County calls for strong law enforcement on U.S. 50

Marion County wants continued strong enforcement of traffic laws to help prevent further tragedies on U.S. Highway 50.

The Marion County Commission Monday directed County Attorney Susan Robson to write a letter to the Kansas Department of Transportation urging that the Kansas Highway Patrol practice tough enforcement on the highway, and commending KDOT for steps taken so far.

The commissioners noted that KDOT has improved signage and routed traffic through construction zones on highway shoulders in the wake of seven fatalities in late June.

Commission Chair Leroy Wetta said the traffic and number of accidents on the cross-country highway has continued to involve Marion County resources while presenting dangers to its citizens.

Wetta and fellow commissioners Howard Collett and Bob Hein, in conversation, called U.S. 50 an “arterial highway” for the rest of the country, carrying the “traffic of an interstate” on a more limited super-two thoroughfare.

Peabody Mayor Randy Dallke, later in the meeting, told commissioners the highway represents a continuing danger to residents of Florence and Peabody. He said he thought the fatality level in the last year on U.S. 50 through Marion County to the Reno County line is at about 26 deaths.

Robson told commissioners Marion County will continue to pay a high financial cost because of the recent accidents. She said the county will pay for DNA tests to determine identity of two fatalities in the first accident, which she said “morally” had to be done for the sake of notifying families.

The county also will incur many legal costs, she said, because she believes the KHP is finishing an investigation that will lead to criminal charges that will be “fought hard” to stave off further civil claims.

KHP is retrieving information from a truck “black box,” she said.

Robson said it looks as though the same insurance company may be the carrier for the companies of the semi-trucks involved in all three recent accidents.

The county will incur expenses for autopsies, she said.

The first accident came close to involving Harvey County, too, Robson said, because the county line at the scene ran down the center of the highway. But the accident occurred in the lane on the Marion County side.

EMT shortage

Mayors from Hillsboro, Marion, Peabody, Tampa and Lehigh met with commissioners about the need to recruit and train more emergency medical technicians for county ambulance services.

Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke said Hillsboro has had a decline in EMTs, and every town in the county has problems with attrition as volunteers age. Many are 50 years old or more.

At the heart of recent concern is advice to the commissioners three weeks ago by an insurance carrier that former Emergency Medical Services Director JoAnn Knak couldn’t teach an EMT class at Peabody because she couldn’t be covered as an employed instructor for malpractice and liability.

Knak is covered as an EMT, though.

EMT Larry Larsen of Peabody said 14 Peabody residents plan to take the class along with possibly eight persons from Florence and others from across the county.

In addition, EMS Director Darryl Thiesen has a larger group slated to take an EMT class led by him at Marion.

Hein said the recruitment of EMTs is too critical for ambulance service in the county to let the opportunity go by to have two classes of EMTs complete training.

Wetta said, “We have to make it work.”

Thiesen and Knak were to find a way through the insurance carrier to share instruction so that Knak can be covered by county insurance through the EMS office, and report back to commissioners.

Thiesen presented an EMS budget of $452,597, up from $397,091 this year because he expects to replace the 1995 ambulance used at Marion. He also hopes to take first steps toward operating ambulance service instead of first-responder service out of Goessel.

EMS received 67 ambulance calls in June, he said, 18 for Hillsboro, 24 for Marion, 23 for Peabody and two for Tampa.

Eight first-responder calls came in, six for Goessel and two for Lincolnville.

Thiesen said he and the mayor of Ramona agree that the first-responder unit in the city may be removed because Ramona is down to one volunteer and room is needed to house a fire truck.

Closing the old landfill

After an opening 20-minute executive session with Steve Pigg, Topeka attorney for solid waste, the commissioners decided Hein will confer with regional solid waste engineer Jack Capelle on alternate preliminary cost estimates to close the old landfill southwest of Marion.

The commissioners did a required signoff with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on a $7,349 annual grant for local environment protection through the sanitation department.

County cash position

County Clerk Carol Maggard said the June 30 cash position of Marion County was at $7,359,583, including $101,247 in checking, $4,022,674 in money market, and $3,225,000 in CDs. There was $2,079,800 in the county general fund and $928,322 in the road and bridge fund.

Wetta said he was pleased with new budget reporting methods that allow the commissioners to look at how much departments have in budget versus actual cash on hand and anticipated revenues.

Juvenile justice authority

Robson said she has received an interlocal agreement for support of an advisory board for the juvenile justice authority and community corrections paid for on a prorated basis. Marion County’s share would be 15 percent in a partnership with Geary, Dickinson and Morris counties.

The program is administered through Geary County, and the commissioners said they didn’t necessarily like it that Marion County might be asked to pay employee benefits based on the employment history of Geary County.

Robson said she thought the benefits would be based on state programs, but promised to investigate before the county commits to it.

Other business

Representatives of the Marion County Soil Conservation District presented a $47,119 budget for next year, of which Marion County would be responsible for $28,790, which is unchanged from last year.

Dale Snelling, Marion County superintendent, was directed to seek bids on trash service there in light of his ongoing effort to have on site the least number of dumpsters actually needed.

After a 10-minute executive session with Diedre Serene, health department administrator, commissioners agreed to increase her pay to compensate for lack of benefits and retirement plan previously agreed to.

The commissioners appointed Jim Herzet acting superintendent of roads pending the return of Gerald Kelsey, superintendent, who is absent for health reasons.

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