Commissioners add county support for algae action

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The Marion County Commission Monday responded to a request from Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke for help on the algae problem at Marion Reservoir by directing County Sanitarian David Brazil to write a letter to federal lawmakers asking for chemical treatment of the lake.

Dalke, armed with booklets for the commissioners on blue-green algae compiled by the City of Hillsboro, said the county can’t afford to wait on “officialdom” to react.

Not only is purity of the reservoir important to city water supply, but the contact dangers in water sports could endanger the $5 million annually spent by reservoir visitors in the county, she said.

She said states such as Missouri and Washington consider the threat great enough that they regularly treat water.

Efforts in Kansas, she said, are hampered by several government entities having different jurisdictions in the matter, with none of them stepping forward to assume the lead. Elected officials such as legislators will respect an official request from a county commission, she said.

Dalke said Hillsboro wants the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow the water treatment, wants federal funding, and wants regulations to turn tilled crop land next to the water into grass buffer strips to slow runoff that helps provide added nutrients for the algae.

She noted that the World Health Organization has more stringent rules for controlling the algae than the U.S. government.

Brazil said he would highly support a letter for algae control support from the commissioners, but not without concern. He said the treatment could be complex “with the cure possibly worse than the illness.”

Downsizing tree farm

Brazil, in his capacity as county zoning director, brought to commissioners a proposal to allow transition of an existing retail tree farm near Goessel down to 40 acres from 108 acres to allow the remaining 68 acres to be sold. The zoning board had already approved the measure after a public meeting in which petitioners spoke against it.

Brazil said the concern, which was evidenced by four members of the public at the meeting, centered on the possible restriction of land use around the property if housing is built there.

Owners of a feedlot that has been expanding might not be allowed to expand further within 1,320 feet of a home by state regulations, Brazil said. Expansion that has already been done would be “grandfathered” from the restriction, he said.

Commissioner Howard Collett said, “I hate to do anything to restrict an agricultural operation, but there are no restrictions until someone actually builds a residence there.”

Commission Chair Leroy Wetta, noting that the feedlot already exists, said the same type of concern could arise on every 40-acre plot in the county if the commission wanted to take time for it.

The commissioners didn’t allow any public comment, they said, because the opportunity had already been given at zoning board. They voted 3-0 to allow the tree farm to downsize.

Trailer repair approved

The commissioners directed Brazil, in his role as transfer station director, to proceed with refurbishing a waste-hauling truck trailer under latest estimate of $16,000 from the Wilkens company at Stockton. The original estimate for the job was $6,500, but as the trailer has been examined the needs have grown to two pages of parts including a $1,300 bearing.

The alternative, Brazil said, after consulting with his staff, would be purchase of a new trailer for $46,000.

The money was drawn from funds in the transfer station budget already earmarked for trailers, even though Brazil was concerned that it might have to be drawn from other transfer station projects such as painting the building.

The commissioners noted that another trailer will have to be done next year to keep the transfer station in a well-run low-liability situation.

WIC program funding

Commissioner Bob Hein said a state letter submitted for Wetta’s signature by County Health Director Diedre Serene for $77,285 in Women, Infants, and Children program funds for three counties “is a good deal” and “an increase from last year.”

Serene said Marion County operates the program for itself as well as for Dickinson and Morris counties with the shares based on case load in each county.

She said the allocations are $39,659 for Dickinson, $26,153 for Marion and $11,473 for Morris. Marion County will get an additional 10 percent of the other two counties’ funds for operating WIC, she said.

Office equipment bids

The commissioners approved a bid of $862 from Great Plains Computers of Marion for replacing a crashed computer in Serene’s office over bids of $1,116.71 from Dell and $906 from Gateway.

In addition, they accepted a bid of $873 from Great Plains for a computer for child-care use in the health department over bids of $838 from Dell and $773 from Gateway because the latter two bids would also add shipping charges.

The commissioners added 60 more hours at $18 an hour to Serene’s employment to compensate her for completing federal-bioterrorism-required paperwork as well as other uncompleted reports prior to her employment.

The commissioners granted Emergency Medical Director Darrell Thiessen authority to spend $2,711.59 in budgeted funds to replace a heavy-duty commercial ambulance transmission at Webster Auto in Marion. Thiessen said a back-up ambulance is operating from Tampa for the time being.

Legal defense costs

Four attorneys led by Dan Baldwin and John Johnson met with the commissioners to discuss possible set-cost contracting for attorney charges in cases the county is obligated by constitutional law to pay for when defendants can’t.

Johnson said defense budgets have risen in part because of law officers are catching more adult offenders with greater tendencies to take them to court rather than just admonish them. The types of crimes being prosecuted actually have gone down in severity as a result, he said.

Wetta said commissioners have found themselves searching for funds from other budgets to try to meet increasing legal defense needs, and he would welcome an opportunity to budget everything at once.

Johnson said attorneys who normally get up to $150 an hour might find it advantageous to have public cases that could take them down to $50 an hour already provided for, too. Although he likes taking such cases for public service, Johnson said he has found something as small as mileage paid making the margin for him in public defense.

Baldwin said that in looking at the case numbers over the last seven years, he has noted that in the last four or five years, the numbers have been around 250 to 270 a year. Juvenile cases have remained stable at 100 a year, he said.

Adult offenders are obligated to reimburse the government for their defense although a high percentage never does, Baldwin said.

“If I charge $100, the judge will say to the defendant, ‘You owe your attorney $100,'” he said.

Driver’s license changes

County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman said next time individuals come in for a driver’s license renewal, they will leave with a new temporary document instead of the license.

A procedural change, part of Homeland Security, takes up to 60 days to check the photo to make sure eyes and facial features haven’t changed from former photos.

Bateman warned that drivers shouldn’t leave the document in sunlight, or attempt to laminate it because either situation will turn it black.

She reported her office has paid $49,012.67 from special auto funds accrued during the year in an annual payment to the county general fund.

Road project correction

It was mistakenly reported in last week’s Free Press county commission coverage that the Kansas Department of Transportation had agreed to provide Marion County with a road overlay on Sunflower during next year’s U.S. Highway 77 reconstruction.

Gerald Kelsey, county road and bridge director, clarified that the idea was only a proposal.

At Monday’s meeting, Brice Goebel, construction engineer with KDOT, affirmed that the spirit of the agency’s effort is to work with the county during the reconstruction from Marion to Florence to maintain roads affected by detour traffic, and make sure residents have access to homes.

Goebel said KDOT will consider working with the commissioners on when and whether a 1-inch overlay on Sunflower might be done.

Although there will be an official detour route using U.S. highways 50 and 150, Goebel recognized that most local traffic and trucking will seek more direct roads. He said KDOT plans to work with companies, Highway Patrol and local law enforcement to encourage excessive truck traffic to stay off county roads.

Among things Goebel said KDOT will consider to help the county are providing gravel on Wagon Wheel from 120th to the highway, temporarily opening a closed road south of the Cottonwood River Bridge to provide access to homes, assisting with gravel and surfacing of 140th to Aulne, keeping 140th open during all weather, and considering potential use of roads such as 110th and 120th.

He said, “We plan to be as proactive as we can” in providing service to maintain roads.

The expected construction time is from December 2004, to August 2006, Goebel said.

Hein suggested the commissioners outline expectations to KDOT by letter.

Collett said the ultimate consideration is that county roads be as in good a condition after construction as they were before.

Collett said that he also wants to see movement in the consideration of whether the county should create a new economic development position, and finalize qualifications and advertising for the position if it is created.

The commissioners agreed to prolong the June 21 meeting into the afternoon to discuss the position.

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