Commissioners consider options to save and to spend

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Marion County appeared Monday to be in the position most people are with county commissioners talking both saving money but also spending more to bring more income into the county.

Commissioner Dan Holub went so far as to say “nothing should be sacred” when cutting costs in the face of rising fuel prices.

But David Arteberry of George K. Baum & Co., the county’s last agent in issuing bonds, was at the meeting to discuss financing options to build a new county jail that could cost $6 to $8 million but could generate revenue by housing prisoners from other counties.

To further illustrate conflicting financial feelings, Commissioner Randy Dallke suggested to Emergency Medical Services Director Darryl Thiesen that perhaps more of the $3,400 ambulance costs charged to Legacy Park in Peabody for vacating residents when power was off during last year’s ice storm should have been reduced as a county service for residents during natural disaster.

Thiesen, who said he was only following policy, said the home had paid $3,000 of the charges. He thought it might be able to get Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for some of the remainder.

Chairman Bob Hein told Thiesen to come back with what the “bare bones” costs of fuel and wages had been during the ice-storm situation.

Arteberry told the commissioners his firm in the last five years has helped develop jail financing for Chase, Lyon, Wilson, Butler, Riley and Saline counties.

He said Marion County won’t be able to use general obligation bonds because they are linked to property-tax for repayment, and state statute limits them for indebtedness to 3 percent of assessed valuation. Marion County’s assessed valuation is $97 million.

A more likely source for the jail would be sales-tax revenue bonds, which would require legislative approval and an election. Arteberry estimated a sales tax issued especially for this project would generate $3.5 million if set at a 0.5 percent or $7 million if set at 1 percent.

Sales-tax revenue would go only to the county to pay the bonds, with any excess going into an account for early payoff, he said. He would expect the pay-out to go more quickly than the 13 years allowed after which the tax be discontinued.

The commissioners could also combine a sales tax with general obligation bonds so that property taxes could be used if sales tax was insufficient.

Arteberry said one other option would be public building commission leasehold bonds. Payments would come from property taxes and the option would not require an election.

But leasehold bonds and sales tax revenue bonds would result in interest rates 0.10 to 0.25 percent higher, he said.

On the subject of cost cutting, Holub said he was concerned that the commissioners raised the mill levy for next year, and that they are faced with continually rising fuel prices.

He suggested commissioners need to meet with county employees to see where costs might be cut.

“We need to take a hard look at everything,” he said.

Holub wondered how many county vehicles are driven home by employees to enable them to make a quick response to county needs. Except for sheriff’s squad cars, he suggested the commissioners might find it cheaper at times to pay mileage.

David Brazil, director of planning and zoning, environmental health and the transfer station, reported that Jack Chappelle, consulting engineer on closing of the old county landfill southwest of Marion, will have his final report in to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week.

Brazil said the next step for the county will be to install gas wells and as many as six water wells at the landfill for monitoring pollution. He estimated the monitoring will cost $1,200 to $1,400 per well per year.

Holub and Dallke asked where the money would come from and whether the commissioners who held their chairs previously had understood the continuing costs.

County Clerk Carol Maggard said she believed the previous commissioners had understood the continuous funding need in their planning.

Brazil said he was expecting ongoing operation money to come from the solid waste fund.

Brazil said he had checked with the Marion County Conservation District to determine grass planting prices at the landfill. MCCD suggested using their drill and their contractor for planting native grass, which would cost an estimated $1,500.

Brazil said he had heard of an estimated $35 an acre for planting bromegrass. He said he was told by county road and bridge that their tractor wasn’t outfitted to pull a drill.

Holub said he would bring a tractor to plant brome at a reduced price if he had to.

Brazil said he and Chappelle had discussed using the land with the landfill for some type of low-impact public recreational use, perhaps as a wildlife area with walking trails. He said the area had extensive wetland including an old pond that was filled in.

He confirmed for commissioners that all drainage water off the landfill stays on the property.

The commissioners agreed they would like to have a group like Quail Unlimited or Ducks Unlimited manage the area for wildlife rather than have the county get any grant money that might obligate other management.

Dallke asked Brazil how the commissioners might further empower him to get clusters of junk vehicles in the county cleaned up, or to stop a practice of old trailers being dumped in a former rock quarry.

Brazil said he already has power to go to the Kansas Department of Transportation to get help to clean up collections of 10 or more junk vehicles or on regulating junkyards. He said most inquiries were not followed through on unless health and safety issues were involved.

Dallke said the county needs to find ways to “control our own destiny” because, as evidenced by the piles of highway construction concrete that have remained along U.S. Highway 50 for two years, “the state doesn’t much care about our concerns.”

The commissioners opened bids for cleaning up mold infestation in the courthouse, but found the details and differences given in the bids sufficient to decide they would pay a consultant extra money to go through them.

Stover Pest of Maize bid $13,510.43 for the job compared to $34,589.84 from ACT of Wichita, but commissioners found differences offered difficult to decipher. NCRI of Wichita only made estimates by the square foot.

Thiesen said his department will hold a CPR “Families and Friends” class Nov. 12 in Hillsboro with an emphasis on older citizens from across the county coming in to increase awareness of the needs of each other.

He reported 97 ambulance runs for September: 13 from Florence, 36 from Hillsboro, 26 from Marion, 13 from Peabody and nine from Tampa. Two first-response runs were made from Burns, four from Goessel and one from Durham.

The commissioners accepted an invoice for $15,978.59 from BG Consultants of Manhattan for its work on getting a new jail.

The commissioners reviewed a listing of 2004 unpaid property taxes. Dallke asked Maggard about communication from a local company on whether title search is done on delinquent properties to be sold at auction.

When she replied, “No,” Dallke called upon the commission to demand explanation from the company. He doubted the months that have gone by since first inquiry are justified “when all the information is here in our own courthouse.”

Dallke said he wanted the situation resolved right away to encourage payment of taxes.

“I represent the people who pay their taxes in a timely matter,”
he said. “For those who don’t do that, let’s get the property put up for sale.”

The commissioners decided to discuss the hiring of a new economic director at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18.

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