be the worst,” said Chris Redline, Missouri Department of Transportation district engineer, who has been with the department since 1993.
“The sheer cost to repair is going to be massive,” Redline said. “Before this last round of flooding, we were looking at $16 to $20 million in repairs.”
Redline said there was additional damage during the recent crests. “So that number is going to go north of there,” he said.
The financial figures are one concern, but Redline said the economic and human impacts are even more significant.
“People haven’t been able to get into their houses, businesses have been impacted and people can’t get to their jobs without taking massive detours or renting another residence on the other side of the river,” he said. “It’s been devastating.”
“We’re ready to go once the water drops,” said Redline.
But as soon as the water gets low enough, crews from MoDOT still have to inspect the highway, and in some cases completely replace the pavement itself.
“(Water) just keeps eating away at it,” said Redline. “The more water that goes through there, the more amount of time it keeps taking material with it, and eventually it will take the road, which it has done in several places.”
After lower-than-expected sign-up numbers for the voluntary portion of a rental inspection program, the City of St. Joseph will be sending out thousands of reminders to property owners.
In March, the City Council approved the creation of a rental certificate program that will require that landlords have their units inspected once every five years beginning in July of 2020. Inspections must be done either by the city, by a third-party inspector or through a self-inspection that requires the property owner to get certified.
The program enacted a voluntary period until July of next year, which comes with a free inspection from the city. However, that requires landlords get a $1.50 business license for each unit immediately.
So far, only three property owners have taken advantage of the free inspections, and 99 have gotten a business license. This has prompted the city to start a campaign to raise awareness about the program.
“What the city has determined in the weeks since that ordinance has passed is that the participation by landlords to allow the city to voluntarily inspect their units at no charge or to apply for a business license for their particular rental unit has not been as excessive in number as what we originally had hoped for,” Director of Planning and Community Development Clint Thompson said.
Around 6,200 letters reminding rental property owners that they must get a business license and will eventually have to have inspections will be sent out in the first week of July. The letters come with an information sheet that details the requirements and reminds landlords that free voluntary inspections currently are available.
“Part of that incentive was the city would go out and inspect each rental unit free of charge to understand if there’s any violations and, if so, allow the property owner time to rectify those violations, but really allow the property owner to save on the cost of an inspection,” Thompson said.
After July 1, 2020, city inspections will cost $50. The inspections are done when a unit is vacant so as not to disturb tenants currently occupying the unit.
A business license to operate a rental unit can be applied for by contacting the city’s permit office at 816-271-4757. A one-time $5 permit fee also will be required.
Information on rental inspections can be found on the city’s website, stjoemo.info, or by calling the community development department at 816-271-4646.
St. Joseph and Buchanan County have approximately 118 vehicles which are taken home by the employees at the end of the day.
Many of those are assigned to city employees who work in public safety.
“There’s about 730 (city) employees, and of those there’s about 80 that have take-home vehicles,” City Manager Bruce Woody said, “but 50 of those are just in the police and fire departments.”
The employees assigned cars within other city departments are typically senior staff and can be on call throughout the night. Those vehicles are paid for with different means.
For instance, sewer fees fund the wastewater utility’s three take-home vehicles, and the parks tax is responsible for the park department’s five vehicles.
“If we’re talking about the police department or fire department, that’s traditionally paid for through property tax and sales tax,” Woody said. “If you’re talking about street maintenance, that’s already paid for by the gas tax ... health department’s paid for by a combination of general fund taxes plus grants we receive from federal and state government.”
Neither Woody nor any members of the St. Joseph City Council are assigned take-home vehicles.
St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally gave four reasons why officers need take-home vehicles. It allows some, like school-resource officers, the ability to go straight to work, and it cuts down on response times, such as tactical response units that go to emergency situations. It also frees up Downtown parking spaces, and it can help with longevity.
“Our marked cars that are assigned are usually older cars, and it extends the life on those cars,” Connally said. “Instead of having it driven multiple shifts or by multiple people, you have one driver who’s taking care of it.”
Law enforcement, sheriff’s deputies and police officers have a combined 86 take-home vehicles and some are unmarked. Sheriff Bill Puett is an elected official with one of those vehicles.
“You can’t park a car in an area and watch for drug sales in a marked car,” Puett said. “We don’t always issue some (deputies) a car.”
He went on to say Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers are issued cars on their vast watch territory of area highways.
Buchanan County Auditor Tara Horn explained the money which pays for county vehicles comes from its Capital Improvement Fund.
“Any new car purchases would be actually to the road patrol because they get high mileage and it’s expensive to service,” Horn said. “So then those get passed along or sold at auction.”