Commissioner voices caution about budget encumbrances

After a year of income shortfall, a move to encumber funds for 2004 brought words of caution Monday at the Marion County Commission even though the commissioner speaking those words favored the encumbrances.

“Our general fund is in trouble,” Commissioner Leroy Wetta said. “We have to be careful on treating expenditures like this as routine general policy. We need to take a closer look at them. Just because it’s in the budget doesn’t mean we have to spend it.”

County Clerk Carol Maggard handed commissioners the latest figures from County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman that showed the county general fund at $1,408,211 at the end of November. Cash on hand was reported at $5,554,610.

Commissioner Bob Hein greeted as “good news” Bateman’s report that puts 2003 property taxes already completed at $801,378.

The special auto fund stood at $1,237.

Wetta’s concern followed approval of requests made by Michelle Abbott-Becker, director of communications and emergency management, that she was able to pay for from budget savings and outside grant money.

The commissioners approved $2,500 to be encumbered for emergency management operation books that was approved to be spent Sept. 30, but won’t be paid for until in 2004.

Abbott-Becker said she had $8,000 in her budget that wasn’t spent because hazardous-event funds hadn’t been needed, and can now be used for equipment.

As a result, the commissioners approved her spending $1,095 with Great Plains Computers for a computer with monitor to replace an older model that has weather radar and chemical monitoring capability. Alternate bids for the equipment were $1,138 from Gateway and $1,193 from Dell.

Abbott-Becker announced that funding from a state and local assistance grant is being supplemented so that it may total $10,354 instead of the $7,200 that was expected.

Maggard said she received notice from Mid-Continental Restoration of Fort Scott that it is withholding payment to APAC-Kansas to ensure that APAC is back to finish resealing next spring. APAC had patched courthouse parking damage caused by a Mid-Continental crane during courthouse restoration.

Hein announced the reappointment of Bob Unruh of Durham to a three-year term on the Marion County Planning and Zoning Commission. He said he wanted to keep Unruh’s experience on the commission during zoning rule changes.

David Brazil, director of planning, zoning, sanitarian department and the transfer station, said the regional solid waste authority that Marion County is a part of, along with McPherson and Harvey counties, has requested a $2,000 contribution from each county for normal operations. He said the last contribution from each county was $5,000.

Hein, who represents Marion County on the authority along with Brazil, said the authority would like the money by the first of the year. He is hopeful that more counties will join.

Commission Chairman Howard Collett noted the authority represents the county’s current solid waste plan with the state “and is our obligation. If we don’t pay, we can’t belong.”

Collett said the funds could be taken from the solid-waste budget which covers all solid-waste matters including attorney fees, and has nothing to do with the transfer station.

Wetta moved to take the $2,000 from the fund with the stipulation that the county representatives report back directly if at any time any of the money is used in the process of siting a landfill. The commissioners approved it 3-0.

Gerald Kelsey, road and bridge director, was given the task by commissioners of trying to make improvements to 360th into Ramona after it was requested by Ramona Mayor Pat Wick and a group of Ramona area residents.

Kelsey told the Ramona group he believes his department can significantly improve dust, mud and surface problems on 360th to U.S. Highway 77 from Ramona by putting a “gravel-grade” sand mix on the existing gravel-a strategy he said has worked east of Lincolnville and by Peabody.

Kelsey said he would probably apply 150 tons of sand per mile on top of a recent application of 300 tons of road rock per mile. He said the application would be the most cost-effective and maintainable compared to putting down millings or any hard-surface mix.

The commissioners said they couldn’t approve paving when the tight budget already is making it difficult to keep up maintenance on existing chip and seal roads.

Wick said Ramona has lost businesses such as its bank, gas station and restaurant, and the community feels itself “fighting for a way of life to live” while it is on the edge of county funding and being on the geographical edge of the county as well.

She and the other members of her group said they couldn’t leave without some word for the people of the Ramona community as to what action they could expect.

Kelsey said application would be weather dependent, but might be done as early as in two weeks.

Rick Hanschu, Ramona farmer, said he has been hearing the same sort of discussion since hard surface was removed from the road 15 years ago, and he has been discouraged that improvements won’t happen.

Sheriff Lee Becker turned in a projected $7,372 shortfall in being able to pay personnel in 2004 from what is budgeted. His expected total of $282,371 included $270,144 in regular salaries, $3,109 in annual overtime and $9,119 in traditional holiday pay.

The amount budgeted, he said, is $274,999. The pay is for a secretary and nine officers, including Becker.

Becker said the jail has a chronic problem with a water leak starting in the top floor that goes to the basement causing deterioration of property. He said the problem has been known to be caused by inmates flushing towels down toilets in the past, but that the pipes shouldn’t be leaking even if there is a back-up of water.

The commissioners agreed with him that a plumber should be called.

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