Groups involved with informing voters about the various measures appearing on next month's municipal election ballot have been faced with a tough task — regaining momentum after being forced to a standstill.
One of the results of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was a postponed municipal election date for Missouri, which saw the original election date of April 7 pushed to June 2. Namely, this has had an effect on information campaigns for the election's three major ballot measures: the Moniteau County R-1 School District's "Proposition 2020 - Vision for the Future," a tax levy increase for the California Rural Fire Protection District, and Proposition P, a half-cent sales tax funding law enforcement and county road and bridge maintenance.
For many involved with these campaigns, COVID-19 forced a complete halt to community meetings and other activities.
"It felt like starting over again really, in a lot of ways," California Superintendent Dwight Sanders said. "It definitely halted everything, a screeching halt. It wasn't a slowdown, it just really stopped. So it's required us to get back out there and start from square one."
Sanders said he's been unable to get out and appear at community meetings thanks to cancellations spurred by social distancing requirements and stay-home orders, and the Prop 2020 steering committee basically shut down for two months.
Though technology still allowed for communication during the past couple months, Sanders said it was challenging to get the word out in the same way that face-to-face interactions would have. Now, the school district has re-energized its marketing campaign, from advertising to a door-to-door flyer campaign.
"We'll put the flyer on their door, walk away and let them read it at their leisure, but that takes away the opportunity to answer questions and we were also going to seek signatures at that time if folks were supporting it," Sanders said. "So we're not going to be able to do those things."
The lone bright side for California Schools is the low interest rates on loan borrowing as a result of the pandemic's economic effects. Sanders said the district will also likely see more competitive bids from contractors given the current state of the economy.
For the CRFD, focus on informing the public had to shift for differing reasons — as first responders, they've had to be on the front line of the pandemic. CRFD Chief Shawn Merrill said the momentum was there, but it was important to make sure they were keeping everyone safe when going on calls.
Successful passage of the ballot measure is even more imperative now, Merrill said — the District was already strapped for cash, and the pandemic forced even more spending on necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
"Honestly, if (the ballot measure) doesn't pass, we may have to start looking at shutting some stations down," Merrill said. "I really don't want to do that because it's going to hurt everybody's insurance, because then they're not going to have a station within 5 miles it'd probably come close to doubling everybody's insurance, and we don't want to let that happen."
In the long run, Merrill said, the District will have to find where it can take the unexpected expenses from.
"The main focus is keeping us safe so we can help everyone else, so we've got to have our PPE to stay safe there," Merrill said. "So we just had to basically stop what we were doing to get the equipment. Luckily, Kevin (Wieberg) and (Moniteau County 911/Emergency Management) were helping get us masks and stuff like that that we needed."
Merrill said it's hard to pivot back again with the election fast-approaching, but the CRFD is working to inform voters again. Previously, the CRFD was working from door-to-door informing citizens, so it's now had to pivot more to mailers and social media. Similar to the school district, the inability to host town hall meetings and other face-to-face interactions means the CRFD is having to do the best it can given the circumstances, Merrill said.
For Prop P, Moniteau County Presiding Commissioner Mac Finley said the campaign committee, to his knowledge, had to come to a similar standstill. Finley said as an elected official, his involvement merely extended to appearing at meetings throughout the county to explain the elements of the ballot measure to voters, something he's not been able to do.
County finances are set to take a substantial hit, Finley said, especially since funding provided to Moniteau County by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has only limited use and won't necessarily make up for the economic shortfalls of the pandemic.
"This is unlike anything any of us have every experienced," Finley said.