*CORRECTION: State Rep. Jay Houghton moved from the former 10th District to represent the new 43rd District. This report misstated the reorganization of the districts.
The Audrain County Farm Bureau hosted its 16th Annual Legislators Appreciation Banquet on Friday night, January 4, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Mexico, Mo.
Jerry Johnson, Farm Bureau chairman, began the evening updating the crowd on their array of government representation spanning west near the Missouri-Kansas border — such as 4th District U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who resides in Harrisonville, Mo., and 6th District Congressman Sam Graves, of Liberty, Mo. — to local legislators like *43rd District Rep. Jay Houghton, and the Audrain County Commission.
Rep. Houghton was first to speak and reported that one the most critically discussed items for the 97th General Assembly will be whether to set up a health care exchange under rule of the Affordable Care Act. Houghton said Missourians voted twice against health exchange measures.
“The legislature and the state have left us between a rock and a hard place,” Rep. Houghton said.
He recommended Missouri establish its own criteria for an exchange.
“If we as a state set one up, we can set our own parameters,” Rep. Houghton added.
He said an exchange dictated by the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost in the first year and 70 percent by year three.
“My question to them is what if it’s too expensive?,” Rep. Houghton said. “Will they be pulling the rug out from under the state, turning a partially funded mandate into a unfunded mandate? We don’t need that.”
Houghton went on to discuss problems troubling Missouri’s’ agricultural industry.
“From an agricultural standpoint, we face the EPA, DNR HSUS, PETA, and if things don’t change — another drought,” he said.
He noted his service on an agricultural committee over the summer, on which he opposed two of the committee’s recommendations.
He said the first recommendation rationed the amount of corn used for ethanol production during a bad production year.
The second recommendation, he said, mandated that .25 cents per gallon of milk sold would go the producer.
“To the producer is okay, but I don’t like mandates, they do not work,” he added.
Chris Janssen, representative for Rep. Hartzler, said she and he will strive to meet the needs of the area.
“Congressman Hartzler does have quite a few counties, so we’re going to try and get her over here as much as possible,” Jansen said. “She does like to interact with people, that’s her go-to thing. That’s where she has brought a lot of legislation forward was from the ground up directly from constituents.”
Aaron Baker, representing Congressman Sam Graves, said Graves covers Rush Hill and all points east.
“We will be in Audrain County as many times as you invite me to be here,” he said. “We love to be involved with communities, especially Vandalia, Farber, and Laddonia.”
Baker said his office is located in Hannibal.
Ray Bozarth, representative for Sen. Blunt, said Sen. Blunt is serving a second term in the U.S. Senate and remains on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
“He is the ranking member and that puts him in a very special position to fight for farmers,” Bozarth said. “He’s talked to a lot of farmers and he takes those thoughts and concerns — of elected officials, Farm Bureau representatives, and constituents like yourselves — very seriously.”
The Audrain County Commission, represented by Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs and Western District Commissioner Tom Groves spoke to the Farm Bureau crowd on both concerns and positive notes of the county.
Groves started by saying the county may lose its University Extension small business specialist in the coming year.
“Extension may in jeopardy in years coming,” he said. “That’s something Farm Bureau needs to be aware of. A lot of people depend on the university extension office and we like having them.”
He said right-of-way issues have prevented road bridge building in 2012. He added county crews built four bridges.
Adding to bridge work mentioned by Graves, Hobbs noted the county’s right-of-way issues were due to the county commission’s elimination of the special-bridge tax.
“That means that we have to depend on land owners who feel the civic need to donate to us to build these bridges and save on cost,” Hobbs said.
He said four bridges are in the works for next year.
Groves updated the group on renovations on the courthouse, which includes paint, a new elevator, and a rubber roof replacement on the courthouse with a 30 year warranty. He said the roof and elevator have helped saved about half of what the county paid last year on utility expenses.
Hobbs discussed Audrain County’s budget. He said the county has been able to build its fiscal balance.
“We are building our fund balances in Audrain County, not because we want to have money to waste, but because we know that when the roof fails on the jail in May and we have to come up with $250,000, we have that money available and it doesn’t put our county in a bad position,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs then moved onto concerns for the county.
He said about 50,000 of the 250,896 people come through the Audrain County court system per year.
“At any given time, we could have someone who has had a crime committed against them sitting on a bench with someone whose husband or wife or sibling committed that crime,” he added. “Those are the things that concern us at Audrain County.”
Hobbs noted limited parking as a result of the court traffic and less-than -desirable situations falling outside of “polite society” that people deal with when conducting their daily business at the courthouse.
Janis Deimeke reported updates at the office of the recorder of deeds, which included a server update and a fee-based online records database.
She said another update at the office includes a free property fraud alert that alerts property owners of activity within her office.
Audrain County Prosecutor Jacob Shellabarger said the county has seen a alarming increase of domestic disturbance cases. He said Audrain County charged 63 cases in 2010, 77 cases in 2011, and 104 cases in 2012.
“It is an alarming increase, and I only charge cases that I know I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “If I know he did it, but I can’t prove it, I can’t charge it.”
Shellabarger urged citizens to who have witnessed a crime to come forward and be involved in delivering justice.
“There’s a part of society that says ‘no, It doesn’t involve me and I’m not going to be a witness,’” he said. “The only things that I can take into the courtroom with me are the facts that are brought by people other than me. I’m just a cook, I mix the recipes but If I don’t have the ingredients, I can’t go to trial.”