MRPC looks to nudge county to develop plan for allocating $2.8-million in ARPA funding

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 8/27/21

HERMANN — Gasconade countians next week might get a hint of how the County Commission will use its share of $2.8 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) when it meets in …

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MRPC looks to nudge county to develop plan for allocating $2.8-million in ARPA funding

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HERMANN — Gasconade countians next week might get a hint of how the County Commission will use its share of $2.8 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) when it meets in Owensville with a representative of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC).

MRPC’s Kelly Sink is scheduled to talk with administrators about the county’s plan for use of the funds, of which $1.4 million has been received. The second $1.4-million allocation is scheduled to arrive next year. The county has until the end of 2024 to commit the use of the money and until the end of 2026 to have the money spent. Presumably, the ARPA funds will be subject to the same caveat that covered the CARES Act money — any unused dollars would be returned to the federal treasury.

But even that is not completely clear. County government leaders have been awaiting more-detailed information about the use of the ARPA money. Federal agencies have been slow to release that information, which has resulted in county officials taking a cautious approach in not making any firm plans for the use of the funds.

As Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, has said previously, the county’s plan thus far is that there is no plan. About the closest thing the three county commissioners can seem to agree on at this point is that a significant portion of the money perhaps should be used for infrastructure improvements.

But even such a decision opens a wide-ranging discussion on what types of infrastructure should be upgraded.

Meanwhile, Sink and her associates at MRPC are gearing to administer the dispersal of the ARPA funding much as they did the CARES Act money. Indeed, with substantially more money being sent to the counties through ARPA, MRPC is poised to add staff to handle the increased allocation of dollars.

MRPC administered CARES Act funding for seven of the eight counties within the Meramec Region. Crawford County administrators chose to administer their CARES Act money in house, rather than contract with MRPC to verify the legitimacy of the requests seeking a share of the money.

And while there are a lot of questions yet to be answered regarding the use of the ARPA money, and county administrators might be content to continue their wait-and-see attitude before committing to a specific course of action, interest is beginning to grow within the county regarding a plan for the $2.8-million allocation.

“I've had a lot of people ask,” said Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland, R-Hermann, at last week’s Commission session.

Sink is scheduled to meet with county administrators as part of their first-Thursday-of-the-month session at Owensville City Hall.

At tomorrow’s session, the Commission will hold the annual property tax rate hearing. It’s expected that county officials will be proposing a reduced property tax rate for this year from the current 16.77 cents per $100 assessed valuation in the General Revenue Fund and the 26.14 cents in the Special Road and Bridge Fund, which fuels the county’s Road Department.

The expected reduction in the property tax rate is a result of the county’s good fortune regarding its sales tax, which surprised all local officials with its strong showing during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year. “Our sales tax is up so high, so our (property) tax rate has to go down,” said County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, the county’s chief budget officer.

Lowering the property tax rate because of strong sales tax revenue effectively negates what would be a boost in revenue from the increased assessed valuation of property within the county this year. 

It should be noted that counties do not get to benefit from increased property values to the same extent as other political subdivisions that have a property tax. State law requires county governments to roll back their property tax rates during times of increased assessments. 

Other political subdivisions that levy a property tax do not face such a requirement. 

Rather, they can seek voter approval to waive the rollback provision and keep the increased tax revenue resulting from higher property value assessments.

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