Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon delivered the 2022 "State of the County Address" to the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center in Springfield Oct. 6, 2022. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Greene County’s population is growing, its economy is steady and its county government is watching tax dollars with “quiet, careful consideration.” Those were the messages Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon shared with business leaders at the Springfield Chamber of Commerce-sponsored “State of the County Address” on Oct. 6.

As members of the audience ate breakfast and drank their coffee at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center, Dixon walked them through some of the brass tacks of county government, and hit the highlights of 2022. In the midst of facts, figures and dollar amounts, Dixon pushed a message of regional unity and collaboration.

“Some might think that county government is boring,” Dixon said. “Frankly, we like it that way. It means we’re getting the job done without controversy or acrimony. On the other hand, these are exciting times as we look to the future as a region, working together to promote growth and progress.”

Greene County’s population is growing at a rate of about 3 percent per year. At the same time, there’s a low unemployment rate of 2.5 percent, and people are spending money here. Revenue from sales tax went up 11 percent from 2021 to 2022. While sales tax growth slowed in August, Dixon said the economy still shows signs of growth as the county government ramps up the process of financial planning for 2023.

“We are an attractive region and stand on the forefront of something big, particularly if we think and act regionally,” Dixon said. “We really do have so much to offer here in the Ozarks region.”

The Greene County government is made up of 13 elected officials and about 1,000 employees. It oversees a budget with more than $261 million in appropriations for the 2022 financial year. 

Springfield Chamber of Commerce President Matt Morrow said that he was taken with the amount of opportunity ahead that Dixon touted in the speech.

“One of the things that you can’t escape in a county that has so many independently elected officials and so many professionals that support those officials is the necessity of collaboration and teamwork and the theme that continues to come through,” Morrow said.

Labor issues and de-unionizing

Dixon spent the first half of the address highlighting some accomplishments and events in each office of Greene County government on an office-by-office rundown. In his piece about the Greene County Highway Department, he brought up challenges with the workforce and the people who build and maintain 2,510 miles of roadway and 890 bridges that Greene County controls.

“Workforce challenges have significantly impacted the county on many levels,” Dixon said. “At Highway alone, our full-time staff is down about 20 percent, and our part-time season staff is about 90 percent, making some tasks like mowing our 8,000 acres of rights of way and clearing brush almost impossible to manage.”

The presiding commissioner reported that employees in the Greene County Highway Department voted to stop their engagement in collective bargaining and to disband from the Service Employees International Union. Dixon called the decision to de-unionize “another validation of our team-minded, county family approach and a major endorsement of our highway leadership team and the care that they take.”

Dixon noted the work of Greene County Director of Human Resources Mailyn Jeffries and her staff in hiring new employees over the past year.

“They have onboarded and oriented nearly 300 employees this year and have successfully implemented both a new employee referral program and a tuition reimbursement program,” Dixon said.

Tax revenue for building projects

The Greene County Commission unveiled a proposal to renovate the former county jail for offices and courtrooms on July 29, 2022. Pictured, from left, First District Commissioner Rusty MacLachlan, Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon and Second District Commissioner John C. Russell. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Over the next three years, Dixon pointed to $19 million in courthouse campus renovations and reorganization to be funded through bond revenue from a sales tax voters enacted in November 2017.

“‘Fiscal care’ has been the watchword as we approach this final bond action authorized by a 2017 voter-approved tax to fund improvements, and throughout the entire process,” Dixon said. “We have now entered the more detailed planning stage of these improvements and expect to have them completed in about three years.”

Dixon and commissioners John C. Russell and Rusty MacLachlan unveiled the preliminary campus reorganization plan on July 29. The money will come from a general revenue building bond that has been planned for several years, shortly after the 2017 vote.

“The county is expected to issue a final bond at the end of the first quarter in 2022,” the county’s 2022 budget document reads. “This bond will consist of the estimated $25.3 million to finish the Sheriff’s Office and Jail facility and possibly another $19.9 million in campus planning projects. The repayment source of this bond was planned for in the 2017 tax resolution and by the elimination of rental payments.”

Part of the proposal calls for Greene County to stop leasing office space on the 10th floor of the Cox Medical Tower, which would stop $107,000 in rental expenses per year. The county commission would move to the second floor of the Greene County Historic Courthouse.

“This means that the Greene County Commission will be housed in the courthouse and even more accessible to citizens for the first time in decades,” Dixon said.

A rendering from N-Form Architecture shows the map of the Greene County courthouse campus on North Boonville Avenue in Springfield. (Image from the Greene County Commission)

ARPA funds injected into Greene County

Dixon started the speech by discussing the “quiet, careful consideration” of allocating $57 million for distribution through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Some major projects funded through ARPA involve partnerships with other organizations. They include the Burrell Behavioral Health Youth Behavioral Crisis Center, a production facility at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center in concert with Missouri State University, and the airframe and powerplant maintenance training facility at the Springfield-Branson National Airport in concert with Ozarks Technical Community College.

Greene County also allocated $3.1 million for more than 300 small businesses, at an average of about $11,000 per grant. The next step will be to make allocations to nonprofit organizations seeking ARPA funding.

“We are now sifting through more than 100 applications as part of the nonprofit program, and we plan to have Tier 1 completed soon as the advisory council has recently completed their work and made their recommendations,” Dixon said.

With help from Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC), Consumer Credit Counseling Services, Community Partnerships of the Ozarks, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, Council of Churches and the Salvation Army, Greene County has distributed about $16 million in federal emergency rental assistance, with more to come before the end of 2022.

“We expect over $22.3 million in rental assistance funds will be dispersed into the economy,” Dixon said. “This is not happening everywhere else. In fact, in many communities across the country, the program has been an abject failure and the subject of congressional hearings.”

Dixon touted rental assistance programs as part of $113.8 million in federal recovery funding that is ultimately the Greene County Commission’s job to oversee and distribute.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger