Multiple projects underway for county commission
Before budget preparations demand the full-time attention of the Vernon County Commission, recent conversations were an opportunity to review recent events as well as highlight less heralded actions.
In an interview with Vernon County’s presiding commissioner, Joe Hardin said, “I have to admit, working on a project such as Katy Allen Lake or even the courthouse restoration work is different from what usually occupies the commission and while both projects have been challenging, they’ve also been a lot of fun.”
Northern District Commissioner Cindy Thompson agreed with Hardin saying, “Some projects are just work but Katy Allen Lake has been, well, it has actually been fun.”
“And when you look at how it changed from being an eyesore to being a showpiece, that makes me proud of the work we do as a commission,” said Southern District Commissioner Everett Wolfe.
All three commissioners are used to having people call them or come up to them in a store and ask them to do something about a situation they have in the county but each of them has enjoyed receiving multiple positive comments on the lake project.
Before commenting on other projects, Hardin shared a bit of the conversation he had had with Missouri Governor Parson during the tour of the Missouri Welding Institute and later at the Elks lodge during the lunch and veterans memorial dedication on Nov. 9.
The presiding commissioner said, “While he was here, the governor mentioned several times that there’s going to be a push from his office – which is not going to be appreciated by the universities – to reduce some of the funding going towards universities and put some of that money towards trade schools.”
In comments he made at several locations, while in town, the governor repeated the statistic that 65 percent of Missourians do not have a college degree.
“He said that is our workforce and we need to find ways to create opportunities for further education, whether it’s a four-month program like the welding institute or a two-year program in healthcare or whatever,” said Hardin.
If Missouri is to attract and retain good jobs it also has to have a workforce with the necessary skills.
Thompson said economic development used to be all about getting a business to come to your community and that business would provide training for the workers they needed.
“Nowadays, a lot of businesses make their decision on where to go based on whether a location already has workers with the skills they’re looking for,” said Thompson. “It’s a whole new ballgame and that’s why workforce development is increasing in importance.”
While at the welding institute, Hardin and the governor were told there is a nationwide shortage of welders amounting to 400,000 to 500,000.
With the overall economy improving nationally, the need for welders to maintain our existing infrastructure, let alone to address new projects has resulted in not only a shortage of welders but also a corresponding rise in wages.
“We were shown pay-stubs of recent graduates with the lowest bringing home $2,600 a week and the highest one was almost $10,000 a week plus the job placement rate for graduates ranged from 86 to 94 percent,” said Hardin.
The presiding commissioner confirmed that one of the most frequent topics in area meetings with many groups is workforce development. He said he is pleased that county high schools are becoming more focused on what students will do after graduation, whether that is readiness for college or a career.
“People need something beyond a high school diploma so they are career ready,” said Hardin. “What that looks like is going to be different for every person but each year, workforce readiness is becoming a bigger issue for government and economic development.”
Asked about projects for the coming year, Hardin said those were decisions to be made as part of the budget process but took a few moments to highlight what he thought might be overlooked projects which have been accomplished of late.
While acknowledging it might not seem as dramatic and fun as say a Katy Allen Lake project yet they are significant in the improvement of the county’s ability to accomplish its work in an efficient manner “and frankly, some of them were removing eyesores and were long overdue.”
He mentioned installation of culverts and building concrete approaches to area bridges.
He listed improvements to the road and bridge barn (in the area adjacent to the Recycling Center on N. Colorado St.), expansion of the recycling center and cleaning out county owned areas behind Eddy’s Auto and White Grill.
Said Hardin, “Those are the things that honestly make a big difference on the visual appearance of our community and the efficiency of our road and bridge operations by consolidating and doing a better job of storing county equipment, tools, steel, pipe and other supplies we regularly use.”
While he agreed some of these things should have been done years ago, he is glad they are doing them now. He also mentioned how cleaning up the county owned areas and encouraged neighbors to clean up their lots as well.
Asked if the recycling center is close to breaking even, all three commissioners began to laugh.
“Not even close,” said Wolfe. “And we bale and send off tons of cardboard – which is the only thing that makes us any money – but it’s way too little to offset our costs, especially labor.”
Hardin made mention of the grant the county receives annually from Solid Waste District O saying the largest portion of it goes to offset salaries at the recycling center.
“The reason we’re looking to expand the recycling center is because a lot of people want to recycle and we feel we should encourage and make that possible for folks,” said Hardin.
Expansion will provide space for needed equipment and for storage of recyclables until they are picked up.
“While infrastructure never grabs headlines unless it is falling apart, it’s crucial that governments don’t cut corners and try to save a buck because it always ends up costing a lot more than the few bucks you saved,” said Hardin.
Other than completion of the Centennial Pavilion at the fairgrounds with its non-livestock exhibit space and area for the Farmers’ Market, Hardin said the coming year likely will be full of the rather mundane functions of the county.
“But I believe maintaining infrastructure is a big responsibility of government and it’s an important way that those of us elected to oversee this county are to serve the people and that’s what we’ll do.”