Commission approves new county-wide radio system

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The Marion County Commission Monday approved a $122,000-plus country-wide radio system for emergency services that has been discussed the last two years.

After a discussion that included a protest on behalf of county employees, the commissioners also tabled any action on the possible hiring of a county economic development director until March 22.

Mark Grabar, consultant with TBS Electronics Inc., Topeka, who developed specifications for the radio system, said it will put all county emergency medical services, fire departments and law enforcement on a single UHF system for clear communications.

Michele Abbott-Becker, director of communications and emergency management, said the system will be paid with $90,000 in 911 funds plus federal homeland security grants.

The “system backbone upgrade,” which includes repeaters at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsboro and Tampa, plus other upgrades, is expected to cost about $57,000, Grabar said. Field unit additions will bring the phase one total to about $122,850.

Members of the Marion County Economic Development Task Force brought a 28-item list of items they thought should be included in a job description for a new county economic development director.

Speaking as a county employee and a taxpayer, motor vehicle department director Judy Houdyshell said that with the county’s tight budget, now is not the time to be hiring an economic development director.

Houdyshell said there have been county employee layoffs, and county employees are going into their third year with no pay raises.

She said she has checked with other Kansas counties, including neighboring McPherson County, and many of them continue to function well in county development relying on volunteers.

Houdyshell said some of the members of Marion County’s own economic development-after devoting their time and vehicle expense without pay-feel unappreciated and undervalued.

Sheriff Lee Becker said it is difficult for him to see the new position created when his own department has had budget cuts.

Commission Chairman Leroy Wetta said Houdyshell’s concerns are of a short-term budgetary nature, while economic development is a long-term consideration that must be done to avoid continuing with short-term problems.

Commissioner Howard Collett said there must be development to raise county valuation so the mill levy won’t have to be increased in the future.

Both Wetta and Collett noted that funds are available from the county set-aside contingency fund.

Commissioner Bob Hein said the time is right to seek more economic development, but he wanted more time to consider the funding. He recommended studying the situation for the next two weeks before the Commission moves on any finalization of a job description.

Proponents for creating the position said the state is favoring regional groups of counties with similar conditions banding together for funding and development efforts.

Stan Thiessen, from South Central Kansas Economic Development District, said Marion County is one of 10 Flint Hills counties listed that are in decline-and development desperately needed.

Included in the guidelines, an economic director would participate with state and regional groups, act to unify county cities and groups, work to attract business, and create a working network among county businesses.

Regarding the question of allowing Canada Bait and Tackle to sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays, County Attorney Susan Robson recommended to commissioners they delay any possible resolution for possibly several weeks until a case before the Kansas Supreme Court is resolved.

Commissioners expressed concern that any resolution could affect the election on whether to allow liquor by the drink in food establishments this fall.

Collett also was reluctant to have a resolution if county approval could mean overriding local city rules to ban beer sales on Sundays.

Commissioners Hein and Wetta were inclined not to do any more on a recycling program for the county this year, but agreed to let David Brazil, planning and zoning, environmental health and transfer station manager, continue looking into a state grant program after Collett disagreed.

Hein said there would be a chance to get the grant next year.

Collett said a grant this year would be operating with funds from next year’s budget anyway. He added, “I believe God put us in charge of this green earth, and it’s the only one we’re going to get. We better take care of it.”

Commissioners wanted to be sure that any future recycling program wouldn’t interfere with successful recycling programs at Peabody and Hillsboro.

Eileen Sieger, who has been a part of board efforts to create solid waste planning, said recycling is a solid waste goal that can be used to reduce trash volume hauled, tipping fees paid, and landfill area used.

Sieger said the Peabody and Hillsboro programs are very good, but the rural areas of the county and cities like Marion also need to recycle.

Brazil cited state studies that said 30 percent of solid waste is paper that could have been recycled.

Wetta said if the county ever does recycling, he wants a well-developed, possibly mandatory system, that really results in decreasing the waste-stream, and “is not just a check in a box on a form saying we do recycling.”

The commissioners authorized Brazil to seek bids for an air compressor at the transfer station to replace a compressor so obsolete that parts can’t be purchased for it.

Dale Snelling, park director, said a letter from the Kansas Department of Water Resources to Consulting Engineer Rolfs has delayed the deadline for inspection of the Marion County Lake Dam from April 30 to April 30, 2005, because of legislation that could change it from a high hazard to minimum hazard status. It could change or delay needed county efforts at the dam, he said.

The commissioners accepted a bid of $37,725 from Kraus Welding at Hillsboro for construction of a bridge north of 260 and Old Mill.

They approved a bid of $40.50 a bridge for biennial inspection of Marion County’s 301 bridges from Cooke, Flatt & Strobel of Topeka over bids of $41.50 from B&G Engineering of Manhattan, and $48.50 from Schwab Eaton of Manhattan.

They approved a bid of $1,521 for 150 treated posts for the sign department from The Lumberyard at Hillsboro.

They promised ditch reconstruction during dry summer weather to correct drainage problems on Falcon Road to Barb Schneider, a rural mail carrier who complained about standing water on the road.

County Clerk Carol Maggard said there is a possibility of Blue Cross Blue Shield overpayment refund to the county after some years of price increases.

The commissioners approved a bid of $1,225 from Markley Service for 50 gallons of Pathway herbicide to be used by road and bridge.

Darryl Thiesen, EMS director, reported the second highest ever monthly total ambulance runs for February, 92 of them, including 30 from Hillsboro, 36 from Marion, 18 from Peabody and eight from Tampa.

There were 11 first-responder calls, one from Burns, two from Durham, five from Goessel, two from Lincolnville and one from Ramona.

The commissioners awarded a bid of $1,708 to Baker Bros. of Hillsboro for 80 cases of copy paper over higher bids from Dick’s Business Machines, Emporia, McCune Paper Co., Salina, and Sunflower Office Products, Newton.

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