ST. JAMES— Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) Executive Director Bonnie Prigge, Assistant Director Tammy Snodgrass and MRPC Chairman Ray Schwartze, Maries County presiding commissioner, met with congressional leaders and staff during a recent trip to Washington D.C. where they delivered MRPC’s federal legislative priorities for the year.
Just prior to the D.C. visits, President Donald Trump had released his infrastructure proposal. Conversations centered around more transportation funding, the need for broadband access in rural Missouri, support for Fort Leonard Wood and the continuation of federal programs that benefit rural Missouri, including Economic Development Administration (EDA), Community Development Block Grants (CDGB), United States Rural Development (USDA) and Delta Regional Authority (DRA).
In discussing transportation needs, both Tracy Henke, Sen. Blunt’s chief of staff, and Rep. Smith reiterated the need for state and local investment in transportation. Heinke pointed out that the federal government does not own the highway system, and while there is a federal role, a fair portion of the funding should come from the states and locals. Rep. Smith suggested the region consider a local funding mechanism for the four-laning of Hwy. 63, similar to what Poplar Bluff did to complete Hwy. 60. Rep Smith said that Hwy. 63 has been discussed for several years, back to his time at the Missouri State Capital.
Sen. Blunt also inquired about any interest from Meramec communities in the privatization of water/waste water systems. He believes privatization could improve efficiency for some systems.
“It’s always nice to be able to speak with our senators, representatives and their staff one-on-one,” Schwartze said. “Bonnie did a great job presenting our federal priorities and information about our organization. Other than the weather situation, it was a good trip.”
Snow in Washington, DC, caused flights to be canceled, and the group drove back to Missouri.
Each year, the MRPC board develops a list of priority issues impacting the Meramec Region. Those priorities are divided into seven categories – transportation, economic development, health care and social services, energy, homeland security and emergency preparedness, education and local government issues.
This year, the group visited with Sen. Roy Blunt, Rep. Jason Smith, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, and staff from the offices of Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Vicki Hartzler.
A full copy of the full 2018 federal legislative priorities report can be found on MRPC’s website atwww.meramecregion.org.
While there, Prigge participated in a meeting with Chris Caldwell, federal co-chair of DRA, and Kemp Morgan, DRA director of project development and management. Caldwell discussed his plans to refocus DRA work on the priorities set forth in the legislation that established DRA. Four Meramec counties – Crawford, Dent, Phelps and Washington – are part of the Delta Regional Authority and MRPC serves as the Local Development District for DRA.
The group also participated in the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Conference focusing on sessions about the broadband gap in rural America, battling the opioid addiction on the state and local level and heard a presentation from several federal agencies involved with rural community and economic development.
“The opioid addiction is now being recognized as a community development issue, especially how it impacts workforce development,” Prigge said.
During the trip, Prigge and Schwartze as well as Cindy Hulz of Mark Twain Council of Governments and Chad Eggen of Boonslick Regional Planning Commission presented Sen. Blunt with the NADO Partnership Award.
Formed in 1969, MRPC is a voluntary council of governments serving Crawford, Dent, Gasconade, Maries, Osage, Phelps, Pulaski and Washington counties and their respective cities. A professional staff of 23, directed by the MRPC board, offers technical assistance and services, such as grant preparation and administration, housing assistance, transportation planning, environmental planning, ordinance codification, business loans and other services to member communities.