Courthouse is a busy place on Government Day as students get in-person civics lessons about county government operations

Posted 10/20/21

OSAGE COUNTY— About 40 high school seniors from both Belle High School and Vienna High School attended Maries County Government Day last Tuesday at the courthouse in Vienna. The Maries County …

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Courthouse is a busy place on Government Day as students get in-person civics lessons about county government operations

Posted

OSAGE COUNTY— About 40 high school seniors from both Belle High School and Vienna High School attended Maries County Government Day last Tuesday at the courthouse in Vienna. The Maries County Extension Council sponsored the event. 

The students visited all of the individual county offices to hear about the important functions those offices perform at the county government level. They also sat in on an actual Associate Circuit Court session to see the work done by Judge Kerry Rowden and Prosecuting Attorney Anthony “Tony” Skouby. 

There was a tour of the sheriff’s office, lunch on the courthouse lawn, and in the afternoon a demonstration by the sheriff’s drug dog. 

Two groups of students, one from Maries R-1 and one from Maries R-2, came into the Maries County Commission room. Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman talked to them about the duties and responsibilities of being a county commissioner. The commissioners are responsible for all aspects of keeping the courthouse running. 

Each county official makes the budget for their office. It is up to the county commission to put all of the requests for funding together with the money the county receives from taxes and fees. Stratman said they have to balance the budget and it’s not easy to do. Sometimes they have to make cuts they don’t want to. 

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said as associate commissioner, he and Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel are responsible for keeping the county’s roads in driving condition. They both have a road crew who take care of the roads, grading and gravel and all that is required. In times of flooding or heavy rain or snow, the road crews have to work long hours keeping the roads passible. There are 440 miles of county roads in Maries County the road districts are responsible for. The county’s roads are gravel, except for the Old Highway 63 sections by the river that were abandoned in the 1980’s by MoDOT when Highway 63 was realigned from that area. Fagre said Road One had the asphalt worked on and it cost $160,000. 

The county is responsible for all of the equipment needed for the road districts and the county offices. They have to pay insurance on everything.

Each year every county official is required to take 20 hours of training. It used to be in-person at conferences, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, they have been taking it online. Stratman said they have to do it or sacrifice $2,000 of their salary. 

The commissioners are subject to all state laws. The commission meetings must be open to the public and they can go into closed session only for certain reasons. They must document what they did in the closed meetings because the Sunshine Law allows the people of Missouri to know what their elected officials are doing and how they are spending their tax dollars. The county must follow all the laws of the state and federal government. 

The commissioners told the students that anything that is purchased for the county, “the bill comes through here.” The county’s annual budget is over $4 million. 

And, then there are the meetings. Besides the two county commission meetings held each week, Stratman as presiding commissioner also attends a wide variety of other meetings and is on boards in which Maries County has an interest, such as MRPC, the TAC committee, MOCA, health department, and more.

County IT Manager Shane Sweno spoke briefly to the students as he was in the commission room when they came in. He said his biggest challenge is getting technology to work in an old building. He’s been drilling holes in the courthouse’s thick, concrete walls. He’s strung about a mile worth of wire connecting computers and equipment. 

Mobile Office 

Stratman said Missouri Ozarks Community Action (MOCA) agency has purchased two mobile office vans to serve every county in its eight-county region. It used CARES Act money when Covid-19 hit and this is a way to serve residents in all its counties. 

It will be in Maries County every Wednesday. On the first and third Wednesdays it will be parked on Main Street by the Vienna Library. On the second and fourth Wednesdays it will be parked at the Belle Library. Local people needing assistance are encouraged to come to the mobile van, which will be there from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a half hour lunch break from 12 to 12:30 p.m.

Use Tax

County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers said she is required to put a notice in the newspaper informing citizens that Maries County previously adopted a use tax. A use tax is the equivalent of a sales tax on purchases made from out-of-state vendors by in-state buyers and on certain taxable business transactions. The use tax rate for Maries County currently is 1.5 percent which is equal to the total local sales tax rate. Certain purchases from out-of-state vendors will become subject to an expansion of the use tax effective Jan. 1, 2023. 

Fagre said county voters approved the use tax when Jim Kleffner was the presiding commissioner. It passed on the first attempt, Fagre said, adding Maries County was one of very few counties which achieved this. Some counties still have not received voter approval for a use tax. 

With the rise in online shopping, the use tax is needed to collect taxes on those sales. 

Insurance

Rodgers said she was informed the county’s insurance provider, MOPERN, will no longer carry cyber and information breach liability insurance. None of the insurance carriers are covering this anymore because of internet breeches and ransomware. 

An insurance representative of Missouri General Insurance Agency, St. Louis, was at the meeting asking to bid on the county’s property and casualty insurance. He asked for copies of the county’s current insurance plans. Fagre said it would be a lot of work to put together copies of the current plans. They are satisfied with the current providers. For him, he sees no reason to change insurance companies.

Transportation Priorities 

Stratman said MRPC’s Bonnie Prigge and MoDOT Meramec Area Engineer Preston Kramer are scheduled to come to the county commission meeting to discuss the county’s transportation priorities. 

He spoke about the county priorities they chose last year. One of them, replacing the bridge on Highway 28 over the Dry Fork, which is at the bottom of Liberty Hill, has been scheduled for replacement. 

The other priorities last year included a new intersection at the junction of Highways 42 and 133, a new intersection at the junction of Highways 63 and 28 E at the airport at Vichy, and a new intersection at the junction of Highways 63 and 28 W, south of Vienna. 

Bridge Closed

Stratman said the construction work on the Highway 89 bridge in Osage County is to be bid in November as is the nearby Swan Creek bridge but they are not supposed to be closed at the same time. The Highway 89 bridge will be closed for a 90-day period sometime between January and December 2022. 

Halloween and Christmas

Stratman reported the Vienna Chamber of Commerce (VCOC) will be hosting the annual Halloween Trunk or Treat on the courthouse square rather than at G&W as it has been done in past years. Businesses and professional people will be there with treats for the children. 

Also, the VCOC is bringing back the “Christmas Around the Square” event to be held Saturday, Nov. 27, which is Small Business Saturday. The Vienna Lions Club plans to sponsor Santa’s visit to the courthouse that day. The event begins at 2 p.m. and the chamber anticipates having vendors of all kinds set up around the square and food trucks, too. They would like to have decorations all around the square as well. 

Courthouse Custodian Dave Juergens in interested in putting up lights on the courthouse. 

Opioid settlement

The county received information about potentially receiving money through the opioid legal settlement. Fagre said they got off of the settlement before because of the reporting requirements. The county would have needed to hire someone to do it and decided it was not worth it. The number of opioid deaths were required to be documented among other reporting requirements. Drewel said, “It’s a lawyer deal and may take years.” He added they have to be careful what they sign. If the did it is possible they might no longer be commissioners and the new ones would have to deal with this. 

Local Gov U

Stratman said the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) is offering courses in about everything through the MAC Trust online university called Local Gov U. For the county’s workers compensation insurance, MAC is the carrier. If county employees participate in taking these online safety courses, the county can get a better rate on workers comp insurance. Most of the county’s workers comp claims are from law enforcement and road workers. 

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