PALMYRA, Mo. -- The importance of getting a building permit before starting construction became the focus of much discussion at Monday's Marion County Commission meeting.
The issue came to the forefront after Marion County resident Cara Bowman asked commissioners to forgive more than $5,000 in late fees and interest on two real estate tax bills she received for the 2017 and 2016 tax years.
According to information presented by county officials, Bowman and her husband, Vincent, apparently did not obtain a building permit before erecting a home in 2013 on a 137-acre tract of land in southwest Marion County. The Bowmans moved into the dwelling in 2014.
The existence of the home did not come to the attention of Assessor Mark Novak until late last year when Novak examined the Bowman property on aerial photography used in conjunction with the county's geographic information system.
The house showed up on new aerial photographs taken in February 2017 -- the first time the county's aerial photos were updated in 10 years. Then in October 2018, Novak visited the property to reassess it for the 2018 tax year, and the house was included for the first time on the tax bill due Dec. 31.
Then earlier this month, Novak sent the couple two recalculated tax bills for the 2017 and 2016 tax years that not only included assessments for the new home but also late fees and interest totaling $5,282.99 for those two years.
Cara Bowman told commissioners that she immediately paid the 2018 tax bill before the Dec. 31 due date. However, she hasn't yet paid the 2017 and 2016 bills because she questions whether her family should have to pay late fees and interest for bills they haven't received until now.
"If we were sent a bill, we would have paid it," she said.
Eastern District Commissioner Larry Welch said the county never sent them a bill until now because "there was not a building permit purchased when you first built your house. That means we had no record that the house was there."
He said the county shouldn't give them a break on the fees and penalties they were assessed. "We couldn't let anybody else get by with it," he said.
Welch's motion to require the Bowmans to pay the bills in full was approved unanimously.
Western District Commissioner Steve Begley said the Bowmans were actually "getting a good deal" because the county could have sent them a recalculated tax bill, with fees and penalties, for 2015 as well, but opted not to.
Novak said the county's GIS system with updated aerial photography "is really a helpful tool" for assessing properties because the assessor's office can visually see what changes have occurred on a given parcel over the years.
Teya Stice, the county's land-use and capital-improvements coordinator, said the county occasionally sends out mailings and publishes reminders in a local newspaper that building permits are required for all construction projects.
"We have had several people come in to get a building permit" after such notices go out, she said. "I think we're on the right path of getting as many people as possible to get their permits."
In other action, the commission took action to reduce the load limit from 13 tons to 5 tons on a bridge crossing South River along Marion County Road 402 east of Palmyra. The change, which goes into effect Thursday, was recommended several weeks ago by a MoDOT inspector who found some worrisome structural problems with the 89-year-old bridge.
County Clerk Valerie Dornberger presented a report from the Missouri Association of Counties showing that the state still owes Marion County $248,816 in reimbursements for housing state prisoners in the county jail while the prisoners' court cases are processed. Statewide, she said, $36.5 million is owed to all Missouri counties that house state prisoners in county jails.