MRPC to help
county with ARPA
Kelly Sink, Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) Project Development Department Manager, made a presentation to the Osage County Commission and answered …
MRPC to help
county with ARPA
Kelly Sink, Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) Project Development Department Manager, made a presentation to the Osage County Commission and answered questions about the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The commission wants to allocate its $2,644,554 so as to benefit the most Osage County citizens. Half of that money is already in the county's account, the other half coming next year. MRPC will be employed to screen ARPA applications for legality and legislative compliance. Sink provided guidelines about what will and what won't be eligible to receive ARPA funds.
MRPC offers two different contracts to counties and municipalities in the region. One will be for administration. It helps governments evaluate basic applications for reimbursement or pre-approval of simple purchases. The other is for projects involving more complex planning and documentation of eligibility. Federal requirements for reporting these expenditures will be exacting and complicated. Both templates were expected to be available within a week of Sink's presentation. MRPC will personalize contracts for each of the governments using their services. The cost is eligible for reimbursement from ARPA funds.
One reason for a multi-faceted approach to ARPA administration is the nature of the legislation compared to the CoronaVirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020. According to Sink, the CARES Act was very reactionary in nature. It emphasized haste in getting money to governments and businesses in emergency situations. ARPA intends to be more subject to well crafted proposals. It's more comprehensive to help agencies and businesses recover in the long term. The disbursements from ARPA will take place over years. CARES Act funds were spent within months.
At the top of the list in Osage County is the proposed purchase and modification of a building for the Osage County Health Department (OCHD). Sink instructed the commissioners to publish the required specifications for such a building. They should run two weeks of advertisement. They must seek offers from realtors and building owners who might like to sell to the county. To use ARPA funds, it's important to get proposals. Those must be in hand before going through the acquisition process. MRPC stands ready to help track the expenses from the very beginning of the project. They can guide procurements, especially for building modification. "We'd be along to help you out with any of that," said Sink. Counties can get MRPC help with Requests for Proposals (RFP) development. They'll be on board at the start of any project similar to what the county wants to pursue with an OCHD building.
Utilities Operator Todd Feeler represented Freeburg Mayor Daryll Haller. He asked Sink about funds coming to municipalities like Freeburg. Sink asserted that cities will start getting their ARPA funds within the month. "All we have to do is make sure they're on the state's records to get automatic deposits," she said. Feeler is not sure about Freeburg's status; but the town is listed as being scheduled to receive ARPA dollars.
Osage County Treasurer Tim Neuner asked about interest earned on ARPA dollars sitting in county bank accounts. Sink clarified such interest remains in, and adds to, the county's ARPA fund and is not general revenue.
Commissioners are interested in recouping losses due to reduced funding from the County Aid Road Trust (CART) program. There's a great deal of interest in buying more rock for the county roads. A reduction of miles driven in 2020 caused fuel tax money to be lower than normal. However, other tax revenues in Osage County were up sharply. Citizens did more local shopping instead of commuting to neighboring cities. Sink was very specific to define eligibility being tied to revenue reduction. "Run those figures and see what the number is," she said. "If down, pull the difference from ARPA, only to the extent of revenue shortfall." Since not all of the Road and Bridge budget is funded by CART revenue, it's not likely ARPA can help there.
There's much more optimism for ARPA providing help in rewarding county workers. Essential workers can be compensated with those dollars. Raises and bonuses, both can be given to such workers. Osage County has already announced raises to Road and Bridge workers. That department is suffering a severe manpower shortage. It hopes to recruit more workers with a better pay package. As for other county staff, commissioners are interested in providing a one-time bonus. They are leery of creating permanent expectations. In response to a question on the topic from Osage County Eastern District Commissioner John Trenshaw, Sink asserted, "You can determine how you want to dole out that emergency pay." Her only caveat was to make sure the money and the policy could be tracked and documented. The definition of "essential worker" is up to local government. Osage County has already designated all full time employees to be essential.
Osage County Western District Commissioner Larry Kliethermes asked about getting help to public water districts. Several in Osage County are eying improvements, some rather urgent. With funding stretched out over a longer period than dollars from the CARES Act, Kliethermes was curious about how fast a district would have to work to be eligible for ARPA aid. "It does not have to be shovel ready, at this point," said Sink. "They can start out getting an engineer on board." Granted funds must be obligated within three years, and spent within two years after that.
Kliethermes appreciated the analysis. Starting such work requires certainty, and "we want to make sure we finish any project we start," he said.
Feeler asked a question from the opposite point of view. Freeburg is considering some work which shouldn't require so much planning. He asked if an engineer's work would be required for such a project. Sink's response was no, as long as it would not be customarily necessary. Any project will face the same scrutiny as it would if it used federal money in any other way. Engineering costs will be eligible, but engineering is not necessarily required. Once again, purchases should be tracked and justified. Reimbursement for informal purchasing might be dicey.
OCHD Administrator Kim Sallin's department has some grant funding which is due to expire. Not all of it is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the strain on her department's budget is completely subject to its stresses. She asked if ARPA funds might replace those grants. "Oh yes, absolutely," responded Sink. Some of them can be renewed year to year, and leftover funds can be carried over through the end of the next year.
Griffin asked about law enforcement. He knows Osage County Sheriff Mike Bonham will have ideas how to use ARPA funding to advance his recently published 10-year plan. Sink's response was affirmative. "It's an eligible use of the funds," she said.
Griffin concluded by asking about replacing currently budgeted dollars. Those then could be freed up for other purposes. "The conservative approach would be not to supplant appropriated money," cautioned Sink.
Road and Bridge
Osage County Road and Bridge Foreman Ron Kempker is still trying to obtain some bids for asphalt repair, piggybacking from contracts which will be executed in Cole County. He thinks it will take a little more time, but not much. "I need to contact a couple more now that the estimates we got were a little higher than we hoped," he said. On the other hand, inflation of materials and labor are putting upward pressure on the market.
With the recent manpower crunch in the department, Kempker has drawn up a new rotation. It will govern his remaining workers and the equipment in service. For summer work, it seems to be working well; but he's hoping to have something different working come winter. With fewer operators than machines, he's trying to get each machine consistent work. He wants that without having his crew do too much slip seating. Now, he has trucks and graders sitting no longer than a week at a time. However, come winter, even that could be too much. "You leave equipment sit for too long, it seems to cause issues," he explained. "I'll cross that when the time comes."
While crew shortages endure, grading especially happens at less than an ideal interval. "It's non stop," said Kempker. "Traffic has almost doubled in the last 15 years."
Commissioners discussed a request to reduce the speed limit on CR 401. A local resident was concerned about danger near a day care center. Kempker and the commissioners are reluctant, though. County ordinance sets the limit at 35 MPH, and a reduction to 30 would have minimal effect. There would be no sentiment to reduce it further. Not only that, constant speed enforcement on county gravel roads is impractical. That's true with any typical rural county law enforcement agency. Patrol cars can't sit and watch speeders like state cars are used on federal and state highways. Nor can they sit like police cars watch on city streets. Osage County 911/EMA Director Ron Hoffman also mentioned the ongoing issue of sign stealing.
Department employees hauled rock on CRs 202, 302, 804, 805, 806, and 807; crew members removed trees on CR 723; brush mowers worked on CRs 737, and 741; and grader operators worked on CRs 236, 242, 243, 244, 263, 271, 302, 303, 403, 411, 416, 608, 609, 610, 611, 612, 634, 637, 738, 715, 721, 722, 737, 738, 740, 806, and 807.
Hoffman announced the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has a new radio tower in place, just past Cobb Drive on MO 133 south of Meta. His department must now move a repeating transmitter from the scene of the old tower onto this new one. The new antenna is 200 feet tall, while the old one was 150 feet. "That should eliminate some dead spots," observed Osage County Presiding Commissioner Darryl Griffin.
According to Hoffman, the materials necessary to make the move will cost $2,000. The company rewiring for MDC will do the county's installation when they're on the site.
The Osage County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has a new employee. As it turns out, she's a past employee choosing to return. Friday, July 2, is her first day, and she will need minimal training. Hoffman's operation will be better, but didn't suffer while the position was open. "We still have the same great part timers," he asserted. "Everything's going okay."
Commissioners passed County Ordinance 062021, authorizing the Missouri 20th District Circuit Court, which convenes in the Osage County Courthouse, to charge $2 per case for cases imported from outside Osage County. Currently, the City of Owensville is having their cases heard in Osage County. They also use the Osage County Jail to house inmates, having the 20th Judicial Circuit adjudicate their city violations. The ordinance was modeled on a similar piece of legislation used by the City of Cameron. That court also hears cases from outside its geographical jurisdiction.
Linn realtor Robert L. Wilbers addressed the commission on septic problems he sees proliferating on rural properties around the county. When these properties change hands, many fail to pass state inspections. Not only that, the cost to fix them is becoming very prohibitive. "We have a sewer crisis in Osage County," he said bluntly. He is aware of homes which will be unsellable when they will need to change hands.
Commissioners did not disagree. "There's a lot of places like that around Osage County," said Griffin. He pointed out that drug disposal is polluting ground water as well as normal sewage. "It's a concern and we can't put it off." Wilbers was glad to have the commission's awareness.
Wilbers is also interested in making a proposal for the proposed OCHD building.
Sallin announced the reduction of COVID-19 cases in Osage County down to three. The current pandemic emergency advisory in the county expires June 30. She is considering a draft for a document to succeed it. The OCHD continues to schedule COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
The MRPC Annual Dinner is scheduled Thursday, Oct. 21, at Missouri State Technical College.
The 2020 dinner was canceled, so there will be two years worth of awards given. Local government and other community leaders will be invited.