County seeks funds for eco-devo position

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The Marion County Board of Commissioner spent much of its Monday meeting looking for money that might be used when court decisions are finalized in the closure of the old solid-waste landfill southwest of Marion-hoping that some of that money might be left to start a county economic director position.

In the midst of the looking and hoping, the commissioners finalized appointments of six persons, two from each of the three commission districts, to an economic voluntary task force, and welcomed a professional coordinator, Bruce Wells, to guide it.

Wells is area coordinator for the Resource Conservation and Development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The commissioners want a report back of findings by the task force in 45 days.

Commissioner Howard Collett’s appointment to the force last week, Peggy Blackman of Marion, withdrew her name because of possible conflict in also seeking the position of county economic director if and when the position becomes available.

The commissioners said if the position is created, applications probably will be invited through the Kansas Association of Counties and Central Kansas newspapers. The commissioners were guessing the position might pay $30,000 annually with a total cost to the county for the office of $45,000.

Collett named Chris Costello, Tampa and Marion banker, and David Mayfield, Marion city administrator, as his appointees to the team.

Commissioner Bob Hein named Steve Garrett, Hillsboro city administrator, and Mike Kleiber, Hillsboro businessman, to the team.

Commissioner Leroy Wetta, who himself was named Commission chairman early in the meeting to succeed Collett, named Carolyn Koehn, Burns economic director, and Richard Drake, Goessel city councilman.

Commissioners were estimating along with County Clerk Carol Maggard that as much as $340,000 in county funds might be made to be available for closure of the landfill that might cost upwards of $400,000.

The funds include about $120,600 the commissioners have set aside in a risk management fund, and Maggard said she had checked with Jim Kaup, the county’s solid waste attorney in Topeka, to find out that other funds earmarked for solid waste programs could be used.

Wetta said, “We’re not ready to do anything new with this landfill thing ready to hop on our heads.”

Collett added, “We’re scratching around for money.”

The commissioners repeatedly said that no final cost of the landfill closure will be known until court settlement is final and engineering studies are completed. They said it will also make a difference whether the work has to be contracted out or whether the county can pay its own road and bridge department to do the work.

The landfill settlement stems from a lawsuit last year by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment against the Board of Marion County Commissioners holding the Commission responsible for closing the landfill as the embodiment of the citizens of Marion County who had used it through a private contractor.

The suit, decided in favor of KDHE, went on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court, which earlier this year directed it back to District for renegotiating. Circumstances indicated the county might not be entirely financially liable for the closure.

Maggard gave the cash position for the county as of Dec. 31 at $11.5 million with the first big money distributions to entities like cities and school districts due Jan. 20. She said interest paid to the county from area banks as of the same date for 2003 was about $97,500.

About 58 percent of 2003 taxes had been collected to date totaling nearly $7.1 million.

The various county departments were averaging below 100 percent on the 6 percent reduced budget requested, so that deficits in departments that went over were compensated for elsewhere. The commissioners said they appreciated the efforts of department heads who kept costs down.

Maggard cautioned that in the struggle to find funds for economic projects, she has also heard concern from county employees who didn’t get pay increases, and who saw job positions lost by attrition.

Maggard said that because of slight increases in county population and valuation, the county’s contribution to KAC for 2004 will be about $2,450 total. This includes $425 in membership dues, $530 in valuation dues because of an assessed valuation of $91.5 million and $1,097 because of having a population of 13,248.

In consideration of the need for the county to realize small amounts of savings here and there, Maggard said the commissioners might consider an accounting fee for the growing number of income holding orders and garnishments from county employees’ checks. She said total fees would add up over time and volume, and the county charges nothing for these things now.

Hein said the commissioners should consider the fees further before doing anything.

Wetta noted that the fee would come off the employees’ end rather than the collector’s end of the money, and therefore he didn’t know if he wanted the county “to be kicking the poor guy while he’s down.”

Maggard presented County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman’s report of a special auto fund balance, collected from license fees, of about $2,500 Dec. 31, which is used for expenses from office supplies to meetings costs.

Hoch Publishing was selected by commissioners for publishing county legals in 2004 without competitive bidding.

Sheriff Lee Becker pronounced the county “tiger-free,” and also discussed a lightning rod sales scam in the county. (See related stories beginning on page one of the Free Press).

A team of insurance professionals, Richard Nickel, John Balthrop and Alex Case, acting as an insurance advisory board for the county, came up with a package to reduce costs in the face of increasing insurance premiums by such things raising deductibles, and dropping comprehensive coverage on older vehicles.

The total county premium of about $124,000 covers items from property, auto and general liability to employee benefits and bonding for officials.

Darryl Thiesen, emergency medical services director, reported 72 ambulance calls in December, 35 from Hillsboro, 21 from Marion, 12 from Peabody and four from Tampa.

They included 12 transfers, three cardiac, 22 medical emergencies, 12 stand by, seven vehicle accidents, two falls, five others such as rescue truck, and nine no transports-usually where the emergency recipient refused service, he said.

There were 14 first responder calls, including six from Goessel, one from Lincolnville, one from Durham, five from Burns, and one from Ramona.

The commissioners approved paying Thiesen’s $430 in costs for an EMT-I class that can lead to certification to administer certain medications and therapies.

The commissioners turned down authorizing expense for a plaque with their names to be added on new bridge construction.

Bill Smithhart, noxious weed and household hazardous waste director, said household wastes collected from July 1 through Dec. 31 from 167 participants included 2,150 pounds of waste oil that was recycled as energy, 52.1 pounds of household batteries, 193 pounds of aerosol cans, 1,249 pounds of auto batteries, 178 pounds of pesticides, 1,303 pounds of flammable liquids, 175 pounds of flammable solids, 60 pounds of corrosives, 36 pounds of toxins and poisons, and 213 pounds of antifreeze.

He said the most widespread noxious weed continues to be bindweed with 2003 infestations reported on 56,000 acres of private land in the county, 1,000 acres of county land, 800 acres of state land, and 400 acres of federal land for a total of 68,700 acres.

The same acreage breakdowns for other weeds were for musk thistle, 41,700, 200, 30, 0 and 42,030, for sericea lespedeza, 3,400, 100, 40, 50 and 3,590, and for johnsongrass, 340, 20, 35, 4 and 379.

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