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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Ste. Genevieve County entered 2024 with a shortage of funds, due to a huge drop-off in tax collections remitted from the county collector to the treasurer.
Overcoming this is Presiding Commissioner Randy Ruzicka’s No 1 goal for 2024.
“Primarily to get us through this crisis that we’re currently undergoing,” he said, “to get us back on some better footing, which I believe as time progresses we will eventually get there.”
The biggest impact for the county will be on paving roads. For some 20 years, the county has been on a challenging quest to pave all county roads. At times in the past, a goal of paving 20 miles a year had been set. A little over 18 miles was the closest the county came to hitting the ambitious goal. Most years, bad weather equipment issues, or budget restraints have seriously limited the number of miles paved. Still, great progress has been made.
The county, however, will now probably forgo paving any gravel roads in 2024.
“Due to the drop in sales tax ad some other extenuating circumstances, our plan for road and bridge this year is to basically focus primarily on maintenance,” Ruzicka said. “We have successfully hard-coated a lot of roads the last several years. We’re at a point where we’re somewhere between 75-80% paved roads in the county. Some of those are getting up there in age and need attention as far as crack-patching and maybe additional overlaying. It’s something that needs to be done in order to save what we have. Because, if you don’t do that, you lose the ones you have and you’re starting over again.”
Not that there won’t be any new work done at all.
“There will be some smaller projects with paving, maybe some low-water crossing work,” Ruzicka said. “There’s plenty to keep us busy. Hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll have all that taken care of. Hopefully in 2025 we can take on some larger projects.”
Meanwhile, seeing some projects through to completion that were made possible by successfully pursuing grants, is another goal.
“Working close with MoDOT” to start the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant for replacing and extending sidewalks and the BRO grant for the Franklin Bridge replacement is one that Ruzicka mentioned. Meanwhile, the Federal Land Access Program (FLAP) grant replacement of the Fourth Street bridge is not scheduled until 2025, but Ruzicka noted that some engineering work might be done on it this year.
“We’re very grateful that we’ve received those grants, but it’s a process that takes time,” Ruzicka said, “so there will be quite a bit of time dedicated to getting those things wound up.”
He would also love to see a resolution to Holcim Concrete tax issue cleared up.
Holcim was lured here with a Chapter 100 agreement, which exempted Holcim from paying property taxes until 2021. During the 11 years from the plat’s construction in 2010 to 2021, the Holcim Group made payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the 10 taxing entities, which include the R-II School District and the county ambulance district. There had been fear for a handful of years prior to 2021 that Hoclim would appeal whatever tax assessment was made, thus tying things up in court with no revenue coming in.
That did not prove unfounded, as Holcim representatives insisted their appraised valuation should have been$163 million. County assessor Linda Wagner saw things differently, assessing the concrete plant at nearly 10 times the value, $1.17 billion. The Board of Equalization sided with Wagner, leading to an appeal by Holcim.
“We are hopeful to a resolution to the Holcim tax issue,” Ruzicka said. “We don’t know when or if that will happen this year, but that would be a wonderful thing if that could get resolved and get another thing off our plate. Of course, if they came aboard, it would lower everybody else’s taxes. It would be good if that was taken care of.”
He also wants to see the county and city of Ste .Genevieve continue working together on worthwhile goals, such as the proposed subdivision around Progress Parkway.
“We have progressed a little bit further and hope the city can more forward on their subdivision development,” Ruzicka said. “We are in the beginning stages of seeing at what level the county can help. We’re hoping we can set up the mechanics of all this to make it work. I hope all that can get done in a timely manner this year.”
He added that the commissioners “look forward to helping the city in whatever capacity we can.”
Of course, the county is entering the new year with the impending loss of its final new car dealer, Pettus Ford.
“It is very sad to hear about Pettus Ford closing,” Ruzicka said. “It’s the last new car dealer that was left in town. That will have financial implications, because if they’re not here, whatever that they generated won’t be coming in, either. They will be missed. We also understand that in this economy, we’re just beginning to see some downturns. Obviously, you have to scale back; it’s a business decision, and we with tem well. We’re sorry to lose them as a neighbor.”