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2008: Elections, economy dominate county news

December 31, 2008

Elections, the economy and storm shelters all led the news of Pettis County in 2008.



Despite the efforts of Pettis County officials, the county was not immune to growing economic challenges across the country in 2008.



Commissioners defended the state of the local economy, which has not experienced the same level of difficulties as other places around the state.



The economic outlook is more problematic now than in 2007, but the commission remained optimistic that the economy in Pettis County will fare better than other places.



“I think we need to be very cautious as we move forward, because the national economy will eventually begin to have an impact on us locally,” Presiding Commissioner Rusty Kahrs said. “I think that even when we do feel the impact locally, there will be less of an impact in Pettis County then there is nationally.”



The commissioners agreed that developing diversity among local industries, retailers and agriculture production has been and will be a vital aspect to stabilizing the economy over the next year.



“The key is diversification,” Kahrs said. “Between our industry, our agriculture base and our partnership with Whiteman, it all makes a difference and it all has an impact.”



The county’s budget for fuel and asphalt expenditures more than doubled from the beginning of the year as gas prices spiked this summer, Kahrs said.



“We were paying two to three times more to buy asphalt, and it also cost significantly more to have the material trucked out to job sites,” Kahrs said. “It was the same thing that impacted everyone across the county.”



Commissioners said an important component of seeing the county through difficult economic times will be their pursuit of funding from state or federal grant programs. This year, the county received outside funding for courthouse maintenance, shelters, bridge construction and a concrete recycling project.



“We are extremely aggressive in pursuing grant money down here,” Kahrs said. “I think that has a lot to do with why our economy in Pettis County is doing as well as it is, because we are trying to bring in these outside dollars in addition to our economic development dollars. It’s all a piece of the big pie.”



In 2009, the commission plans to continue working to attract outside funding for two bridge reconstruction projects, renovations on the railings outside the courthouse and 911 emergency system upgrades.



“All of these things... provide their own service, but when you take it all in totality it is projecting the message outside of Pettis County that we are open for business,” Kahrs said.



ELECTIONS



Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond won re-election by more than 3,700 votes over Democratic challenger Brad Anders.



The sheriff candidates diverged on several key issues in the contentious campaign, including their qualifying experience, the responsibilities of the office, the jail’s fit-for-confinement policy and the assignment of patrol deputies. The campaign was also the most expensive Pettis County race, with the candidates spending more than $51,000 combined on their bids for office.



“I did not think the spread would be this wide. The voters made a statement,” Bond said on election night.



Pettis County voters also re-elected Western Commissioner Larry Wilson and Eastern Commissioner Rod Lindemann by narrow margins in November.



SHELTERS



Construction began on the first of eight proposed shelters to be built in Pettis County. The plan made national headlines for being the first in the country to receive national mitigation funding for storm shelters.



Workers broke ground on the first shelter in La Monte in November, after years of preparation. Each shelter is expected to cost $340,000, with the state and federal funding covering 75 percent of the costs.



In October, the plan made national headlines with an article in USA Today. The proposal drew criticism from Oklahoma Emergency Management Director David Barnes, who said the shelters could encourage people to travel in poor weather conditions.



“The point that he raised, we had addressed in our operating plan... Advanced notification and getting people to come to the sites when a storm watch is issued will be the key to saving lives,” Kahrs said.



Kahrs praised La Monte’s efforts to construct a community center on top of the shelter to encourage people to take cover, even in a seemingly small storm.



The county will accept bids for shelter construction at sites in Maplewood and Smithton in January, and the commission expects three of the eight shelters will be completed by the end of the year.



COURTHOUSE RENOVATIONS



The Pettis County Courthouse was renovated through two projects earlier this year.



The first project, paid for with county funds and completed in 2008, improved access for people with disabilities by replacing sidewalks and porches on the east and west sides of the courthouse.



Pettis County also accepted a Department of Natural Resources grant to help with the maintenance project through the Missouri Heritage Properties Program.



“The Heritage grant is for the courthouse exterior cleaning and restoration, tuck-pointing and cleaning ... after 80 years of limited or no attention to the exterior of the building,” Kahrs said.



The county will be responsible for about $26,000 of the $86,000 total cost of the project. The money will go toward paying for cleaning the stone, tuck-pointing several areas and waterproofing the seal.



The commission plans to begin accepting bids for the reconstruction project early in 2009, with work expected to begin in March or April.