County nixes mill levy increase

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The four-mill tax hike approved last week was rescinded Monday by the Marion County Commission after engineering and accounting consultants helped commissioners find funds elsewhere for road rebuilding within the budget.

The decision still will allow rebuilding of 35 miles of hard-surface roads seen as badly needed in the Peabody area.

The commissioners’ efforts may have been given impetus by a dozen tax-hike protesters at the meeting.

Part of the money in a program that will continue-more than $280,000 in 2004-will come by transferring three mills from major artery overlay roads to secondary chip-and-seal roads.

Mike Olson, an engineer with Kirkham-Michael Consulting of Ellsworth, said this is in part made possible by an assumption that the Kansas Department of Transportation will follow through on a tentative offer to hard surface overlay Sunflower Road from Marion to U.S. Highway 50 as a backup detour during reconstruction of U.S. Highway 77.

Jim Herzet, acting road and bridge superintendent, said the offer from the state for Sunflower has been made locally, but requires approval by state headquarters.

Olson advised that in the future, the county may want to include chip and seal of Sunflower when the state patches it after detour use “to protect the investment.”

D. Scot Loyd, budget consultant with Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd LLC of McPherson, identified $214,000 the county road and bridge department already takes from sales tax receipts for road construction. More than $185,000 was identified in road and bridge materials that could be used for reconstruction.

Available funds ended up totaling more than $680,000 when the tax hike would have provided $370,000.

Loyd said money for road overlay bond payments will be available for more road use when the last bond payment has been made in 2007.

Until Olson and Loyd pointed out the last two funds, Commissioner Howard Collett was saying he still thought a two-mill tax hike might be necessary.

Commission Chair Leroy Wetta was saying that “getting over the hump” in road rebuilding could save $200,000 in annual road and bridge blade-and-patch work.

But Commissioner Bob Hein drew the honor of moving to rescind the tax hike on behalf of all the commissioners, who said they were happy not to have to raise the mill levy after struggling through the last few years not to.

The move eliminated the need to republish any part of the current budget.

Loyd said the commissioners deserved credit for getting through the loss of revenue sharing and other funds from the state starting in 2003 that had amounted to about $500,000 annually. He said their initial effort to cut budgets throughout the county by 6 percent in 2003 to offset that loss has greatly benefitted the county’s fiscal standing.

Loyd and others pointed out the current commissioners were able to do this despite being left problems such as those that led to the purchase of the transfer station and settlement to close the old landfill.

The commissioners signed a contract Monday with Jack Chappelle, consulting engineer from Overland Park, for guidance in closing the landfill.

Olson said the commissioners also have successfully guided road and bridge construction to put the county in a better position than it was in five years ago.

He presented his plan for a $650,000 overlay of 1.5 inches on the 13-mile Indigo Road south from Hillsboro to begin between Sept. 27 and Nov. 1 with completion by Thanksgiving. Bids will be let Sept. 9.

Olson said Indigo illustrates the success of the county program since it is still in good shape with rutting only 1/8 to 3/16 inches in places when before the last overlay construction ruts were 3 to 4 inches deep.

Olson drives county roads to check them. He noted the Durham-Lincolnville Road will need attention in the near future to protect the investment in it, and that the 2.5 miles of hard surface going west from the fairgrounds area south of Hillsboro needs crack sealing and repair of shoulders that are breaking up.

The commissioners approved the 2005 budget after a public budget hearing that constituents took advantage of to speak against the proposed tax hike.

Tony Epp of Goessel said he was “shocked and infuriated at how the state, schools and local governments” in Kansas “simply levy taxes” without public vote, “attach property, and take it from you if you don’t pay.”

Epp said a four-mill tax increase should have been instead a time for commissioners “to put on the brakes” to see which programs would have to make do with less.

“We just can’t give to everybody anymore. We can’t be all things to all people,” he said, and put the load on “these young working people who are raising families, and buying homes.”

Epp said he favored good roads, but not to the extent of more taxes without a public referendum.

Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke said Marion County taxes already are high compared to those of adjoining counties, and any tax hike would be “anti-economic development” for the county.

Dalke said she had no problem with the budget as published, but suggested the commissioners look for money within the existing budget to solve the road problems at Peabody.

“I agree the roads there need to be worked on,” she said.

Tampa Mayor Jim Clemmer asked if the Peabody-area roads were really any worse than the Tampa-area roads.

Wetta said they were about the same, but added that the Peabody roads have to be fixed for school-bus safety.

Peabody-Burns Superintendent Tom Alstrom said deep chuckholes in the roads are particularly dangerous.

Wetta said several times that the tax issue was sidetracking the budget hearing, and asked if anybody had any questions on the budget itself. When nobody did, the budget was approved.

Commissioners acknowledged that shuffling in road funds could mean that in the future such roads as old U.S. Highway 56-now 190th Street-between Marion and Hillsboro could become a chip-and-seal roads instead an overlay roads.

In discussions with Olson, they noted that unstable markets for rock aggregates and oil that tend to make quick increases could greatly increase prices.

Herzet said figures quoted are usually for materials, and costs can also rise if some aging county equipment gives out.

Olson said the county will realize more savings because commissioners had planned on a chip-and-seal price of $10,000 a mile, which included tearing up roads for rebuilding. Without the tearing up, the price will be $7,000 a mile, he said.

The price of overlay on major arterial roads such as the Durham-Lincolnville Road is $50,000 a mile, he said.

The commissioners said there may have to be greater lease-purchase outlays for road equipment. Commissioners discussed commitments that may have the county doing 60 miles of chip-and-seal annually for the foreseeable future.

Collett said that when funding was more generous and oil and other materials cheaper in the 1970s, Marion County hit a high point of 600 miles of blacktop roads.

Today the figure is at 200 miles with many of those roads turned back to gravel.

Olson still is planning chip-and-seal for Nighthawk and Tampa roads for $161,000 in 2007, an Upland Road overlay for $100,000 in 2005, 25 miles of fog seal in 2005 for $18,000, and 12 miles of fog seal in 2006 for $8,400.

Michelle Abbot-Becker, communications and emergency director, said a federal team will be coming into Marion County that will likely disburse more than $37,000 to local agencies to clean up and rebuild following this summer’s storms.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to approve this year’s micro-loan program, which was begun through a state grant and continues through a revolving fund.

They awarded a bid of $2,048 to Markley Service of Marion for Escort XP herbicide for the noxious weed department over a bid of $2,287 from Ag Service of Hillsboro.

They approved a bid of $2,400 for a 2003 Ford pickup for noxious weed, $1,400 which will be paid by insurance, to replace a pickup damaged last week.

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