VIENNA — Maries County and its two municipalities are among the other counties and cities in the state and nation that will receive another round of Covid-19 relief funds after President Joe …
VIENNA — Maries County and its two municipalities are among the other counties and cities in the state and nation that will receive another round of Covid-19 relief funds after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law last month.
According to information provided by the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC), the new law provided $130.2 billion to be divided among counties and cities in the United States. Missouri counties and the City of St. Louis are anticipated to receive about $1.65 billion. The US Treasury will send the payments to counties in a direct allocation. For cities with a population less than 50,000, the payments will come from the state.
At last week’s Maries County Commission meeting, Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman said he expects the first of two payments to arrive on May 10, 2021. Maries County’s total from the American Rescue Plan is estimated at $1,686,730. The funds will be received in two installments, half ($843,365.00) on May 10, 2021, and the remaining 50 percent ($843,365.00) to be received no earlier than 12 months from the first payment. The money needs to be spent by Dec. 31, 2024. What the money can be used for still is exactly not known.
Of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act allocations, the City of Belle is anticipated to receive a total of $272,413, and the City of Vienna is stated to receive $109,407. The county’s and the cities’ payments are based on population from 2019 Census data.
Stratman said what he continues to hear is “the guidelines will be forthcoming.” The only things they are certain of at this point is the money is coming, MRPC will help administrate the funds as it did for Maries County and other counties in the region with the CARES Act funds, and an audit will be required because the amount is more than $750,000. Stratman said MRPC’s cost to handle the money requests and other necessary paperwork is 1.2 percent, which is about $20,000. The audit will cost 1.3 percent, about $21,000. With the CARES Act money audit, Stratman said he received four to five emails about it each week, and MRPC’s Kelly Sink handled it all. This was good because most of the questions he could not answer, such as the auditors looking at invoices. The commissioner said he was “extremely pleased” with MRPC’s expertise.
Currently, the information the county commission has about how to spend the American Cares Act money leaves a lot of questions unanswered. MAC provided some guidance. The money is to help respond to or mitigate the public health emergency or negative economic impacts caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus global pandemic. This includes assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries, such as tourism, travel, and hospitality. These are examples and there may be other local activities impacted that will qualify.
The funds can be used to provide government services where revenue was reduced due to the health emergency.
The funds can be used to make necessary investment in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. The commissioners discussed this as broadband is a big topic in this rural area. Some places in Maries County don’t have access to quality internet service, but upgrading it is not within the expertise of the county commissioners. Stratman said already there has been money invested in bringing fiber optic to some places in the county. Western District Commissioner said maybe towers could be placed at strategic sites, but the commissioners don’t know the specifics. More guidance is needed.
Stratman questioned how the county could improve water and sewer services because the county has nothing to do with this. Belle and Vienna operate their own water and sewer services as does the county water district.
Other quasi guidelines provided by MAC were transferring funds to a private nonprofit or public benefit corporation involved in transportation of passengers or cargo or a special-purpose unit of state or local government.
And finally, responding to workers performing essential work during the Covid-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the county performing this work. Or by providing grants to eligible employers that have essential workers. A premium can be paid to them, with an additional up to $13 per hour that is paid to an employee during the pandemic. The law caps the payment to an individual worker at $25,000.
Funds spent from the American Rescue Plan Act that are not in compliance with the federal law and its guidelines will need to be repaid to the federal treasury.
The estimated allocations of Missouri counties within the area and region include: Boone $34,999,688, Cole $14,884,220, Crawford $4,639,137, Dent $3,020,287, Gasconade $2,852,138, Maries $1,686,730, Osage $2,640,545, Phelps $8,644,659, Pulaski $10,999,367, and Texas $4,925,786.
Fagre noted the large amount of cash going to St. Louis City, which is $517 million.
The school districts in Maries County will be receiving Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER). The districts already have received one round of ESSER and two other payments are expected. This is a lot of money coming into Maries County. Stratman commented that such an influx of cash will have a positive ripple effect on the local economy.
Sales Tax numbers
Treasurer Rhonda Slone reported on April sales tax revenue and said the numbers look good. One of the three county’s half-cent sales taxes generated revenue of $25,819.92 during April. This compares to the $29,459.65 generated in April 2020, near the beginning of the state’s shut down due to Covid-19. The 2021 sales tax numbers continue to be strong as for the first four months of the year a total of $104,751.96 has been received from one sales tax. This is a nine percent increase for the same period of time in 2020.
Although it has been higher due to a big increase in online shopping, the use tax still is up seven percent over the same period of time last year. Thus far in 2021 the use tax has generated revenue of $52,104.80. This compares to the same period of time in 2020 when the total for the first four months of the year was $48,707.71.
For the same period of time, motor fuel tax was down seven percent with a total of $99,420.06 compared to 2020 when it was $106,686.46. This has been a continuing trend as people were staying close to home and driving less due to the pandemic. Also, Fagre pointed out that vehicle fuel efficiency has increased, electric vehicles are emerging, and this has reduced gasoline tax revenue because gasoline is taxes by per gallon sold.
Motor V tax revenue is up 23 percent at $33,744.98. Motor V tax revenue is from sales tax on vehicle purchases, less the trade-in allowances, and other fees, too.
The motor V fee is from fees paid for transactions in the Vienna License Office. Slone said the state doubled the fees and this has generated more revenue. During the first four months of 2021 the motor V fee generated $17,215.08, which actually was down 16 percent from 2020. There is no ready explanation for this other than not being able to predict consumer spending.
Buildings and Grounds
Stratman said ants and spiders have been seen in the courthouse. The custodian sprayed but it didn’t do any good. Steve’s Pest Control was contacted. They will come and spray and may offer the county a maintenance deal. Stratman wasn’t sure what the cost will be.
The locks were changed on three exterior courthouse doors and all unlock with a master lock. Most of the county officials have a copy of the master key. However, the officers of the Historical Society of Maries County did not receive a key, which is needed to access the Research Room in the basement of the courthouse. Stratman said they need at least three keys. He would like to have a list maintained of all of the individuals who have keys to the courthouse doors.