Battles in county range from budget cuts to lawsuits

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Battles in the judicial system and in the budget process highlighted an eventful 2003 in Marion County.

It was also a year retooling for the future at the local and county levels-with some project thrust upon local governments by higher authorities and unforeseen circumstances, and others taken at their own initiative.

Following is a month-to-month recap of those events.

January

The first loads of trash began coming in to the solid-waste transfer station recently acquired by the county in Marion. David Brazil, transfer-station manager, said things were operating smoothly.

The City of Marion was turned down for two state grants considered critical to future developments. The Kansas Department of Transportation turned down a 2006 grant to rebuild Eisenhower Street, and the city was not selected for a Community Block Grant to rebuild the city water plant to meet new state requirements.

Two Marion County men were arrested in connection with the Jan. 3 robbery of the Roxbury Bank in McPherson County. Those arrested were Jackie B. Davis, 20, of Ramona, and Brandon Klenda, 17, of Lincolnville.

The county commission committed itself to solving the radio problems of emergency personnel who need to talk to each other but can’t because of incompatible systems.

The Marion school board approved a revised policy for random drug testing of students in the district.

The county commission voted to change the landfill where solid waste from the county transfer station will be taken. The former landfill was Rolling Meadows near Topeka. The new one will be Hamm Sanitary Landfill near Perry. The decision came because of concern for long-term environmental cleanup liability.

February

The lawsuit known as “Groening and others vs. the City of Marion” was dismissed with costs assessed to the plaintiffs. The lawsuit was filled two years earlier as an effort by landowners surrounding the Martin Marietta Quarry north of Marion to stop the city from working with Waste Connections Inc. to establish a regional solid-waste landfill there.

Cameron Voth, a seventh-grader at Goessel Junior High, won the annual county spelling bee Feb. 12 by correctly spelling “flaky.”

The Marion County Emergency Preparedness office received directives for what average citizens should do in response to a Level 4 “Orange Alert” issued by the federal government because of terroristic threats. Most of the precautions were basically common sense, said Michelle Abbott-Becker, MCEP director.

Stuart Holmes announced he planned to resign as principal of Goessel Junior/Senior High School.

Marion Superintendent Gerry Henderson received the United School Administrator (USA) Outstanding Service Award for his leadership in Kansas schools and his service to the organization.

The Marion City Commission decided to raise local sewer rates from $9 to $12 and water rates from 90 cents to $1.20 per thousand gallons to help pay for sewer-line reconstruction.

March

Two county convenience store clerks in the last month made unexpected contact with what could be the greatest local hazard of our times: methamphetamine manufacturing. Sheriff Lee Becker characterized the growth of meth production as “the new great plague of the century.”

The Marion City Commission agreed to publish a notice of public hearing for 4 p.m., April 7, about obtaining loan funding for upgrading the city water plant.

Tod Gordon, athletic director for Marion High School and Marion Middle School announced that Marion will be joining the Mid-Central Activities Association for the 2004-05 school year. The Cottonwood Valley League will be disband following the 2003-04 school year.

Jack Regnier told the Marion City Commission at its March 17 meeting that the Marion Economic Advisory Board was looking at television advertising as the best way of enticing new people to live in Marion.

County commissioners grappled with options after learning that the cost of providing health insurance to employees could rise from $350,000 this year to $500,000 next year because of rate increases. Likewise, the Marion City Commission was told to expect an increase in rates of about 23.5 percent.

As an expression of their concern for American soldiers fighting in the Iraq war, about 45 students in the three third-grade classes at Marion Elementary School tied yellow ribbons in the downtown areas of Florence and Marion March 28.

County commissioners were warned by David Brazil, county sanitarian, at their March 31 meeting about the possible spread of the West Nile Virus this year.

April

The Burns residents celebrated the opening of its new community center April 2. The project was partially funded with a state grant, but also with “sweat equity” worth $96,000 from Burns residents.

The Marion City Commission approved a resolution to complete an application for up to $800,000 in state 20-year loan funds for the purpose of upgrading the city water plant.

Community stakeholders from around the county met in Marion April 14 with the director of the Emporia office of Social and Rehabilitative Services to learn about the impending closure of the SRS office in Marion. The local closure was part of a second round of SRS office closings across the state.

The Marion City Commission approved full tax abatement for Marion Die and Fixture, Division of Bradbury, to encourage future employment and expansion.

The Marion school board cut eight positions on its staff in order to reduce its budget to projected limits for the 2003-04 school year.

About 100 Tampa residents met in a townhall meeting April 30 to discuss their options for building a new post office. Representatives from the U.S. Postal Service were on hand to explain the process for gaining approval for a new building, as well as to explain what postal procedures would be established during the interim, following the closure of the old post office because of toxic black mold.

May

Jeff Harris asked the Marion City Commission to give consideration to his father, Jerry Harris, in the renaming of streets in the retail industrial park. The elder Harris founded the park as a private businessman and named the streets for members of his family.

Members of the Marion County Planning Commission toured the Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma to familiarize themselves with such an enterprise in case on is proposed for Marion County.

Marion city commissioners passed a vicious-dog ordinance aimed at restricting pit bulls and rotweillers.

The county commissioners decided May 12 it needed to meet with all county department heads to discuss economizing after being told it will otherwise face a $140,000 shortfall this year and perhaps worse next year.

The city of Goessel began using water from its new storage tower May 11.

Myron Schmidt of rural Goessel opened his nine-hole Pine Edge Golf Course, which he built himself adjacent to the dairy he formerly owned and operated. The project had been a labor of love for almost seven years.

June

County commissioners were told the projected budget shortfall for 2003 had been increased to $336,325 from an earlier estimate of $140,000. The shortfall projected for 2004 could be about as big.

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils were the featured music group at this year’s Chingawassa Days in Marion, June 6 through 8.

The county commission, at its June 2 meeting, committed up to $90,000 to develop a county-wide radio communications system for emergency offices. Much of the money for the system would be drawn from grants and homeland-security allocations.

Mary Ann Jones retired as a school psychologist with Marion County Special Education Cooperative after 12 years of service.

Marion residents first learned of an outbreak of potentially toxic anabena algae in Marion Reservoir from area newspapers and television reports. City leaders said because the city had enough water on hand at the time of the discovery, it had not enacted any emergency measures to deal with the situation during Chingawassa Days.

At their June 9 meeting, county commissioners proclaimed a state of local disaster for seven days because of the algae outbreak at the reservoir. The following week, the commissioners initiated a county-wide burn ban in an effort to reduce water usage. Two weeks later, commissioners decided not to renew the ban so that farmers could double-crop more easily following the wheat harvest.

Marion residents were assured by the city commission June 23 that the odd taste and odor in local tap water was not a safety issue, but the result of a breakdown of a machine that uses carbon to filter out such things.

July

Just in time for the July 4 holiday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that swimming, wading and skiing were no longer being discouraged at Marion Reservoir following last month’s outbreal of potentially toxic algae blooms.

The Marion County Emergency Food Bank reported its supplies were dwindling in the face of increased needs, and encouraged donations from area residents.

County commissioners heard at their July 2 meeting that property valuations in the county had increased by more than $650,000 from 2002.

Marion city commissioners voted to increase the mill levy to support the local library from 4.554 mills to 8 mills following a near tripling of space with the move to the new library in the renovated depot.

County commissioners were told departmental budgets might need to be cut by 7 percent this year and 4.5 percent next year in order to balance projected revenue with expenses.

The makeover of the Marion County Courthouse continued on schedule. The total estimate for the restoration was $119,000, with 80 percent of the money coming from grants and the rest from county coffers.

The Goessel School Board approved the construction of a new outdoor track at a projected cost of $190,941.

Henry Zamojski from Poland visited the Randolph Flaming family. He had worked at their dairy in 1978 and now presented gifts to the Goessel community, including a crest and seal from the Von Goessel family. Kurt Von Goessel became famous as a sea captain, and was the inspiration for the town’s name. Zamojski also brought a proposal the Goessel become a sister city with Von Goessel’s home town.

August

Two weeks after a collision that killed two teenage girls with Marion connections at the junction of U.S. highways 77 and 50, the Kansas Department of Transportation installed four-way stop signs at the intersection. Some residents of Florence and Marion said the measure was insufficient to ensure the intersection would be safe.

The county commissioners voted not to fund $3,500 to provide fireworks for this year’s Labor Day celebration planned for Marion County Lake. By mid-August, though, Marion resident DuWayne Suffield had raised sufficient funds through private donations to provide fireworks after all.

The annual Marion County Relay for Life, held this year in Hillsboro, raised about $15,700 to fight cancer through the American Cancer Society.

Marion City Commission passed a resolution to seek an urgent-need community block grant to cover extra expenses incurred because of the recent water crisis. The grant application would be increased to more than $31,000.

After two years of reconstruction, Kansas Highway 150 from U.S. 56 at Marion to U.S. 50 at Elmdale reopened Aug. 29, just in time for Labor Day traffic.

Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker voiced concerns regarding budget reductions requested of his office. He said the cuts would result in a staffing shortfall.

September

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported the first death in the state from West Nile Virus. The victim, a 93-year-old man from Butler County, died Aug. 21.

County officials discovered medical waste that had been dumped years earlier in an abandoned cistern on the courthouse property. The waste was removed in mid-November. The process required state permission for the hazardous waste to be stored at the landfill near Perry.

Representatives from the Kansas Department of Transportation met with Florence city leaders Sept. 15 to introduce the idea of building a roundabout at the junction of U.S. highways 77 and 50 near Florence. KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said a roundabout at that location should make the junction safer to negotiate.

The Marion Board of Education affirmed the district’s crisis plan in lieu of recent death threats from a Florence father toward school staff and officials at Marion Elementary School.

The Marion City Commission agreed to organize a public hearing for Sept. 29 about issuing up to $1 million in industrial revenue bonds for the construction of a new assisted-living facility in the community.

Near-perfect weather attracted between 40,000 and 50,000 people to Marion’s annual Art in the Park event.

A 29-page Kansas Supreme Court decision regarding responsibility for the closure of the old county landfill southwest of Marion opened the door for the county to go after other parties to help cover the costs of closure.

Darryl Thiessen of Goessel was hired as the new director of Marion County Emergency Medical Services. He succeeded JoAnn Knak, who retired late in the year. Thiessen was to begin work in October.

The body of Robert Vajnar, 82, of Tampa was found in a Morris County pasture Sept. 25, three days after he was reported missing. Officials believe he died from exposure, and no foul play was suspected.

October

A 76-year-old female was the first confirmed West Nile Virus meningitis-encephalitis case in Marion County. Sept. 15 was identified as the onset date of the case.

Jamie Spoonemore, a sixth-grader at Goessel Elementary School, took first place at the 2003 National Pedal Pull Association competition.

Arson was suspected in a Sept 21 fire that destroyed two vehicles owned by the Peabody-Burns school district.

Margaret Jirak of Tampa was named this year’s Grand Gardener of Marion County at a senior fair sponsored by the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging.

County commissioners were told they could save about $25,000 of taxpayer money by refinancing old bonds taken out for road construction a few years ago.

Marion Superintendent Gerry Henderson informed the board of education of his intent to retire after six years in his position.

The City of Marion failed in its attempt to obtain a community development block grant to upgrade its water plant. But city officials were encouraged by a representative from the Rural Development Association to apply for a 45 percent grant/loan.

Leaders of revival services launched in Marion said they believe the services may lead to a regional spiritual revival.

Harvey County officials who visited the Marion County Commission Oct. 27 were granted Marion County support in their efforts to have the Kansas Legislature overturn property-tax exemption for independent-living units owned by non-profit nursing homes.

About 15 volunteers helped complete the shoreline stabilization project Nov. 10 at Marion Reservoir. In all, some 500 feet of severely eroded shoreline near Cottonwood Point was addressed.

December

County commissioners were told that refinancing their bonds would actually save the county $30,242.

The Marion County Zoning and Planning Commission was developing final objectives following the approval of the county’s long-range economic plan. Among the changes in the new plan is reducing the amount of acres required for new rural housing from 40 acres to five acres.

Two tigers were killed by government officials at the exotic-animal farm operated near Peabody. Chris McDonald, who operated the farm, was charged with various offense related to the manufacture of illegal drugs. He may also face charges for animal cruelty.

Officials at Marion Reservoir are planning how to spend the $357,000 it received recently for park improvements at Cottonwood Point. The money falls far short of the original $6 million plan for upgrading and expanding Cottonwood Point, but it should enhance the attraction of one of the most profitable reservoirs in the Tulsa District of the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

More from article archives
Entertainment as important as winning for local demo driver
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK Motors revving, cars crashing and people screaming. These...
Read More