County will seek federal coronavirus relief funding; Extension expects cuts

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 4/29/20

HERMANN — Gasconade County administrators this week are formally requesting a share of the federal dollars earmarked for local governments’ fight against the coronavirus. But just how …

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County will seek federal coronavirus relief funding; Extension expects cuts

Posted

HERMANN — Gasconade County administrators this week are formally requesting a share of the federal dollars earmarked for local governments’ fight against the coronavirus. But just how much — or how little — of the money they’ll receive is unclear.

County Clerk Lesa Lietzow Thursday told the County Commission that the Missouri State Treasurer’s Office was scheduled to make available yesterday the necessary forms for requesting a portion of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief money. In addition to dollars sent directly to individuals, money is available to municipal and county governments to offset their costs for battling the virus.

However, the money is not aimed at making up tax dollars lost from the closing of businesses; rather, it is designed to compensate local governments’ direct expenses resulting from the pandemic.

But, as Lietzow told the Commission at its regular weekly session, even those in the State Treasurer’s Office aren’t certain just what is meant by “expenses.”

“I don’t know what that means and neither does he,” Lietzow said, referring to Missouri Treasurer Brian Fitzpatrick.

The commissioners are hoping the definition of expenses will include the salaries paid to Courthouse employees who in recent weeks have been paid while sent home — a rotating basis — for a week at a time to lessen the likelihood of the virus spreading throughout the various offices.

At this point, it appears that about the only other virus-related expenses by county government amounts to some personal protection equipment ordered by Emergency Management Director Dan Dyer. Dyer is the county’s point man in the effort to obtain a portion of the federal dollars being made available.

Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, said any and all possible virus-related expenses should be included in the request that will be sent to the State Treasurer’s Office. “Throw it against the wall and see what sticks,” he said.

There won’t be much time for county officials to complete their expense request form. It is due back to the State Treasurer’s Office by Friday. “It’s a quick turnaround,” Lietzow said.

Gasconade County remains fortunate in avoiding the fate of most other Missouri counties regarding the virus. At last report, the only two county residents who tested positive for the virus have recuperated.

On another medical front, Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore, R-Owensville, continues his recuperation from a procedure and complications several weeks ago. Indeed, after missing two sessions, Lairmore returned two weeks ago saying, “I’m glad to be back and I hope to stay back.”

But that was not to be the case. He was not up to attending last week’s session, still hampered by lingering issues a month after a medical procedure.

Extension cuts expected

In other matters, Miskel voiced concern about a possible significant budget cut to the Missouri University Extension offices in next year’s funding. He said he has been advised that plans call for a 12-percent across-the-board cut to the Extension offices. The presiding commissioner noted that some counties should not have their Extension offices cut by that much, pointing out that less-populated counties, such as Gasconade, do not have a comparable tax base with more populous counties having a substantial retail segment.

Those counties are better suited to appropriate more dollars to help offset a large cut in state or university system funds to their Extension office.

Miskel and Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland, R-Hermann, are hoping state legislators will notice the spike in online shopping that has taken place during the coronavirus outbreak and move to adopt a statewide use tax. A use tax is a sales tax that is applied to purchases made over the Internet from out-of-state retailers. Those purchases now are not subject to a statewide sales tax or the sales tax of a county or municipality that does not have a use tax on the books. Gasconade County is among the counties that do not have a use tax.

Missouri and Florida are the only two states that do not have a statewide use tax.

Gasconade County has tried several times during the past decade to adopt a use tax, but voters have rejected it by varying margins. Indeed, county voters have been reluctant to look favorably on any countywide tax in recent years. Six use tax issues and two law enforcement sales tax proposals have been turned down in the last dozen years.

Still, the possibility of making another effort to win approval of a use tax in Gasconade County has been discussed regularly by the commissioners.

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