County Commissioners gather information, help from MRPC with spending $1 million CARES money

All political subdivisions eligible for virus related expenditures

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 5/20/20

VIENNA — Most of the answers the Maries County Commission was seeking about spending the over $1 million CARES Act money that hit the county’s bank account last week were answered by MRPC …

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County Commissioners gather information, help from MRPC with spending $1 million CARES money

All political subdivisions eligible for virus related expenditures

Posted

VIENNA — Most of the answers the Maries County Commission was seeking about spending the over $1 million CARES Act money that hit the county’s bank account last week were answered by MRPC Executive Director Bonnie Prigge at last Thursday’s commission meeting.

At the May 11 meeting, the commissioners and County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers said the bills received from the cities, they thought, should go to MRPC first and then come to the county for payment. Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said MRPC can “kick out the ones that don’t quality” before they come to the county for payment. Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman said he will ask Prigge to interpret the guidelines for the CARES money. There’s a lot to it and he does not feel like the commissioners are clear on which entities besides the cities that are entitled to reimbursement with this money. Rodgers said she hopes MRPC will be the administrator for the county. Stratman said he thinks the commissioners would sign off on the bills, the same way they do for county expenditures. Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel asked if businesses can get reimbursement for their virus expenses or losses. Rodgers said the money will go quickly if that’s the case. The county has losses as well with the license office, sales tax, CART funds. Clerk Deputy Renee Kottwitz said she doesn’t think the county can use the money for sales tax losses. Stratman will contact MRPC and for someone to talk to the commissioners about this at the next meeting.

On Thursday, May 14, MRPC’s Bonnie Prigge came to the meeting. Also present were the two county school superintendents, Dr. Lenice Basham from Maries R-2, and Mark Parker from Maries R-1. Vienna Police Chief Shannon Thompson also was present. Prigge said eligible entities include fire departments, schools, ambulance districts, and cities but it is only for supplies and expenses due to the Covid-19 coronavirus. For labor costs, it has to be “above and beyond” what they normally do, such as overtime for cleaning. If it is regular work they can’t do because of the virus, they can hire them to do clearing and sanitizing and it would qualify for reimbursement. The work has to be related to the virus and it can’t be used to pay for regular duties. At MRPC, they have been doing a lot of additional mailing because the virus and the additional postage expenses qualify, but not the staff time to do it as it is during regular working hours.

Prigge said MRPC’s Kelly Sink is leading this effort. She was on the phone listening to the meeting. Stratman said the county received $1,020,000 and other subdivisions can receive some of this money but he would like for MRPC to organize the paperwork for it. Prigge had a handout they put together in early May. On April 22 the only guidance they had was from the US Department of Treasury. On May 4 they received some guidance from the state treasurer. They are still fine-tuning the forms, which will be ready soon.

She said the government provided the money due to the public health emergency to help pay for virus costs not accounted for in their regular budgets for expenses that have come up with Covid-19. Eligible expenses include medical, public health, payroll, responding, and more.

Prigge said they should spend the money as the expenses occur. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. This is not over. We don’t know if there will be any more money.” She suggested buying masks and gloves, and buying extra as there is no limit as long as they can justify it. As the rules and laws are now, this money will trigger an audit for every county. MRPC asked if the county can prepay the audit using this money and if the single audit act applies for Covid-19. Generally, income over $750,000 triggers and audit but they may be excluded from the audit because of the emergency or be able to set aside money to pay for it.

Treasurer Rhonda Slone asked if it can cover revenue shortfalls and Prigge said no, it can’t replace revenue. It covers actions taken because of the virus that are above and beyond normal expenses. She said a laptop or an internet connection for distance learning would quality. If an employee had to stay at home, the can pay them two-thirds of their salary but they can’t take off the payroll tax. It’s allowable if an employee gets the virus and has to stay at home.

Whether or not the money can be used for reimbursements of costs by small businesses is a big question. Prigge said extra masks yes, loss of income for local governments no, but they are not clear about business losses. They have asked the US Treasury for clarification.

Prigge said all of the counties in the region are asking MRPC for help with the CARES money. Because it is the whole region, MRPC is not charging for it, but are just doing it because all of the counties need their help. Counties will not lose their grant hours. MRPC will contract with each county and will charge for costs MRPC has.

If an entity is not eligible to receive the reimbursement, it will have to be paid back. The county will have to comply with the same rule.

She suggested the commissioners set priorities for what are the most important items to fund with this money. If toward the end the funds are limited, they can go back to the beginning and consider the original priorities and let it guide them at that time. An example of a priority would be medical expenses or supplies. The priorities will give them a basis to go back to. The commissioners can look at it and say, “This is what we wanted to do.” It requires pre-planning.

MRPC is designing the forms they will use. The forms also will be available on the MRPC website. An application form is part of the process and it is very simple. There is a spreadsheet that will detail who, when and what for with a receipt attached. She recommends it all goes to Kelly Sink for review. This will be done weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. MRPC will send to the county the reimbursements that qualify and continue to work with the ones that don’t as maybe they need more documentation. Those that qualify will be sent to the county commission or to the treasurer. MPRC likes to see copies of checks sent for reimbursement and will keep all of these copies. It will be an on-going tracking system and they will be able to see at any date how much has been spent and how much money is left.

As she has read the guidelines, all subdivisions such as ambulance, fire, schools, senior center, all can be reimbursed but it has to be virus expenses above and beyond normal costs. For example, extra containers purchased to accommodate the delivery of food for the senior center would be an additional virus cost.

Superintendent Parker asked about phone bills the school has incurred from teachers helping students who are at home with school work. He said they’ve had increased long-distance costs.  Prigge said to document it with a bill for the same time period the previous year. Also, Parker said they are planning to have summer school but if they can’t they want to supply lunch to students during that time and asked if this would qualify. Prigge said she thinks it would and they certainly can request reimbursement. Parker said it’s still uncertain. Prigge said reimbursement can only be requested from one place. They can’t double-dip.

Stratman asked about school districts not physically located in the county but with students from Maries County and if the school district qualifies for help with this money. Prigge said this is a question they have as well. The Vienna City Clerk asked Stratman about being reimbursed for a laptop needed to work from home and Prigge said she thinks it would qualify.

Drewel said it will be best to report everything they think may qualify. Slone said they will go through the money pretty quickly as “a million is not that much” in this type of situation. Prigge suggested making the claims as they go along and get into a routine. It will all go to MRPC first and they will check the documentation, setting it up in an Excel spreadsheet. She hopes to have any questions answered by next week and she encouraged the county to choose its priorities. There will be a business application but they will hold off on launching that until they get more guidelines from the federal government.

There has been a paycheck protection program and if businesses do it correctly, it will be a grant to them and not a loan. If they don’t do it right, it’s a loan and they have to pay it back. There are still a lot of questions and they need a couple of weeks to get guidance. If businesses are in with this CARES money, it “will eat your money quickly,” she said.

She stressed documentation. If the county has questions, it might want to hold off until they get an answer. MRPC is drafting a press release that will be out soon and all counties will know what is eligible. The forms they are making will be county-specific, which will help them keep things separate. The county will have its own tracking number to help MRPC know all that was done and when it was done. Stratman asked about part of Belle being in Osage County and if it could request money from both counties. Prigge said this is a question she has, too. It may be easier to do it by location and the form they have will ask where. The application also will ask if there was reimbursement or possible reimbursement from another source. Stratman said it sounds workable. Slone said she has set up a separate fund for this. If interest is earned, it can only be used for virus expenses in this account. Prigge said they will all get through this and learn it together.

One thousand acres

Prigge said an individual who approached her about a site for a solar farm, needing about 1,000 acres for it. Drewel said multiple farms could be put together to get that amount of acreage. Stratman asked if they wanted to rent or purchase and Prigge said she’s not sure. She suggested the airport. Stratman said solar panels are close to the ground. He would be very interested in this for Maries County as long as it didn’t involve eminent domain. A solar farm might work out well for the landowner. Prigge will send them information about the enterprise zone as they would hire a lot of people for the construction. She doesn’t think they would want cattle around the solar panels. Stratman suggested real estate people might be able to put something together. The person asked for a location in southeastern Maries County. There is a lot of flat land between Vichy and Belle. Drewel wondered if the county would receive utility tax on a solar farm.

Long term deal

Drewel said he heard at a factory in Owensville they are working four days a week and the employees get to collect $600 a week in unemployment from the federal government. The government is giving each of them over $2,000 a month. “It’s going to break the country,” he said. “I don’t understand it at all.” He said even the $1,200 checks people received the country won’t be able to ever pay for it.

Clerk’s Deputy Renee Kottwitz wondered why the government just gave the Maries County $1 million instead of reimbursing for expenses. She said the county has not even spent $1,000 yet in virus-related costs.

Stratman said Maries County is just one county, and every county in the United States received this money. He said an employment security employee said there were more unemployment claims in three weeks than during all of last year. He warned that people collecting unemployment who are not eligible can be prosecuted for fraud.  Kottwitz said many people are making more money drawing unemployment than they earned while working because of the additional $600 from the feds. “Who wants to go back to work?” Drewel asked. Kottwitz said she thinks the government people didn’t think it through.

Stratman said people received checks when George Bush was president with the purpose of getting people out spending money. “People were working then and now they aren’t,” Drewel commented. He said they created a meat shortage and the longer more people go without eating meat, they won’t go back to it. There already are people who say meat is bad for the environment. Slone said they will have to go back to butchering themselves. “I can do it,” Stratman said.

Drewel said the meals taken to kids is a good deal because kids are hungry and need food. “Now, all of sudden they’re done?” It was stated the schools are supposed to be reimbursed for the food. Drewel said Belle school is giving away canned fruit, meat and other groceries along with the lunches.

“This is a long term deal,” Drewel said. “What’s bad is if it repeats in a month and ramps back up and comes back in the fall and winter. We’ve not seen the end of it and they’ve already spent trillions.”

County Recycle events

Stratman spoke to MRPC about the county having a couple of recycle events to give citizens a chance to get rid of some stuff. If the county can provide two staffers for four hours they can have an electronics, appliance and tire recycle event, doing one on each side of the county. Jill Hollowell said they will cover the cost of the rest of it if the county will pay for the labor. The tires will be picked up the following Monday.

For the tires they use a machine with a claw. Drewel said they use a box trailer and it takes longer and is hot, dirty and messy inside the trailer. Stratman suggested doing it in the fall. Drewel said they don’t get anything for the steel anymore as it went from $200 a ton down to $30 a ton. Stratman said they are doing it to clean up the county and to make it more convenient for people to recycle their stuff.

Drewel said they take tires but they charge people for bringing tires to recycle. A lot of people won’t pay to recycle a tire and instead “roll them off into a ditch. It should be free,” he said. Stratman said when a person buys a tire, they pay a disposal fee of $2. Drewel said the guy who saved the $2 is not going to give $5 to recycle the tire. Only honest, working people will pay $5 to recycle it.

Drewel said when metal was $200 a ton, people began scraping. Stratman said if there was money to be made the county could keep it. “There’s no money to be made now,” Drewel said.

Stratman said he has some stuff he’d like to get rid of. As for the tires, it would be easier to leave the old tires at the tire shop. Drewel said the county may have to pay to recycle dump truck tires, plus the road crew picks up a lot of tires themselves from county roads. He wondered if the county has to pay for those, too. 

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