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County address touts recent achievements

About 80 community leaders, city and county officials and state representatives attended the first State of St. Francois County Address held Monday morning at the Farmington High School Field House.

The first of what organizers hope will become an annual event was sponsored by the Farmington Regional Chamber, with the assistance of the Park Hills-Leadington, Desloge and Bonne Terre chambers of commerce.

The event began with breakfast, followed by the invocation by Rev. Rocky Good, pastor of New Heights Church; welcome and opening remarks by Farmington High School Student Council President Elizabeth Felker, who also served as emcee; and leading of the Pledge of Allegiance/performance of the National Anthem by Ella Giuliani.

Farmington High School Principal Dr. Nathan Hostetler and District Technology Instructor Mindy Southern gave a brief presentation about the school’s programs and partnerships prior to the address given by St. Francois County Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher.

In his address, Gallaher — who began his first term as presiding commissioner in January 2015 — provided attendees with a wide-ranging overview of the county’s achievements, as well as ongoing projects.

Much of his speech focused on the Weber Road Facility, which was donated to the county by BJC HealthCare/Parkland Health Center and has become home to the county morgue.

“We never had a morgue,” Gallaher said. “We used a private morgue service that we and another 19 counties were using. The morgue was located in the old Mineral Area Regional Medical Center building. It was a small place. In trying to locate a new property — there was no budget for this, it hadn’t been set up — everything I looked at was going to be a million dollars.

“Either buy, build, modify, whatever — that million dollars kept coming up and it wasn’t in the budget — and we don’t do debt if we can avoid it at all. So, in talking with the Parkland Health Center and BJC, we started comparing notes and we realized it would be very possible for them to donate the building across Weber Road from the hospital.”

According to Gallaher, the building is 26,000 square feet, in good condition and has a new roof due to a hailstorm that hit the area in April 2015.

“If you’re familiar with that building back when it was a medical office building, it had a big reception area. Now that’s our morgue building. The old morgue was cramped, but the new one has a lot of space. It has an epoxy floor, ABS plastic walls, PVC plastic ceiling — entirely scrubbable.

“That room is super-scrubbed several days a week. Very likely it’s cleaner than your kitchen. It’s spotless. It’s immaculate. It’s more likely that a visitor coming in would contaminate the facility more than the facility would contaminate the visitor. It’s also under full-time security lockdown.”

Gallaher stressed that, not only has the Weber Road Facility provided more space for the county morgue, a large portion of the remaining space is income producing for the county.

“We found that we were paying rent for the District 24 Public Defenders, as were all the other counties involved with District 24 on a per capita basis,” he said. “So, we moved them from the space they were renting to a bigger, better space here. We saved the money we were spending for rent and all those other counties are paying us.

“The [St. Francois County] Community Partnership moved from a building that wasn’t quite suiting them as well as ours and, so, they sat that up and that’s income producing. Of course, with the morgue we’re paid on a per autopsy basis on that. Sadly, that income is increasing. The opioid crisis is the major factor in that, but also we have other counties looking at coming to us because we’re bigger and better and more timely.”

According to Gallaher, there are two areas in the building still available for use — one that measures 2,000 square feet and the other, 2,400 square feet.

“I have a possible use for the 2,000 square foot area by the county,” he said. “I’m not sure yet. Then, the state of Missouri has mentioned the possibility of using the 2,400 square foot area. I’m in no hurry. I’ve got other things to do right now, but that’s a possibility.

“The income from this building now breaks even on our annual operating cost. So, we have a free building with no annual operating cost due to the benevolence of BJC and Parkland Health Center — and we bless them. They also donated all the morgue equipment and truckloads of furniture. That 2017 donation by the hospital was $2.6 million to the county.”

Gallaher noted that there is an open house planned from noon to 3 p.m. Friday at the Weber Road Facility, 1101 Weber Road, in Farmington. The Juvenile Center offices will also be available for visits. The Area 24 Public Defenders office will hold its open house from 2-5 p.m., along with a celebration of two long-time employees, Betty Eddings and Wayne Williams.

Other achievements mentioned by Gallaher included creating an IT department; updating of the policy manual; increasing utility efficiency in all county buildings; advanced payoff of debt for the county annex building; repair or replacement of the courthouse clocks, facade and steps; and the move of the county Road and Bridge Department to a new location, as well as the modernizing and upgrading of county road equipment.

Ongoing projects discussed included continued courthouse updates and repairs; personnel development; Bone Hole County Park development; sale of old Road and Bridge Department property; regular budget reports to county commissioners; cost analysis of county activities and projects; and the simplifying and updating of purchasing.

The program ended with “Quartet No. 5” by Ramsoe performed by Claire Ferguson, Moira Kurtz, Dean Friedrich and Emily Tiefenauer; as well as closing remarks by Farmington R-7 School District Superintendent Matt Ruble.

“The income from this building now breaks even on our annual operating cost.” — Harold Gallaher, SFC presiding commissioner

St. Francois County Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher points at a layout of the Weber Road Facility donated to the county by BJC and Parkland Health Center while serving as main speaker at the first State of St. Francois County Address event sponsored by the Farmington Regional Chamber, along with the Park Hills-Leadington, Desloge and Bonne Terre chambers of commerce.

St. Francois County Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher points at a layout of the Weber Road Facility donated to the county by BJC and Parkland Health Center while serving as main speaker at the first State of St. Francois County Address event sponsored by the Farmington Regional Chamber, along with the Park Hills-Leadington, Desloge and Bonne Terre chambers of commerce.

Approximately 80 community leaders, civic leaders and state legislators attend the State of St. Francois County Address held Monday morning in the Farmington High School Field House. After breakfast, the attendees heard from Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher who provided them an overview of county accomplishments.

Approximately 80 community leaders, civic leaders and state legislators attend the State of St. Francois County Address held Monday morning in the Farmington High School Field House. After breakfast, the attendees heard from Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher who provided them an overview of county accomplishments.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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