Official speaks against eco-devo staff position

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The county appraiser objected Monday to creation of a Marion County economic director’s position, but the Marion County Commission reacted to discussion by directing County Clerk Carol Maggard to do a salary comparison for the possible position with other counties.

The commissioners also possibly eased one stumbling block to creating the position by finding a way to give county employees an immediate 2 percent pay raise across the board, an expense of about $36,000, because of savings on health insurance costs.

At earlier meetings there were objections to creating the expense of the economic director’s position when employees hadn’t received raises in recent years.

Commissioner Howard Collett said money had been budgeted to the employee benefit fund for expected higher health insurance, while co-pay costs for employees were raised and benefits reduced, “effectively reducing their disposable incomes.”

At the Wednesday, March 31, meeting, commissioners approved reduced insurance rates with Blue Cross Blue Shield Representative Tim Oglesby, who noted that after some years of 15 to 17 percent increases, “health care rates are levelling out.”

Collett said Monday, in consideration of this savings, “I propose we use it for a 2 percent pay increase for employees now.”

Commission Chairman Leroy Wetta said he wasn’t objecting to the motion, but he wanted to point out that by law the raise would have to come from the general fund for this year with unused money from the benefit fund freed for other budgetary use next year.

But, Wetta said referring to county employees, “It’s their money.”

Commissioner Bob Hein agreed to make it 3-0.

Hein said the Commission should move ahead with creating the position of economic development director, but Wetta said it seemed more work on a job description might be necessary.

Collett said he thought the description put together by an advisory board was done well enough to proceed.

County Appraiser Dianna Carter-Frantz said she was concerned that, with cities in the county having their own economic directors and programs, a county director might turn into a liability issue between the cities and the county.

Victor Burns, mayor of Lincolnville, said, “I can’t see any benefit for my community.” He added that a county director could do Linconville more harm than good if a business interested in the city might be directed to another city instead.

Stan Thiessen of Hillsboro, who also is with the Southcentral Kansas Economic Development District, said a director would have more to do with coordinating overall economic strategy for the entire county than with interfering with community efforts to specifically locate companies.

Carter-Frantz said, especially in a time of state and county budget shortfalls, a rural county like Marion stands almost no chance of landing a large enough company to gain economic benefits large enough to offset the costs of a county economic director.

She said the commission should have a feasibility study in hand “proving the benefit” before moving ahead in creating the position.

Thiessen said the director would be looking more at how to help existing businesses grow and add employment, “asking them, how can we help you?”

Carter-Frantz said she didn’t think the county could justify a paid director’s position when it has been able to have an economic development council of willing volunteers.

Wetta said, “It’s a position not locked in stone. It can be evaluated and changed. I can’t see us sitting idly while there is more to be hoped for. We have to move forward and not stay in this stagnant economic position.”

Collett said he wouldn’t “expect a windfall” from a director, but the county needs to look at the long term.

“We’re not getting anywhere unless we work for a future,” he said.

Hein said interests in Hillsboro say they are doing a good job with economic development, but he could see that county efforts could help.

Hein said, “The only problem I have with it is where the funds are going to come from. We may have to budget for it in the future. I think it will cost more than we think when job benefits and everything are added in.”

Wetta said he could look forward to such a director helping various companies “create a job here and there.” He suggested the commissioners might have to look at a part-time director.

Actions are delayed pending Maggard’s findings.

The commissioners approved Ralph Kreutziger as general contractor to make repairs and bring in plumbing bids at the jail to repair damage apparently caused by a steel pipe drain on the upper floor deteriorating where it meets concrete.

On a tour of the jail, commissioners were shown a hole in the ceiling and water dripping from a light fixture.

Wetta said he wanted Gerald Kelsey, road and bridge supervisor, to study the possibility of spending less on the county’s 68 miles of overlay roads in favor of spending more on chip and seal roads.

Milton Lowmaster with Cooke, Flatt & Strobel, the county’s bridge consulting and engineering company from Topeka, advised that the overlay roads have to be maintained to assure structural integrity.

Lowmaster said most of the overlay roads have three inches of asphalt over gravel when technically up to six inches of asphalt is needed to assure long life, particularly with the heavily loaded grain and cattle trucks on rural roads.

He said putting chip and seal on top of an asphalt overlay would do little more than seal out moisture.

Lowmaster and the commissioners said annual overlay material is necessary to maintain overlay roads the county has spent bond money on.

But Wetta said he is “embarrassed” at the condition chip and seal roads fall into when compared the high priority given overlay roads, and he asked that Kelsey report on what can be done.

The commissioners approved implementation of a five-year bridge-building plan that Lowmaster said would maintain Marion County roads at a higher status than is true in many rural counties.

Work is proceeding for replacement of two bridges rated in poor condition. Bridge No. 70 built in 1922 northwest of Durham is being replaced this year, and bridge No. 50 built in 1926 north of Lehigh is to be replaced next year.

Two contractors, Ray Roofing of Newton and Burk Construction of McPherson, responded to the call for roofing bids on the health department’s downtown building with recommendations only for flashing and sealing around vents with the main roof deemed OK, Maggard said.

The commissioners approved the bid from Burk at $5,400 using a three-year guaranteed rubberized roofing over Ray at $6,828 using a fiberglass compound material.

At the March 31 payday meeting, Maggard reported a much improved $45,775 in sales taxes received in March compared to $31,600 received for the same time period a year ago, putting the county already $22,222 ahead for the year, after only three months.

The county has received $133,570 in sales taxes this year, she said, when the total collections for all of last year was $454,810.

The total payday figure was nearly $560,150.

The commissioners accepted by resolution “with deepest regret” the resignation of Jan Moffitt as health administrator, effective in May, as soon as she can help with orientation of her successor.

Nora Weems, director for the elderly department, said senior citizens transportation policies are requiring that children under age 8 can’t ride without the accompaniment of an adult. She said recent request for transportation of children had to be turned down because of insufficient car seats.

She said transportation guidelines also have been reviewed recently for inconsiderate or abusive passengers and contributions recommended for drivers. She said more volunteer drivers are needed.

The commissioners approved purchase of 12 tables for the county lake building at $94.99 each from Sunflower Office Products of Nexton compared to a a bid of $125.95 from Navrat’s at Emporia.

On road and bridge area fuel bids, Cardie Oil of Tampa bid $1.1194 a gallon for 800 gallons diesel in area one for $895.52, $1.1094 a gallon for 2,150 gallons diesel in area two for $2,385.21, $1.1394 a gallon for 1,800 gallons diesel in area three for $2,050, and $1.1394 a gallon for 1,800 gallons diesel in area four for $2,050.

The per gallon bids and totals for the same number gallons in each area respectively from Cooperative Grain at Hillsboro were $1.146 for $891.68, $1.1146 for $2,396.39, $1.1046 for $1,988.28, and $1.1045 for $1,988.28.

The commissioners awarded area two to Cardie and areas one, three and four to Cooperative Grain.

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