Marion County Farm Bureau hosts federal, state and county elected officials for Legislative Banquet

Elected officials gathered Thursday to answer questions and discuss what's happening at various levels of government during the Marion County Farm Bureau's annual Legislative Banquet at Hall's Hall in Palmyra.

Marion County Farm Bureau President Joe Kendrick welcomed guests and elected officials. After a soup supper provided by Hall's Hall, each elected official spoke about their work and delved into recent changes and plans for the future. They also answered questions from members of the audience.

Kendrick and Missouri Farm Bureau Vice President Todd Hays said the evening offered valuable information about agriculture and rural life — from the bond issues proposals for the Palmyra R-1 School District and the Monroe City R-II School District to updates on trade talks with China and what proposals and bills are in the works.

Missouri Farm Bureau Vice President Todd Hays

Hays spoke of the EPA's proposed Clean Water Rule, which is supported by the Missouri Farm Bureau. He said the now-defunct Waters of the U.S. rule applied to 99 percent of Missouri, including dry creek beds and ditches. Hays invited audience members to send postcards in support of the new proposal, and he looks forward to federal politicians working on controlling regulations.

“We support the Trump administration on tackling that,” he said.

Palmyra R-I School District Superintendent Kirt Malone

Palmyra R-1 School District Superintendent Kirt Malone talked about a proposed no-tax bond increase for the district that would keep the assessed valuation for real estate and personal property tax at the current rate of 68 cents per $100. As part of a long-range plan developed by district officials 15 years ago, the bond proposal would fund renovation to the agriculture building and Palmyra Middle School kitchen area, followed by construction of a new facility for the high school wrestling program, an athletic complex and all-weather track and improvements for the Palmyra Elementary School playground.

Marion County Farm Bureau board member Megan Gottman

Marion County Farm Bureau Board member Megan Gottman said the Monroe City R-II School District will have an $8.5 million tax increase proposal for the April ballot, which would include construction of a new agriculture building, renovations for the elementary school, and covered hallways between the middle school and the high school so students are no longer walking outside for lunch.

She said the proposal calls for a 43-cent increase for the district's debt service in the first five-year phase, followed by a second, no-tax increase phase for $5 million to finish elementary school renovations and other projects.

“[The agriculture building] is a dire need,” she said. “We're like Palmyra. It's a very old, outdated building, and there are a lot of ag students. That serves a big chunk of our high school students, and it's very desperately needed.”

Marion County Assessor Mark Novak

County Assessor Mark Novak said 2019 is a review year, with staff members visiting 16,000 parcels throughout the county. He said a new software system will integrate with the photos during the review period and reminded everyone that they can send their personal property assessment documents electronically or by mail.

Marion County Collector Harry Graves

Marion County Collector Harry Graves said that a new computer system was installed in the Collector's office in 2018, which he said “will save a great deal on license fees compared to the past.” Graves said the next step will include online bill payments as technology improvements progress. He said he plans to make at least one improvement each year.

Marion County Presiding Commissioner David Lomax

Marion County Presiding Commissioner David Lomax said he has learned a great deal about his role following the tenure of his predecessor, Lyndon Bode. He said he doesn't wish to raise taxes for Marion County residents and businesses, and he hopes to see more new businesses moving across to Marion County, citing Doyle Manufacturing as an example that type of growth.

Marion County Western District Commissioner Steve Begley

Marion County Western District Commissioner Steve Begley shared updates on gravel road maintenance throughout the county. The plan is to set up stockpiles of gravel in Philadelphia, Monroe City and Palmyra. Local trucking companies will bring the rock to the roads when needed. He said the winter's temperatures and moisture levels have been particularly tough on the routes.

“This way, we can get a lot of rock on the roads quicker, because we're going to need it,” he said.

Marion County Public Administrator Wendy Howe

Public Administrator Wendy Howe described her tasks, including serving as guardian and conservator for about 140 county residents. Staff members work to collect debts owed on estates, and distribute remaining funds to family members. Also, they help when family members cannot agree on how to divide assets or when a family member passes away without a will.

“We just go around stepping on fires and putting out problems and taking care of our folks,” she said.

Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn

Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn said the department's 2019 budget will include new ballistic vests for officers and three new vehicles for the fleet.

He said that the department's budget is one of the largest in the county, but department officials also generate a large amount of revenue.

Shinn commended Jail Administrator Sergeant Kevin Coates and Captain Lisa Jones for assisting in a relationship with the U.S. Marshals Service in St. Louis. Twenty-four inmates from St. Louis are currently lodged at the jail, and the county receives a daily $50 payment for each person. In 2018, that income resulted in more than $900,000 coming to Marion County.

“I'm very proud of doing that, and I want to continue to do that,” he said. “You have to run the jail like a business, if you will. So any little way I can find or attempt to generate any types of revenue through the housing of the inmates, I try to do so to help offset the cost back to the county taxpayers.”

Shinn said that the jail population dropped from 2018's average of 106 inmates per day. On Thursday, Shinn said there were 77 inmates in the jail. He credited cooperation between his office, the Marion County Prosecuting Attorney's office and the courts and judges for the lower average population.

Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Bryant

Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Bryant said his office will be moving case files from the Marion County server to the Missouri Office of Prosecutor Services server by the end of March. He said the double-redundant system manages about 60 percent of the prosecuting attorney's offices in the state.

Bryant said he has learned a great deal so far, and he looks forward to electronic filing efforts that will combine files with between Palmyra and Hannibal courthouse. He is pleased to continue working with treatment court services to help drug addicts successfully reintegrate with society.

Marion County Associate Judge John Jackson

Marion County Associate Judge John Jackson said he presides over a variety of cases, including civil, criminal and probate cases.

Rep. Louis Riggs (R-Hannibal)

Rep. Louis Riggs (R-Hannibal) described serving on the State Budget Committee “a real hoot,” because he asks a series of questions to make sure that agencies are operating efficiently and cooperating. He filed a broadband bill on Thursday focused on expanding rural broadband access by actively involving the state in the process. He said the federal government allocated $255 million for the second phase of the Connect America rural broadband fund.

“You all may remember that the first grant was $400 million, and we fanned on it,” he said. “AT&T got the money and decided there wasn't any money in rural broadband, so they closed up shop and went home. That money went back to the feds — we didn't get it.”

He said he wants to “put something between them and the money, which is the state of Missouri.”

U.S. Congressman Sam Graves (R-6)

Bryan Nichols spoke on behalf of U.S. Congressman Sam Graves (R-6), who leads the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said topics include “resolution of disapproval on the border national emergency declaration,” gun control bills and fighting the Green New Deal.

He said that President Donald Trump will not impose $200 billion on tariffs with China.

“That is good news, that is welcome news — and if we continue to get feedback that things are going well on that front, then hopefully we can get things wrapped up with China pretty quick and move on from any sort of trade war. I know that would be welcome news for our folks in North Missouri.

Kendrick said that Trump's stimulus following 2018 trade talks with China was “a savior for some farmers,” particularly in the western part of the state that was hit hardest by last season's drought. He stressed that crop insurance was the only way some farmers made it through the dry conditions. He said that planting season was right around the corner, and predictions point to a cool, wet spring and a widespread shortage of anhydrous ammonia for farmers' field.

Kendrick said that crop prices were still low, and an upcoming meeting will focus on this topic in more detail — The Marion County Farm Bureau will host a Market Outlook meeting in partnership with Palmyra Young Farmers and Ranchers on Friday, March 15 at HATS Restaurant in Palmyra.

Kendrick thanked everyone for their participation, and he stressed that understanding of Missouri's biggest industry is growing.

“I think it's finally coming to light, agriculture isn't just about cows and plows, it involves a lot of stuff — when we start talking about the slaughter industry, food processing — it's a large ball to encompass,” he said. “It's finally coming to fruition, for those of us out there advocating, we've got to keep at it.”

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com