General revenue fund to pay county, MCSO liability insurance

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 1/6/21

MARIES COUNTY — The Maries County Commissioners, after a 2-1 split vote, decided the county’s general revenue fund will pick up the entire cost of the county’s liability …

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General revenue fund to pay county, MCSO liability insurance

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MARIES COUNTY — The Maries County Commissioners, after a 2-1 split vote, decided the county’s general revenue fund will pick up the entire cost of the county’s liability insurance. 

At their last meeting of the year, County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers said the county’s liability insurance through MOPERM usually is divided out on the billing statement. This time the 2021 liability insurance that covers all county property, vehicles and equipment and other areas such as cyber information breach, was all grouped together. This included the Maries County Sheriff’s office law enforcement liability, which in the past was paid by a sheriff’s budget. The total insurance renewal for 2021 is $99,631. The sheriff’s law enforcement liability insurance is about $32,000. 

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel suggested all of the insurance premium be paid from general revenue. It was noted if there is a lawsuit, it would be against Maries County and not the sheriff’s department. 

It also was noted that about three years ago, the commissioners approved giving the sheriff’s budget more money from general revenue. According to state statute, once money is given to the sheriff’s budgets, that same amount must be given in the following years. The commissioners can give the sheriff’s budgets more money, but they can’t reduce the amount. So, if they pick up the law enforcement liability insurance, the general revenue fund will have to pay for it from now on. 

Drewel said the commissioners gave the sheriff more money because it was needed to pay his bills. 

Rodgers said the sheriff’s office is the only courthouse office that pays its own liability insurance. Treasurer Rhonda Slone said if the county is sued, it will be the general revenue fund that would pay as the county is liable. 

Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman didn’t see a problem with keeping the system the same. He said this instance with the liability insurance is not any different from using the sheriff’s budget to pay for gasoline the patrol cars use. It’s the different billing that brought up the issue. Stratman said he thinks they should leave it the way they’ve done it in the past. 

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said all of the other offices liability insurance is paid by the county and they are treating the sheriff’s office different than the road districts or the assessor’s office, which all have vehicles. Stratman said there is a lot of liability associated with sheriff’s patrol vehicles, and the road districts should be paying with their budgets. 

Drewel said its $30,000 they’re talking about that could be used “for other stuff.”  He added that the insurance company doesn’t care who pays the insurance bill. Stratman said insurance is the cost of doing business. Drewel said he thinks the county’s general revenue fund should pay the whole insurance bill. Fagre agreed. Stratman said the vote was two to one as he voted no, but will accept the vote of the county commission. 

Rodgers checked and said the MOPERM total premium for 2021 is $2,000 more than the previous year. 

Not that much

The commissioners received a letter from the Director of the Missouri Department of Conservation about the annual payments in-lieu-taxes (PILT) to counties for public land held by the Conservation Commission and/or for private land classified as forest cropland. This is land the Conservation Commission owns in Maries County that is not taxed, such as Bell Chute, Clifty Arch, Spring Creek Gap and other conservation areas. 

The letter said the conservation department each year processes these payments to counties in December. But, during the 2020 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly removed language from HB 2019, which had stated the Conservation Commission could use commission funds for financial assistance to other public agencies or in partnership with other public agencies.

Because of this, the Conservation Commission is seeking a declaratory judgement in the Circuit Court of Cole County, which they hoped would be a hearing held in December to not slow down the payments to counties. Instead, the hearing date is in February 2021 to the checks usually received in December will arrive later in 2021. 

Commissioner Stratman asked how much the road districts get from these PILT payments, saying, “Probably not that much.” The commissioners were informed last year Road One received $36 and Road Two received $71. 

Belle Fire payment

Stratman contacted Dwight Francis of the Belle Fire Protection District about needing better documentation on a CARES Act request. The fire district was approved for $23,935.74 for sanitization gear, a dryer to dry the gear after sanitization, and respiratory protection. The gear and equipment was paid for with a credit card and the documentation submitted contained other purchases not covered by the CARES Act money. Stratman told Francis the county needs a better statement, saying, “It’s what we have to have” because the auditors require accounts to balance and on the paperwork submitted, they don’t. Stratman said he is “sorry to be this way” but the county will be written up on the audit. Clerk’s Deputy Renee Kottwitz said she can’t make the payment until she has proper documentation.

Scrap it

Attorney Albert Crump spoke with the commissioners briefly about the property across from the Dollar General in Vichy, along Highway 63. He asked if he needed a permit to burn junk and trash on the property. 

The commissioners said they have no authority over this, but Fagre said he probably should talk to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because if he sets a fire there, somebody will contact DNR about it. 

Drewel suggested he get someone to the property to haul out the scrap as “the scrap prices are up,” and he won’t want to throw steel into a dumpster. Crump said he is using a scrap person but there will remain trash and junk to be burned.

Everyone at the meeting was happy the property is going to be cleaned up.

Quarantine pay 

Slone said they probably should have tried to use CARES Act money when sheriff’s deputies were not working because they were in quarantine for the coronavirus. Rodgers said they were paid out of general revenue, but they could turn in this expense to MRPC for reimbursement from the CARES Act money.

Sheriff’s Deputy Major Scott John had some similar questions for the county commission. They’ve had first responders who contracted Covid-19 while on the job, and he’s heard about using workers comp insurance but is not sure whose coverage to use.

The sheriff’s office has to keep a level of staff at all times. When deputies were not working because of being in quarantine, someone still had to be there at work, so the payroll costs were doubled during that time. 

Stratman said the governor in April issued a directive that these additional payroll expenses could be covered by workers comp insurance. The county can apply and it should be reimbursed for the additional payroll expenses. It needs to be well documented though and Major John said it is all documented. 

Travel time 

Stratman said to him, if an employee paid by the hour is required to attend training for the job, the employee should be paid for it and it should include travel time as well. Salaried employees continue to receive their salary no matter what they are doing and he thinks this should be extended to employees who are paid an hourly wage. Drewel said he’s in favor of paying them. 

Clerk’s Deputy Kottwitz said when she goes to training, she is paid for seven hours a day. Stratman said if they had training in Kansas City and she had to go to the city a day earlier to be ready for the training or meeting, does she get paid for the hours it took to get there even though she was not officially working or the evenings spent on a trip for work? He said it probably does not happen very often. 

Fagre said he’s in favor of paying for travel time and for time spent working before or after hours, even on weekends. Slone said this would be difficult to monitor. 

They decided to think about it more before voting on it.

Not their fault

Stratman said the postage meter is supposed to alert when it is nearly out of ink, and this time it did not. He said it was nobody’s fault when the meter ran out of ink. The problem is the ink cartridge can’t be bought at Staples as it is very specific.

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