Updating County Commission efforts

I realize it’s been awhile since my last column to the citizens of Iron County.  I have a very strong work ethic and get deeply involved in my work and time seems to fly by. I am a strong believer that accomplishing a goal is more important than just merely writing a column. So, I hope this column is informative and provides you with a summary of the activities your County Commission is undertaking.

 

Missouri State Audit: Over the last several months, Iron County elected officials have been busy providing records and information to a team of auditors that were conducting a very thorough audit.  This included all the operations of Iron County government.

Daniel Jones and Associates, Certified Public Accountants were engaged to audit the financial statements of Iron County for two years ending December 31, 2017.  The audit results indicate that Iron County is well managed. The report contained few findings and most of the recommendations have already been or will be implemented. The overall rating from the State Auditor’s office was a “good” rating.

I am very pleased with the results of the audit and commend all the elected officials and our county employees for a job well done.

 

Budget:  With the passing of the ½ cent county sales tax in 2017, the county has been able to secure the reserve funds needed to be considered financially sound.  By maintaining a tight fiscal management objective, the county for the first time in over 10 years has built a reserve fund.  The Commission continues to be fiscally responsible for the budget, but we have serious issues that must be addressed.

Over the years no funding was available for major/routine maintenance on county buildings. The historical courthouse is in need of critical repairs to ensure that it remains functional and cost effective to operate. The courthouse is one of the main tourist attractions in the county, having multiple events during the year on the courthouse grounds.

I have been searching all year for possible grants to assist the county in securing funding to make necessary repairs. ICEP has been extremely helpful in assisting the county in grant writing and matching funds to help obtain major grants. One source of funding the county has used in the past was the Missouri Historical Preservation Grants. However, in 2018 the Missouri Legislators cut the funding for courthouse grants.  The loss of funding will affect Iron County and all small rural counties state wide. So, we must seek new sources of grants if we are going to maintain our historical buildings.

In addition, we still battle the daily task of maintaining a Civil War jail. The Sheriff’s Department continues to do a great job with monitoring the jail conditions and reporting the repairs needed to the commission. We continue to make repairs and operate the jail in the most effective manner.  The commission will be faced with a decision soon on building a new jail.  This will be a long process of securing grants and financial assistance to move forward on this project. We must address this issue in 2019.

Another budget impact in 2019 will be funding the Prosecuting Attorney’s full-time position that the voters approved in 2018. This will impact our general revenue budget and increase the Public Safety Budget by about $90,000 annually. This increased cost will be a challenge for now and in the future. We must continue to find ways to reduce cost if we are going to maintain a balanced budget in the future.

 

Insurance: In 2019 our health insurance cost will increase by approximately $100,000. In the past the county was grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act and received low premiums for small county government. In 2018 the grandfather clause was removed and the county had to obtain new insurance pricing. Our current insurance provider increased our premiums over 200 percent, which made it unaffordable to purchase. The county clerk and I spent weeks obtaining quotes from different insurance companies in an attempt to find a better insurance at a lower cost for county employees. We did finally agree to switch our health insurance provider, but we incurred a 57 percent increase in cost, with an employee deductible of $6,250.

This was not the outcome the commission wanted, but it was the only insurance plan that we could afford.  Health insurance is becoming one of the most expensive items in our budget with no relief in sight. We have had increase after increase in premiums over the last four years, so I only expect more increases in the future.

 

Road & Bridge:  In the last few months, our Road & Bridge foreman has been developing a plan of action based on the MoDOT bridge inspection reports.  The inspection conducted by MoDOT has listed several bridges that should be considered for complete replacement.  The commission has reviewed the recommendation submitted by MoDOT and requested the R&B foreman to prioritize six bridges for replacement. We then requested an engineering firm to provide the Commission with an estimated cost of replacing two bridges. These bridges will be under construction soon and should be completed in 2019. As you may be aware, the investment in our infrastructure is critical, but we can only afford to do what the budget allows.  So, we will be focusing on two more bridges that will qualify for MoDOT matching funds through the Bridge Replacement Program in 2020. The county’s match is estimated at $200,000.  But this could change after the engineering plans have been finalized and submitted to MoDOT.

The commission has been successful in achieving support from MoDOT to replace three bridges in Iron County. The first bridge which should be completed by the end of 2018 is on Route 21/72 over Carver Creek enroute to Lesterville.  The second bridge is on Highway 49 south of Annapolis over Big Creek and construction should begin in the spring of 2019.  The third bridge is on Highway 72 over Stouts Creek, this bridge is still in the design stage with replacement in 2020.

In addition, MoDOT completed several of our requests for asphalt overlays, such as Route E just to name one. MoDOT has completed a lot of road improvements in our county in the last two years. I will continue to put projects forward to MoDOT that improve our infrastructure in Iron County.

 

Community: I have received several positive comments from the general public about the decorations this year on the Courthouse grounds. I want to personally thank the AV Chamber of Commerce for all the hard work and commitment to our county.  When you drive though Iron County during the Christmas season one can only be proud to live in this community.

All of our communities from Viburnum to Des Arc display a warm welcome to our visitors that we believe in our community.  Community in Iron County is a group of people working towards a common goal.  A strong thriving group of citizens bring a pride of ownership for our entire county.  A strong community attracts businesses, creates jobs, and trains and retains talent.

Community is the grit and the grace of all the little towns and all the events that make up Iron County. It is an honor going to work at the Courthouse to represent the people of Iron County. I look forward to another great year in 2019.  So, until then, have a very Merry Christmas and a great start to a new year.

 

Jim Scaggs is the Presiding Commissioner for Iron County.