Cole County received its first half of the latest round of COVID-19 relief funds in June. Since then, the County Commission has been fielding suggestions on how the funds should be spent.
Cole County received more than $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds in June. Ultimately, it's expected to receive about $14.8 million.
Federal officials have said ARP funds could be used for infrastructure projects. In July, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley's office told the county stormwater improvement work might qualify as a use for the funds.
"The direction from the federal government has been lacking," said Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman. "We were told that work on broadband improvements would qualify, but we also found that a lot to improve that service is already taking place in the area so we don't want to duplicate efforts there."
Commissioners acknowledge they have their own ideas as to how to use the money and have been receiving suggestions on how to use it.
Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said: "We haven't dug deep into the process, but we've got ideas. And we could use input, but I'm not sure how we would do that."
"I would like to see us look at an EMS station for the east side of Jefferson City," Bushman said. "We have the ambulance based at the county jail right now and others in public lots, but I don't know if that's the most efficient for that service."
No plans have been finalized for how to use the funds, said Western District Commissioner Harry Otto.
"We have it, and people know we have it, so that has attracted some interest," Otto said. "We are working on buckets, if you will, on where money could go into. And before we carve plans into stone, we'll seek public input.
"One thing we are looking at is stormwater," he said, "and the need is definitely there."
At the County Commission meeting Tuesday, Public Works Director Eric Landwehr suggested the funds could be used to fix stormwater issues that arose during storms in June and July.
During the storms, Landwehr said, they had issues arise in the Ravenwood Subdivision in Apache Flats, the Westview Heights Subdivision and the Natchez Trace Estates Subdivision. The problems stemmed from the condition of pipes, storm system capacity and excessive stormwater runoff from prior development, he said.
Pipes that failed during the storms were already in bad shape, Landwehr told commissioners, and failed due to the volume and velocity of the storms. Three pipes in need of immediate repair and replacement are on East Lohman Road, Galena Road and Old Stage Road. The total cost for the work is just under $50,000.
Locations where stormwater issues will be addressed with funds from the county's half-cent capital improvements sales tax include:
- Northport Drive next year
- Bagnell Drive and South Brooks Drive in Westview Heights where Landwehr said they are working with a developer to find solutions. That work could start next year and continue into 2023.
- Lakewood Subdivision where work could go from next year into 2023.
- Randall Drive, Joseph Drive and Vicki Drive where work could go from 2024 to 2025.
Since 2007, the public works department has been working to improve stormwater facilities in the county such as pipes, inlets, junction boxes, improved ditches and curb and gutter, he said. In 2017, two large storms led to public works finding more areas that needed to be addressed, he said. Many of those have been addressed, including full subdivision upgrades and spot repairs when needed.
As they look at the future, Landwehr said, flood mitigation in Apache Flats, Westview Heights and Natchez Trace will require an engineering analysis of these watersheds to determine stormwater detention areas.
Detention captures stormwater and releases it over an extended period of time thus mitigating flood potential. Detention basins could be a dry basin, which would fill up and drain out, or a wet basin which would be like a lake with a dam.
Landwehr did ask the commission to consider the department's request to use funds the county received through the federal American Rescue Plan so they could study areas in the county that experienced flooding and construct projects for stormwater mitigation in the areas.
Should the commission wish to use ARP money on stormwater needs, Landwehr said, the public works department would propose they use the money to do analysis next year, do design and easement acquisition in 2023 and do construction in 2024.
All relief funds must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, but spending of funds can go on through the end of 2026.
Landwehr noted there is $3.5 million in the half-cent capital improvement sales tax for bridges, culverts, low water crossings and stormwater improvements. If they only funded stormwater mitigation through the sales tax, all they would be able to do in this latest cycle, which is five years, would be stormwater analysis.
Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said he still wasn't convinced that the ARP money could be used for stormwater improvements and added they may have to make stormwater improvements as they have in the past, using the sales tax funds to address areas when they can.
In other action Tuesday, the commission held a public hearing regarding the vacation of the southernmost portion of Murphy Ford Road.
Landwehr said the county received a request from residents and landowners on Murphy Ford to vacate a section from East Meller Road to three-fourths-of-a-mile south of Wayside Road. A section of the road runs along the bluff along the North Moreau Creek and was closed a few years ago due to safety concerns.
"The county at that time decided not to reconstruct this unsafe section of roadway which had a very low daily traffic count," Landwehr said. "Because the road has been cut into two sections, residents requested that parts of both disconnected sections be conveyed back to the landowners."
Landowner Greg Steck spoke in favor of the request during the hearing.
"There are times, in the summer, when I could call the sheriff out every day for trespassing complaints because people have to cross a slab and go on my property to get to a gravel bar which is a popular recreation spot," Steck said. "Many times, there's a lot of trash left. And after dark, there's a lot of things going on like teenagers drinking and probably some drug transactions. It's an iconic spot that people have gone to for many years that many would hate to see closed. But for the people that have to live with it, they hate to have to deal with these problems."
Landwehr said there is a specific process governed by state statute that has to be followed when vacating a roadway. Along with having a public hearing to get public input, time is given for more public input between the public works department and interested parties. Some of the things they will be looking at are making sure there would be room for school bus and U.S. mail traffic in that area. Under that timeline, the commission would not have a final vote on the vacation until its first regular meeting of 2022, which would be Jan. 4.