County Commission asking voters in April 2022 to approve cell phone surcharge for 911

Stratman talks about meeting with solar farm reps

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 9/9/21

VIENNA — The Maries County Commission has decided it will once again run the monthly surcharge on cell phones to support the county’s 911 operations. They plan to put the 911 surcharge …

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County Commission asking voters in April 2022 to approve cell phone surcharge for 911

Stratman talks about meeting with solar farm reps

Posted

VIENNA — The Maries County Commission has decided it will once again run the monthly surcharge on cell phones to support the county’s 911 operations. They plan to put the 911 surcharge question on the April 2022 Municipal Election ballot.

Presiding Commissioner Victor Schwartze said the county needs the money to support the 911 Dispatch Center’s payroll. The 911 Center is supported by the surcharge on land lines, which continues to be less and less revenue as consumers drop their landlines and rely exclusively on cell phones. The amount the commissioners propose is $1 per month per cell phone. It’s not a surcharge on computers or tablets, it’s just cell phones. Maries County residents who do not have a landline contribute nothing to the 911 services in Maries County, which is there to serve them regardless. 

“Come on,” Stratman said at the Aug. 30 meeting. “If you call 911 you want an answer on the first or second ring and it can’t happen if only one person is there.” He said one person staffing the 911 Dispatch Center has to leave the station for bathroom breaks and to deal with jail duties. They need two people there all of the time, he thinks.

He said if the $1 per month per cell phone surcharge is approved by voters, the money can be used to get two people in the 911 Dispatch Center 24/7. With Maries County’s population of 8,432 people, he asked his fellow commissioners if they think there are about 7,000 cell phones in the county. They thought so as even young children nowadays have cell phones. At $1 per month for 7,000 cell phones that is $7,000 a month, which would be $84,000 a year to help pay for staffing of the 911 Center, which operates every day 24/7. Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said a salary with benefits for one person costs about $40,000 annually. 

Stratman said if voters will approve the 911 cell phone surcharge, the county’s 911 center will be fully staffed, which will benefit everyone in the county. 

In April 2019 voters rejected the $1 cell phone surcharge for 911 by 30 votes. Only 702 citizens or 11.57 percent of the voters bothered to vote in that election. At the time the commissioners and Sheriff Chris Heitman said they should have worked harder to get their message out, because it is an important one. Thus, they will be trying again in April 2022.

Ballpark number

Stratman said MRPC’s Kelly Sink contacted him about questions he presented to her about spending the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money. She said the SEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant they proposed to apply for to pay for the 911 equipment upgrades will not work because that grant is for mitigation and the 911 updates are an expenditure for going forward. However, Sink thinks the SEMA grant will work for the courthouse generator the commissioners have been talking about purchasing. Stratman said they need a ball park number of the potential cost of the new generator and installation of all that it will require to power the entire courthouse during an electrical outage. The 911 Dispatch Center is primary in this effort. 

Both Fagre and Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel also are in favor of the generator purchase. They suggested talking to JC Harker of Schneider Electric to get a ballpark number. The project will need to be bid. Stratman said the courthouse is an essential building, which should qualify it for this mitigation grant. 

Sink also said she thinks the county’s ARPA money can be used to pay for the 911 Dispatch Center equipment upgrades, which will cost about $200,000.

2,800 Acres

Stratman gave a report on a recent meeting he had with MRPC Executive Director Bonnie Prigge and a representative of Invenergy, a company working to build and operate a solar farm in Maries County. Invenergy’s Mauve McCloskey, a Development Analyst, and a representative of Allegiant Land Services Consulting’s Jonathan Davis, a Leasing Specialist, met with them to discuss the issue. Invenergy is based in Chicago.

Stratman reported they have verbal agreement for 2,100 acres of land. They want a total of 2,800 acres of good, flat ground on the county’s prairie on the east side between Vichy and Belle. Stratman said he was told they are talking to owners of another 300 to 500 acres of land and want 400 more acres on top of that. They would like the land parcels to be continuous and easements will be needed. They want the solar farm to be in operation by 2024 but probably will not be at full capacity. The land area they are looking at would tie-in to Ameren power lines. 

The solar farm will have a fence around the perimeter and sheep and goats could be grazed within the solar farm. Concrete will not be used as they will drive pilings into the ground to hold the solar panels. The company will need permits to cross over and under county roads and also the entire acreage will be surveyed. The company is receptive to local contractors. While building it, hundreds of workers will be needed as well as trailer hook-ups, motels rooms and other services people need. Once the solar farm is open, there will be maintenance and monitoring jobs, too.

It’s a 30-year contract and during those years is when the company begins to pay the landowners at a rate of $800 an acre per year with a two percent for inflation additional fee. Stratman said $800 an acre is more than a person can get from farming and there won’t be any input needed. At the end of the 30-year period, the solar farm will be removed unless a contract is entered into again. There are provisions for the land to be put back to the way it was. 

Stratman said this company is doing these projects all over the world including one in Phelps County near the Love’s Truck Stop. 

In the solar farm, six to eight acres of solar panels produce one megawatt of electricity. Fagre googled it and said one megawatt of electricity can power 400 to 900 homes for a year. The electricity will be stored in battery-type containers. Drewel said he’s heard there is money left over for clean infrastructure development approved during the Obama administration. 

A better price

Vienna Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Smith was at Thursday’s commission meeting. He told the commissioners he was checking back with them about using some of the county’s ARPA money to pay for two mobile radios and 10 portable radios for Vienna Fire. 

They’ve been having some communication issues as the repeater system south of town keeps going in and out. There are firemen they are trying to reach that they aren’t always getting to them. 

Stratman said, “We do want you to be able to communicate” and will talk to the fire department as well as the ambulance district about this. Smith said his thinking is that if they order the radios together in the same package, they may get a better price. Fagre said they are not “cleared yet” with “no good direction” about how the ARPA money can be spent. 

Smith said he thought the ARPA money was for infrastructure and “communication is a big part of it,” he said.

Drewel said they thought roads and bridges were a part of infrastructure, too, but with this money they aren’t. Fagre said they just don’t know for sure yet. Drewel said, “They dumped a whole bunch of money out there with no rules.”

Smith explained how the fire department partnered with Maries-Osage Ambulance District in Freeburg with a repeater there to the north and Vienna Fire bought the one on the tower south of Vienna. He said they have trouble reaching all of the firemen with paging. He said they hope to work with Maries County on this and the prices may be better if they can buy the radio equipment as a group. Fagre said they have to wait and see what they can do. 

Anthem refund

County Clerk’s Deputy Renee Kottwitz said the county received a check from employee health insurer Anthem, a rebate of $9,149.29, which is to go back to employees. It was questioned if the county should receive at least a portion of the refund because the county pays for 80 percent of the health insurance premiums for the employees who take advantage of this benefit. Kottwitz said it says the money can be used to lower premium rates in the next plan year, or it can be distributed among the employees on the plan. There are about 20 county employees who are on it. Fagre suggested they do it the same way they’ve always done it. Kottwitz said she has to do some figuring with it because some of the employees on the list no longer work for the county. It will be added to their payroll check.

Allowed leave

There has been some discussion at the commission meetings about updating the personnel policy and more work is needed going forward.

Kottwitz said there is a new Department of Labor rule and a notice that must be sent to each county employee by Oct. 27. The notice states employees who are the victim of domestic or sexual violence are allowed leave time. 

This and that

The commissioners looked over a list of equipment and vehicles covered by MOPERM. County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers said when making a claim the county would be paid the actual cash value. The commissioners made some changes that included some items being taken off the insurance as with a $1,000 deductible they aren’t worth that and no use to pay a premium on it. 

They talked about a Covid-19 leave policy. Stratman said he will speak to Prosecutor Tony Skouby about it. 

Fagre said he had a road grader at the Maries County Fair Association fairgrounds briefly to smooth the tractor pulling area. They spoke of wanting to help the fair and hope they have a good fair, which was set for the upcoming weekend.

Stratman signed for payment of $3,538.20 to MRPC for Maries County’s annual membership fee. The price is based on the county’s population.

Maries County sets tax rates for GR, road districts

Maries County held its annual Tax Rate Hearing, a public hearing, on Monday, Aug. 30. 

Maries County’s tax levy was set at $0.3608. Last year it was $0.3719. The rate was rolled back to account for the increase in assessed valuation to reflect the same amount of revenue collected as the previous year. The county is able to have the tax increase resulting from new construction.

The new tax levy rate for Road One is $0.2726. Last year it was $0.2746. 

The new tax levy rate for Road Two is $0.2422, which is the same rate as last year.

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