Groups asking county for bigger budgets in lean times

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
County departments and public organizations came with budget needs-in the face of state funding cuts-to the Marion County Commission Monday.

All were promised some consideration as the county’s 2003 budget is processed and audited.

District Judge Michael Powers came with staff to request a $95,219 budget compared to $86,277 last year. Although expenses grew, Powers said the budget has been kept artificially low in past years.

For instance, $21,000 was budgeted for defense expense for the underprivileged in 2001 while $28,989 actually was spent, Powers said. He noted the expense is required to meet constitutional guarantees for those who use it.

Included in the court budget is an increase in the share Marion County will pay as a member of a four-county district, Powers said. He said shares are allotted according to the number of cases with Marion County’s share increasing from 9 to 11 percent while Morris County pays 5 percent, Dickinson County pays 23 percent, and Geary County pays 61 percent.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Howard Collett, Powers said the number of cases roughly correlate to relative county populations.

In contrast to most of the budgeting, the court trustee who collected in child support cases stayed mostly financed independently of the county because 1 percent of collections from each parent goes to the court, and the state provides funding to help avert providing more expense for the child later if the support isn’t collected.

County extension agents Rickey Roberts and Nancy Pihl asked commissioners for a $103,550 budget, including an increase of $4,500 primarily for health insurance benefits, after a state budget cut to extension offices of $5 million. They will continue to balance needs through the County Extension Council with programs and technical support through Kansas State University.

Mel Goering and staff from Prairie View, in his $55,000 county budget request, said the agency is continuing new programs to help children earlier for quicker recoveries at lower cost.

Prairie View is working through the school system to identify children with problems earlier, perhaps reducing needs before parents or schools come to the agency in desperation, Goering said.

He said a summer camp for emotionally disturbed children serving 60 Marion County kids last year has been operating three years. Outcomes have included fewer parents losing jobs for lack of child care, fewer problems later in life, and less juvenile crime, he said.

Sherry Soyez, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, with board member Kent Becker and big sister Kimberly Jost, came to ask commissioners to increase the organization’s funding from $5,000 to $7,000 in an expected $60,000 budget already reduced from an originally expected $80,000 when more grants looked promising.

They said 70 Marion County children are waiting for matches that give improvent rates in the 60 to 80 percent range in school performance and relationships and higher avoidance of negatives such as delinquency and substance abuse. Children spending two to three hours a week with a community-based match increased self-confidence 89 percent and sense of future 61 percent, Soyez said.

Commission Chairman Bob Hein said such programs do much for the county, and he hoped the commission would be able to provide as much funding as possible.

Heather Gonzales of SOS, an Emporia based agency that acts as a grass-roots advocacy group in sexual assault and abuse cases with a current case load of nine in Marion County, asked commissioners for $1,580 in budgetary help. She said SOS works through clergy, health organizations, SRS and the District Court in Marion County.

Gonzales said as many as one in four women may need some help although men sometimes do too, and the case load in Marion County is low relative to population.

Commissioners believed SOS received no county funding last year.

Bill Smithhart, noxious weed director, broke the trend by asking commissioners for the same budget as last year, $47,893.

Commissioners encouraged Smithhart to work longer hours with compensation time later to kill musk thistles during the season’s “window of opportunity.”

John Laurin, Marion building contractor, asked commissioners for county construction of 745 feet of roadway to 12 homes he will build at Marion County Lake on six acres.

Commissioner Leroy Wetta said there would be a problem in doing that since the county is requiring other developers to build roads before the county maintains them.

Laurin agreed to build the road to be known as Rose Lane under contract specifications provided by Gerald Kelsey, road and bridge director. Laurin said he would lay road bed rock with rolled millings on top to the same specifications the county is using on access roads to the area.

The commissioners advised Laurin to return with road and utility access plans.

Laurin expected his homes to be single-family dwellings in the $100,000 to $120,000 price range.

County Clerk Carol Maggard said the county will need to seek insurance reimbursement for storm damaged shingles on the courthouse tower.

She said evidence on the courthouse clock bolt pulling through wood to do damage is pointing to deterioration of wood over 100 years time possibly exacerbated by roof leaks. Estimates to repair a damaged gear are in the $2,500 to $3,500 range, she said.

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