• What do you see as the role of the commission in terms of the day-to-day operations of the county?
By state law, a commissioner has no decision-making authority except during a scheduled meeting. However, that does not preclude staying in touch with employees and constituents to keep abreast of what all is transpiring throughout the county.
I guess the best way to put it is to be available but not get in the way of people “doing their jobs.”
• If tax-law changes currently proposed at the state level result in less money coming to the county, how should the county respond?
Unfortunately this happens all the time. In 2006 the state legislature granted a tax exemption to businesses for certain personal property items (store furnishings, etc). When setting the budget for 2007 we started $700,000 dollars in the hole due to lost revenue. This was compensated for by budget reductions and a small mill levy increase.
What the state is considering now is further exemptions that will cost Marion county $400,000 to $500,000 in lost revenue starting in 2014 and will have a direct impact on the county budget. Again cuts and mill levy increases will have to be made.
Keep in mind these exemptions result in revenue reductions to every taxing entity in Marion County (schools, cities, hospital districts, fire districts, etc.) that can only be compensated for by cuts or tax increases.
Any gain made by small businesses due to the exemptions were nullified by the resulting property tax increases on their homes and businesses, the only advantage gained was by large business entities.
The tax exemption in 2006, coupled with the Keystone Pipeline exemption, has cost Marion County $2 million in revenue annually at our current mill levy. The proposed exemption, if passed next year, will cost us an additional $500,000 dollars in tax revenue.
In short, if the two existing exemptions were not in place, Marion County would be bringing in an additional $2 million in revenue at our existing mill levy, or we could cut the mill levy by 30 percent and have the budget dollars we have now.
Note of interest at election time: All of our existing and former state legislators with the exception of Bob Brookens have supported these exemptions.
As for adjusting for lost revenue, historically reductions have been made across the board to avoid eliminating entire programs, if possible. Not filling vacancies created when people retire or move on, has been another avenue to reduce the budget.
• Identify the three most important issues facing Marion County right now—and the best role or position the county commission can take to address them.
1. The biggest detriment to Marion County (as well as the other 104 counties in the state) at present is the Kansas Legislature. The rampant issuing of tax exemptions to special-interest groups is cutting the throat of all taxing entities in the state.
Every time a large tax exemption is granted, the lost revenue is made up mostly by an increase in property taxes. I feel the Kansas Association of Counties needs to take a more active and aggressive role in lobbying against legislative actions detrimental to tax bases.
KAC is doing the best it can with the funds they have, thus an increase in funding by member counties would be required.
2. The lateral-drilling oil boom creeping our way will have an immense impact on our county. There are positive and negative results associated with this boom, should it occur.
In visiting with other communities that have already experienced this boom it is clear our lives will be changed significantly. Granted, there will be a large increase in tax revenue, but it will come with a price.
Some of the issues are:
• A large increase in population that will dramatically affect housing by driving up prices and reducing availability. Schools will experience enrollment increases, which if it happens after “count day” will result in budget issues.
• Heavy truck traffic will severely impact our infra-structure.
• Increases in crime can be expected and prices for rent, food, etc., will naturally increase due to high wages paid by the drilling companies. These wages and resulting price increases will significantly hurt those residents not working for the drilling companies that will still be making a living on the local economy.
All that can be done by local governments is to exercise due vigilance and try to anticipate and mitigate issues as they arise.
3. Economic development is and always will be a major issue. If you were to ask five people what constitutes economic development, you usually will get six different answers.
I believe Marion County’s best chance is tourism. It brings people to the county, and at times results in someone choosing to live here and even to start a business.
Additionally, judging by monthly sales tax figures, we have seen a steady climb in monthly totals (the half-cent tax for the jail is monitored separately) that can only be attributed to tourists spending out of county money here.
County communities, organizations and individuals are doing a splendid job of hosting events that attract tourists throughout the year.
Although we are actively pursuing manufacturing-type businesses, Marion County is a hard sell because we do not have the labor force nor the housing to support the sudden arrival of a large manufacturing entity. Not that this can not be overcome, it is just a negative when trying to attract businesses to move here.
Personally, I would rather see 10 businesses with five employees than one with 50. It gives the infrastructure time to absorb the growth and the impact of a closing would not be as dramatic.
As a county we need to constantly watch for prospects, but not set our goals higher than we have any chance of attaining at the expense of attracting smaller businesses, preferably businesses started by local people.
The second half of the equation is to support existing local businesses to help them expand. Local citizens that belong to this community and have a vested interest are more apt to stick it out after any enticements they may receive have expired.
• Why should voters in your district support you instead of your opponent?
I have an eight-year track record indicating my goals and beliefs. No matter what I say now is out of line from my actions in the past, it will have no credibility. I may and have changed methodology on various issues, but my basic goals and beliefs about what I think is best for Marion County I feel have never wavered.
I am a “what you see is what you get” person. If a voter feels I am on the wrong track, he or she should vote for Mr. Lewis.
• Prioritize the top three roads in your district requiring attention.
First, Remington (Pilsen Road), Quail Creek (South Ramona Road) and 310 (West Lost Springs Road) have been rebuilt and will have to be chip-sealed in 2013.
Of a bigger concern county-wide are two areas on the east side and west side of the county that are in all three commission districts.
On the west side of the county west of Kansas Highway 15 and going from U.S. Highway 56 in the south to 330th (Roxbury Road) at the north there are 78 square miles with only 3.5 miles of paved road. Some residents have to drive eight to 10 miles to access a paved road.
On the east side of U.S. Highway 77 from 310th (2 miles north of Lost Springs) to the Butler County line, there are 203 square miles with 12 miles of paved roads (Kansas Highway 150 and U.S. Highway 50). Some Marion County residents in this area have a 7- to 8-mile drive to access a paved road.
Except for these two areas, most rural residents are within three to four miles of a paved road. Now that we have addressed repairing existing hard-surfaced roads for the most part, serious consideration needs to be given to mitigating this issue in these two areas of the county.
These residents deserve better and I feel these areas should now be given a priority consideration.