Franklin County and city of Washington officials discussed recent accomplishments and issues impacting the county during a forum with Washington Area Chamber of Commerce members and the interested public last Friday.
Presenters summarized accomplishments, projects and developments, some of which were completed since the start of the year, as well as others that are expected to carry over into 2013. They also fielded questions submitted by individuals attending the forum.
Speakers included John Griesheimer, Franklin County presiding commissioner; Terry Wilson, retiring District 1 Franklin County commissioner; Ann Schroeder, outgoing District 2 Franklin County commissioner; Tim Brinker, District 1 Franklin County commissioner-elect;
Debbie Door, Franklin County clerk; Gary Toelke, Franklin County sheriff; Sandy Lucy, mayor of Washington; and Darren Lamb, Washington director of economic development.
East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer served as the forum chairman.
Griesheimer brought a visual aid to the forum — a poster board listing more than a dozen of the commission’s accomplishments including the establishment of the county municipal court, a budgeted pay increase for full-time county employees, the adoption of an updated master plan, the integration of a new 911 dispatch system, the scheduling of 11 bridge projects and 12 major equipment purchases.
“We’re not just sitting around getting sued,” he said.
Sheriff Toelke addressed the streak of local burglaries.
Detective work revealed a number of stolen items and cash were tied to heroin sales in St. Louis, he said.
Recent suicides, teen and adult, were also touched on by Toelke. While the number of suicide attempts in Franklin County is up between this year and last — there were 171 suicide attempts as of the third week of November 2011, compared to more than 220 as of the same week in 2012 — the number of suicide-related deaths is not up dramatically.
In 2011 there were a total of 12 suicide deaths and as of Thursday, Nov. 15, with the death of Kelley Winistoerfer, Villa Ridge, the number of suicide deaths in Franklin County during 2012 had risen to 10.
Door was proud to announce Franklin County was among the first counties to consider and use an iPad voter check-in system. As a result the 2012 election had gone as smoothly as any she’s previously supervised.
Although, some election judges were hesitant to embrace the technology.
“The average age of one of my election judges is probably 75 to 80,” Door said. “Some of them just quit right off.”
Ultimately, though, the iPad check-in method kept voters moving.
“There were no long lines and wait times,” Door said.
She added a number of people who served as judges were so pleased with the ease and usability of the iPad they’ve gone out and purchased one since the election.
Lucy and Lamb reviewed a number of capital improvement projects that have been completed or are nearing completion.
Lucy’s mention of the repaved intersection of 14th Street and Jefferson was met with cheers.
Lamb said the team track is at 95 percent completion and hangar expansion at the airport is under way.
Topics brought forward by individuals attending the forum included the state of the local economy, the potential impact of the recently released anti-meth pseudoephedrine product, and the possibility of a county or city of Washington smoke-free ordinance.
Without revealing too much, Griesheimer said some future community development “will knock everybody’s socks off.”
Lamb also addressed local development and job opportunities. He said companies are busy and want to expand. The key to making expansion and growth possible is to bridge the gap between educational institutions that provide training and certification and skilled labor institutions.
“Mercy has 40 to 60 job openings they’re looking to fill. They need those qualified workers,” Lamb said.
The county is also undergoing an evaluation to grade its collective work force, that way Lamb said, site selectors looking to develop anywhere in the nation can compare Franklin County’s resources and work force readiness to other counties in a quantitative way.
Toelke expressed optimism about the anti-meth decongestant formula that went on sale earlier this month.
“Hopefully, we’re just scratching the surface with (abuse resistant drugs),” he said.
Because the drug formula prevents pseudoephedrine extraction for meth production counties with pseudoephed prescription laws can apply for an exemption of the prescription requirement.
Franklin County has been granted such an exemption so consumers are less inconvenienced by safeguards meant to prevent drug trafficking, which has been a long-term goal of the sheriff’s department.
Toelke’s optimism was cautious, though.
“If anybody in the U.S. is going to find a way around this, it’ll be here (in Franklin County),” he said.
Griesheimer said he’d been previously tangled in the issue of a smoke-free Franklin County when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch erroneously reported the county supported a smoke-free initiative.
“The Legislature doesn’t have the guts to do it,” he said. “I’d like to leave that up to the patrons.”
Mayor Lucy said the group Breathe Easy Washington is raising awareness about the risks of even casual exposure to smoking environments.
She fully expects the group to come to the city council in the near future with some sort of proposal backed by an adequate portion of Washington’s citizens.
Brinker said introducing and promoting such an initiative is not a personal priority. The focus needs to be on controlling the county budget and still giving the same level of service to county citizens, he said.