Commission continues work on 2021 budget; will discuss Highway 63 project funding

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 1/13/21

VIENNA — As they work to make Maries County’s 2021 budget, at some point the Maries County Commissioners will decide whether or not to give $1,000 to help the efforts of the Highway 63 …

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Commission continues work on 2021 budget; will discuss Highway 63 project funding

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VIENNA — As they work to make Maries County’s 2021 budget, at some point the Maries County Commissioners will decide whether or not to give $1,000 to help the efforts of the Highway 63 Alliance. The alliance is a group of people working to bring about a four-lane Highway 63 through a seven-county area, which includes Maries County. The Highway 63 Alliance is promoting a four-lane Highway 63 corridor through southern Missouri and it is exploring ways to fund the improvements. The counties include Cole, Osage, Maries, Phelps, Texas, Howell and Oregon. 

Highway 63 is a primary north-south corridor through the state, strategic to the economy of the region as it is the highway used to move freight and people. The alliance believes the counties along the Highway 63 corridor will not advance economically unless the highway is upgraded to four-lanes.

At last Monday’s meeting, the county commission did not offer a clear decision about whether or not the county will stay within the alliance and give it $1,000. Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman brought up the subject when he asked which county fund they could budget the $1,000 the alliance is asking for. The money is for start-up activities, advertising, and other expenses the Highway 63 Alliance will have as it moves forward. 

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre told Stratman, “I can’t go along with it.” Fagre’s concern is the alliance wants Maries County to ask voters for a one percent sales tax to help fund the Highway 63 expansion into four lanes. This will require the realignment of the highway in several areas. Fagre said the City of Vienna is discussing asking Vienna voters for a one percent (one cent) sales tax for public safety, which if approved by voters will provide additional money for the Vienna Police Department. If both the Vienna and Maries County sales tax are approved, it would increase the local sales tax to about 10 cents, which he thinks is too much. “We don’t need more sales tax,” he said. Fagre said he prefers a gasoline tax because with it the big trucks that are the main culprit in tearing up Highway 63 will help pay for it. With a sales tax the trucking companies would not be paying for it, just the citizens. 

Stratman said the Highway 63 Alliance plans to attempt to get the one percent sales tax passed by voters in seven counties to generate enough money over a period of years for MoDOT and the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to become interested in adding state and federal dollars to help fund the extensive Highway 63 project. With a seven-county Transportation Development District (TDD) it is estimated together the sales tax would bring in $300 million over a period of 10 years. The sales tax revenue would be the alliance’s way of bringing something to the table to make the project happen. This has been done by other counties in Missouri when other highways were improved with the help of multi-county citizen cooperation with state and federal agencies. There is a federal grant, BUILD, that is an 80-20 federal-local match. 

Treasurer Rhonda Slone said she has personal reasons for not wanting Highway 63 to be realigned as 10 years ago when MoDOT was pushing the $250 million project, the realignment put the new Highway 63 just east of her residence. 

Stratman said that realignment was so the new highway could connect to the current highway south of Vienna near MCR 325. “Regardless of how we feel about it, we need to be at the table.” He asked that the $1,000 the alliance is asking Maries County to contribute be part of the budget discussion. He said the people they are talking to are in favor of an improved and expanded Highway 63. With a one-cent sales tax, Cole County would be the biggest contributor, about half of the estimated $28 million per year. Cole County has more retail establishments than any other county in the alliance. Maries County is one of the smallest contributors of sales tax revenue. 

Slone said she thought the three-lane Highway 63 south of Rolla is adequate as the third lane is an alternating passing lane. Stratman said using the current alignment, even if it was a three-lane highway, they will not be able “to straighten out those curves.”

Slone said she thinks from Vienna to Highway 50 is the worst part of the road and carries all kinds of traffic from cars and trucks to semi-trucks and farm implements. Stratman agreed that Highway 63 is the worst in Maries and Osage counties. 

He said Phelps County successfully used a TDD to pay for Highway 63 improvements in Rolla. The funding comes from a special sales tax from the impacted businesses along that section of Highway 63. Stratman restated he thinks Maries County has to be at the table on this issue. The alliance also will be asking cities along the corridor for money. 

Stratman said there is talk at the Missouri Legislature about increasing the state’s gasoline tax two cents a year for five years. Fagre asked if the legislature will support it because in the past it has not. 

Not much discussion

The commissioners didn’t have much to say last Thursday when asked about their reaction to the violent mob of Trump supporters who made their way into the U.S. Capitol the day before in an attempt to overturn the presidential election to keep Joe Biden from replacing Trump as the leader of the country.

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel said it showed him the Democrats and Republicans are the same. He said in the past Democrats have protested the certification of electors in the Electoral College to declare the new president. 

Fagre said he was glad when Vice President Mike Pence, after the lawmakers crouched under furniture, hiding from the insurgents, came out when it was safe and reopened the Senate to continue to do what they began earlier in the day. That was to certify President-elect Joe Biden as the next U.S. President.

All work together

The ice storm in Maries County on New Year’s Eve was not nearly as severe as the one experienced in the area in 2007, but it did bring down some trees and limbs. Fagre said the crew of Road One worked all day on the Jan. 1 holiday getting these off of the roads.

Stratman said there was a big tree down on MCR 211. Some citizens took care of clearing the roads of tree debris themselves and in other places the road crew did it. “We all work together,” he said.

The commissioners mentioned the county brush cutting regiment makes a big difference. Fagre said following the 2007 ice storm, a FEMA man told him the limbs that were broken in the ice storm the road crew would have to deal with “for years to come. He was right,” Fagre said.

Road washout

Maries County resident Lawrence Mertz came to the commission meeting last Monday on a day Commissioner Drewel was not present. Mertz said MCR 426 has hazards as water drains into the road from a watershed. If there is a big rain there is a big stream of water. He said it has been neglected for a long time. He told the commissioners of a guy who came to his house following an accident there. The vehicle hit the culvert that was washed out and the vehicle overturned and landed on the other side of the roadway. He had donated a patch of ground to make the road better but was disappointed about what they did with it. They needed to put a pipe in and build up the road because it erodes and digs holes in the road, eating it away. He said the thing they should have done was not done.

He called the Road Two office and doesn’t know who he talked to but the man said it sounds like the spot needs shot rock. He knows it costs money to do the job right. He thinks the grader operator does a good job. He’s concerned the spot is ready to wash away again. When there is a big rain or flood or the pipe is clogged up, water will be back over the road if they don’t fix the downside of the road, which is located just north of MCR 425. 

He said he would donate $300 toward the project, and knows it won’t pay for the whole deal, but it will help buy shot rock. Mertz asked the rock not be dumped without a plan because he thinks the rock needs to come up to the top of the road or it will eat out again. Mertz said it should be fixed properly so they can get out of the cycle of washing out and fixing again and again. 

Stratman said he would talk to Commissioner Drewel and thanked him for coming. Mertz complimented the road crew. He said he would like to discuss it and said if the rock was not spread outright he wasn’t going to pay for it. 

Drewel was at Thursday’s meeting and said the commissioners can’t go down the road asking everybody to give specifications on what to do with a county road. “If you start that, you won’t be able to stop it,” he said. “We can’t let the guy who gives the money tell us how to do it.”

Commissioners take oath

Commissioners Drewel and Fagre were among the county officials elected in 2020 who took the oath of office Thursday morning. Drewel was sworn into his third term on the county commission. Fagre is the senior commissioner as he began working as a county commissioner in 1992 and served three two-year terms. The law was changed and in 1996, he began his first four-year term and he has been reelected ever since. 

County Commissioners used to be titled judges. Andrew Buschmann was the last county judge. 

Budget work

The county commission, county clerk and treasurer among others will begin the 2021 budget work in earnest on Jan. 11 as they should have all of the budget requests from all county offices by that day. They will be looking at 2020 revenues and expenses as a guideline. Stratman said they plan to keep revenues the same as the previous year as this is what they usually do. 

County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers said she needs to know how much of the employee health insurance the county will be paying. Stratman said he thinks they probably will pay the same as they did before, which is 80 percent of the premium. 

Building and grounds

It was reported the paper towel dispensers in the restrooms are frequently empty and Stratman suggested putting an additional dispenser in each of the six restrooms in the courthouse. They cost $45 each so they can get all six for $150. 

The lock on the front door of the courthouse is loose and it needs to be looked at, Stratman said. He asked Rodgers to send an email to all the county offices asking if they have any lock issues. The main charge of the locksmith is the service call so if there are other needs for this service it would be best to take care of it at the same time.

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