Maries County poised to receive federal coronavirus relief money

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 3/17/21

MARIES COUNTY — The same day President Joe Biden was to sign the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package last Thursday, the Maries County Commission briefly discussed the over $1 million the …

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Maries County poised to receive federal coronavirus relief money

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MARIES COUNTY — The same day President Joe Biden was to sign the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package last Thursday, the Maries County Commission briefly discussed the over $1 million the county anticipates receiving as part of the federal relief package. It is called the American Rescue Plan.

Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman had been in contact with a representative of MRPC about the money and what the county can use the money for. It’s a lot of money, too, as Stratman said he was told the State of Missouri will receive $1,200,943,444 and Maries County will receive $1,686,730 from the Covid relief package. They are awaiting further guidance. He was told its for revenue replacement suffered because of Covid, “But our revenues didn’t take a hit.” The commissioners are looking again to ask MRPC to administrate this money. Fagre later said it all won’t come at once, but over a period of two years.

Fagre said, “Its to keep people working.” They aren’t sure but have heard the money can be used for infrastructure, broadband, and to mitigate the pain caused by a year of economic restrictions. Cities and schools are said to receive money, too. 

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre wondered if some of this money could be used to help the road districts pay to upgrade their road graders. The commissioners don’t have guidance on this yet. 

He has a balloon payment approaching on his three 2016 Fabick CAT 12M3 AWD graders. About $400,000 is still owed on Road One’s three graders. Eastern District Commissioner said Road Two owes a little over $200,000 on two Fabick CAT 120M AWD road graders.

A problem they have encountered with this group of road graders is that there is no longer a buy-back price, which is a guaranteed price received on the used graders when they purchase new ones to replace them. Now, there is a trade-in price, which is not adequate to help get them paid for. 

Fagre said his graders have over 6,000 hours on them. He hopes the infrastructure money can be used. If the federal government makes considerable investments for infrastructure, the used graders currently sitting in parking lots may start selling. The commissioners would like to see a minimum trade-in price on their machines of at least $100,000 but would like that number to be higher. The commissioners prefer to keep the road graders under warranty because repairs are so expensive. Fagre said one of his graders has a new motor and all three of them had emission upgrades, which cost $5,000 each. Fagre is considering stepping down to the same road graders Drewel has for Road Two. They have less power, but aren’t as expensive. “We can get by with it,” he said. His grader operators said they will use whatever the road district provides. 

Stratman asked why they buy all of the graders at the same time. They said they have always done it this way and got a good buy-back price because of it. 

“Things have changed in the last year,” Drewel said. “They’ve got to be worth $100,000.” Fagre said this is the first time he’s been through this and needs to move on it because it seems like there is something wrong every other day. Drewel said, “Whatever those graders are worth is the key.”

It was noted it is expensive to own and operate road graders. They were rated at $15 an hour to operate and then it went up to $25 an hour to own and run the machines. This does not include the cost of wages and employment benefits of the grader operator. 

At the county commission meeting last Thursday, The Maries County Bank’s Mark Hayes was at the meeting to discuss options for financing the graders. Hayes said they have two options to keep the graders they have. The first is to redo the current lease-purchase agreement for another three to five years. The second is to convert the lease-purchase loan to a tax anticipation loan for one year. Then pay it off and redo it or trade and go for a lease-purchase. Drewel said this is the same as they have now, just re-up it for three to five years. Hayes said yes. The balloon payment is due at the end of the month. He said they could use a tax anticipation loan to pay it off but this type of loan is for one year only.

Stratman asked if they wanted to look into buying from Purple Wave. Fagre Googled it and it costs the sellers four percent and the buyers 10 percent. Drewel said they won’t give them anything because they have no where to go with the used graders. He said with the hours they have on the county’s road graders, they have to trade in a year. 

Stratman mentioned he’d seen some pretty big Fabick bills recently. Fagre said if Fabick sends a man and he’s at the road shed for two hours, its $500. Stratman said it makes it harder now they come from Columbia as before they had a location in Jefferson City. Fagre said the company won’t share the software with the mechanics. The company has patents on the size of the fittings and they can’t be made. Also, they can’t buy new parts from anyone else in this area. Drewel said if they buy new graders it may take awhile to get them. 

Hayes said whatever they decide to do, make that last payment. They are curious about the price the salesman will present to them. Drewel wondered where that price will be in two years. Fagre said he hopes infrastructure money, work, and jobs are coming and they may see benefits from it. They have to decide what they will do by next week.

Masks at courthouse

Stratman said the courthouse has a mask mandate in force, but as “things are a lot better,” it may be time to take down the mask requirement signs. The mask stations will be left in place for people who feel more comfortable wearing a mask to use. All those present at the meeting agreed it was time to end the mask requirement at the courthouse.

The water fountains will remain covered.

Voting bills

County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers, the county’s election authority, said she both agrees and disagrees with some of the election bills being considered in the Missouri House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials. 

Two of the house bills require hand-marked paper ballots. Rodgers said most counties do this already, including Maries County and there won’t be much impact locally.

She also agreed the presidential preference primaries cost too much money, get too little voters participation, and really don’t matter much. A house bill proposes to eliminate this election as the last one cost the state $9 million and voter turnout was under 20 percent. The Johnson County Clerk figured the presidential preference primary in that county cost $31.47 per voter. Rodgers said a price should not be put on a vote, but if millions are spent, a decent voter turnout is needed and the election should mean something. 

One bill’s attempt to lessen the amount of time to return absentee ballots from six to three weeks is not one Rodgers agrees with. She says it is less time to do it right and the date to mail absentee ballots already has been moved. It used to be the county clerk’s office could send out absentee ballots up to the Wednesday before the election, then the legislature made it two weeks before. The last day to mail an absentee ballot for the April 6 election is March 23. She said the mail is slow these days and three weeks is too short an amount of time. Rodgers said it will hurt voters. Larger counties need more time, she said, and in November 2020, “They were slammed.”

Election precincts 

Rodgers said on April 6 the Safe and Hodgeville Precincts will be closed because they have nothing to vote on in the Municipal Election. 

At the Mason Ridge Precinct, the only issue to vote on is for those voters in the St. Elizabeth School District, and those 14 voters, if they come out to vote, will be directed by a sign to travel to the Brinktown Precinct to vote. 

Absentee voting

Voters who want an absentee ballot mailed to them have until March 23, the last day the ballots can be mailed out. However, voters can cast an absentee ballot in the county clerk’s office up to April 5, the day before the election.

The commissioners were signing invoices for payment and noted $6,400 was spent on ballots for the election.

Jail blood draws

Stratman said crews with the Maries-Osage Ambulance District do not want to do the blood draws for the Maries County Jail and have refused to do them. They cited the liability issues, being called to testify, and lawyers questioning their credentials. This has been going on for about a year and a half and Stratman said the ambulance district “would not budge” on it. He said there was an issue the previous week and Sheriff Chris Heitman called and spoke with Administrator Brian Opoka and Opoka relented. He said they will do the blood draws and the sheriff’s office will pay for the supplies. If there is an emergency, MOAD staff will take care of the emergency first and will do the blood draw when they have time. Stratman said some of these blood draws are time sensitive if it is for an impaired person. They have to work together on this. 

Buildings and grounds

Stratman reported Custodian Dave Juergens will do the painting in the license office in the courthouse. It will have to be done after-hours. They discussed how to do the baseboard and thought the plastic baseboard was the best way to go. 

The commissioners will advertise for the courthouse lawn care for this year.

Juergens said he will power wash the front steps area and will do the painting, too. He already has the paint.

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