Commissioners hear good financial news for a change

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN
After nearly three years of financial drought, welcomed spurts of cash seemed to flow into county coffers like May rain Friday at the Marion County Commission payday meeting.

First, Michelle Abbott-Becker, emergency preparedness and communications director, announced a new state notification that Marion County will receive federal 2004 Homeland Security grant funds for more than $498,000.

It seemed that County Clerk Carol Maggard kept repeating, “and here’s more good news.”

Tim Oglesby, the county’s Blue Cross Blue Shield representative, had called Maggard that morning to say he was on his way with a refund check for nearly $61,800 to the county because of minimal usage of benefits by county employees.

“And the sales tax is good news again,” Maggard said. She announced March taxes collected-received the end of May for the county from the state-of $41,400.

That was compared to $36,260 for the same month last year, and it put the county $28,800 ahead for the first five months of 2004 compared to the same time frame last year.

“That helps a lot,” Maggard added.

The highest monthly sales tax recorded for the county in the years since 1999 was $48,000 in the summer months of 2001 before the 9/11 terrorist attack. Most news has been in a decline mode since then.

Abbott-Becker said she will be putting together plans on what to do with the Homeland Security funds, $127,000 of which must be used in law enforcement for terrorism prevention.

She said she will be in consultation with county police departments and sheriff’s office as to how the money should be used.

Some of it may go into new uses such as intelligence gathering computer software. Abbott-Becker said such software would be accessible by all law enforcement to help eliminate federal concerns about one department having knowledge that another is unaware of.

The county actually has Homeland Security funds left that were being used to address 911 digital cellular phone needs, and, it had been hoped, to help with development of the county-wide emergency services radio system, she said.

Abbott-Becker said the state had planned to implement a federal mandate a year early that all new radios would have to have digital trunking capability, but has temporarily backed off that demand. She explained that the mandate would require expensive equipment that the county might only be able to acquire one radio where it could have had four.

She said she hoped the state easing the requirement for another year might give the county “a window of opportunity” to use security grant money in the radio system.

News of additional revenue helped cushion Maggard’s report that payday expenses totaled $893,700, a figure ballooned above normal by $121,000 in 911 expense.

Noreen Weems, director for the elderly, told commissioners how she had appreciated the guidance of all three in the county during difficult times.

She said she would miss commissioners Howard Collett and Leroy Wetta, who both have announced they won’t seek reelection, and she hoped Commissioner Bob Hein would stay on.

The clerk’s office reported, with filing deadline for the November election coming soon on June 10, two Commission candidates have filed. They are Max Hayen, who has filed for District 2 to succeed Collett, and Randy Dallke, who has filed for District 3 to succeed Wetta.

Maggard said the health insurance refund would go into the county general fund and would offset employee benefit funds saved in a former health insurance reduction, which was used to give employees a 2 percent pay raise. She suggested that if commissioners wanted this to also benefit employees that they might use it to help with merit raises in the 2005 budget.

Gerald Kelsey, road and bridge director, said he has received notification from the Kansas Department of Transportation that bids will be received this fall for reconstruction of U. S. Highway 77 from Highway 150 to Florence, with actual construction to begin in January or February.

The state has agreed to put an inch overlay on Sunflower Road to help with the wear and tear of traffic detours, Kelsey said. In addition, Kelsey said he has allocated 6,750 tons of rock on adjacent gravel roads to help with increased traffic.

Collett suggested that the state either be asked for a dust control oil application on some of the roads, or that sand be used in some areas instead of gravel.

Helen and Dwight Beckham are working on a group effort to erect a Civilian Conservation Corps statue at the County Lake to memorialize CCC construction of the lake. They received approval from commissioners to turn over contributions raised to the county treasurer for payment to a Michigan company for the statue to avoid about $1,000 in taxes that would be dropped for a tax-exempt entity.

The Beckhams said they are only $1,500 short of the total $18,050 needed for the statue. They hope to have it dedicated in September in time for Old Settlers Day and Public Lands Day.

Individuals have donated as much as $500 for the statue, they said, but they also were greatly aided by an unknown funds grant of $2,000 from Kansas Wildlife and Parks that came from school children donations and Mobile Oil funds for park development.

The commissioners approved a six-month appointment of Fiennes Jantz to succeed Virginia Downing on the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging Board.

The commissioners awarded area fuel bids with Cooperative Grain of Hillsboro approved at $4,230 for areas three and four and Cardie Oil of Tampa approved at $3,428.23 for areas 1 and 2.

Cardie’s bids were for Area 1, 800 gallons of diesel at $1.16949 for $935.52; for Area 2, 2,150 gallons of diesel at $1.1594 for $2,492.71; Area 3, 1,800 gallons of diesel at $1.1874 for $2,137.32 for $2,137.32; and Area 4, 1,800 gallons of diesel at $1.1874 for $2,137.32.

Cooperative Grain’s bids were for Area 1, 800 gallons at $1.119 for $952.00; Area 2, 2,150 gallons at $1.119 for $2,558.50; Area 3, 1,800 gallons at $1.175 for $2,115; and Area 4, 1,800 gallons at $1.175 for $2,115.

Following the regular meeting, County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman demonstrated a new program on the Marion County Web site that enables county residents to research how much money they will need to budget for vehicle tax fees if they trade in a vehicle.

For instance, if a person traded in a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am GT coupe for a 2004 model of the same vehicle, the program showed that $316.56 in tax fees would be due, offset by a $147.85 refund on the old vehicle, making net funds payable of $183.21.

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