The Board of Directors of St. Francois County Joint Communications met Wednesday and reviewed financials, Simms Mountain tower issues and medical insurance for its employees.
Board member Ginger Taylor, CPA, heads the Budget and Finance Committee. She said November sales tax collections amounted to $272,811, lower than previous Novembers “but as we’ve talked before, that’s really a moving target.” She said last month’s collection was a bit higher than previous Octobers, “so it’s bouncing around a little bit.” She added that the hope is that December’s sales will be strong in the county, and the economy seems to be doing fairly well.
Taylor reminded the board they’d previously discussed in the 2019-20 budget making an aggressive amount of payments on the debt incurred from expanding the building in 2017, a project funded with a 2014, 3/8-cent sales tax.
“If we pay $150,000 a quarter in 2020, which is what we budgeted for, it looks like we’d have a balance next year of just under $445,000,” she said. “We’d have that debt retired by July 2021. So that would have us making roughly about seven payments. It’s still in our parameters.” Taylor noted the $2.5 million loan from First State Community Bank was at “2.4 interest, which is wonderful.”
“We’re very much on target with our debt and we’re looking at a surplus this year. Right now, we have a surplus of about $592,000,” she said. “There will be some expenses in December that pulls that down, and of course the Simms project has been put off to next year.”
The hope is to rebuild the Simms Mountain tower building, the progress of which awaits plans from the architect. The $300,000 included in this year’s budget will be moved to next year’s budget. Still, updates and repairs are occasionally necessary for the tower, which was built in 2006 in partnership with Southeast Missouri State University.
Southeast uses the middle of the tower as a repeater for its public radio station, KRCU. St. Francois County 911, which also serves Ste. Genevieve County, uses the rest of the tower. Southeast had procured funding for the building and tower through a grant, and the 911 Center provided the land on Simms Mountain, which provided a high enough signal to accommodate the rolling hills and valleys in this region of the Ozarks.
Center Director Alan Wells reminded the board that last month, he presented the news that the generator had become undependable. “We can’t take the risk, when it comes to the tower’s operations,” he said.
Wells said according to estimates, it might be about $18,000 to replace the generator’s engine with a refurbished model that carried a one-year warranty, or $27,000 could be spent on new, more dependable generator with a 10-year warranty. The board unanimously voted to buy a new generator.
Board President Ron Bockenkamp asked if it was possible Southeast might pay for half the generator’s cost. Wells replied it was possible, but the university’s personnel had yet to get back to him on the financial particulars. He repeated that there was more on the line for the 911 center than for the public radio station, in the event the generator gave out.
Board member Mark Allen asked whether the old tower would even be necessary, once the new tower was built. Wells replied it was still useful. “We have so many channels and frequencies and antennas, and we have a share on that tower so we can still utilize all of it,” he said.
The board also officially voted to switch medical insurance plans from All-Savers, a United Healthcare plan, to St. Francois County Government’s insurance, Team Care, a Central States health plan.
Wells explained that when the current medical plan’s rates rose this year, they began to look for other options. “We asked the county if it was an option to come in under their program, under the Team Care program, they looked at it, and said we’re still approvable as a function of the county,” he said. “St. Francois County employees seem to be really, really happy with that and you can see that it’s cheaper, with much better coverage. The overall cost is a bit more than our projections for All-Savers, but it’s our recommendation the board approve moving over to Team Care for the medical benefit. It’s a much better, more inexpensive plan for families.”
Bockenkamp said he talked with county commissioners and “they were extremely positive in the relationship they’ve had with Team Care. I also talked with county employees who said they were very pleased with the policy they now have versus what they had before. It’s very good for the county.”
Taylor pointed out that the extra $30,000 the plan costs will prove a significant savings for employees in terms of premiums and deductibles. “The $30,000 is a lot of money, but for the savings to the employee, you can’t put a price on that, compared to what they’re currently dealing with,” she said. “I think it’s good to incentivize packages like these, and as you’ve said before, we have lost a couple of employees due to the health insurance we have, so this is a good choice.”
Once the board approved moving to Team Care, Wells presented the board with a card of thanks from the employees.
Bockenkamp jokingly acknowledged the employees seemed a little “presumptuous” that the board would approve the health insurance switch. “What would you have done if we’d said no?” he kiddingly asked Wells. “I guess we’d have held onto that card,” Wells joked back.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.