Road budget vexing commissioners

The remarkable thing about the Marion County Commis?sion?s decision Monday to approve the purchase of a new John Deere road and bridge tractor with side-mounted mower was that it was done at all, given the concern over seemingly insurmountable costs for road projects.

Road and Bridge Director John Summerville presented the lowest bid that fulfilled specifications from Prairie Partners at Marion last week, but commis?sioners Bob Hein and Randy Dallke didn?t want to decide on the $82,917 price tag without Commissioner Dan Holub there to join them.

Holub may have explained the heart of the hesitation when he said, ?I?m not sure I?m willing to trade more gravel on the roads or more chip-and-seal road surface for short grass. Let?s see, how many people have yelled at me this fall for not enough gravel and how many have yelled at me for tall grass??

The other commissioners agreed with Holub that they often are ?darned if they do, and darned if they don?t? as road expenses have risen against a limited budget.

Hein, noting that the county might not have an opportunity to buy such a mowing rig again for the same price, said, ?I think we ought to buy it.?

Dallke agreed it was a good rig that would save the county in time and trouble releasing workers who might be tied up in mower maintenance for other work. But he noted, ?It?s another case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.?

Hein said the money for the tractor-mower could be taken from a sales-tax fund normally used to finance road hard-surface overlays.

Then, when he discovered there was a balance in the road and bridge equipment fund sufficient to take $40,000 from there to be placed with money from the sales tax fund for the tractor-mower, he made the motion for its purchase. Dallke seconded it.

Summerville returned to the meeting later to say the $40,000 wasn?t in the fund anymore because it had been needed for other equipment purchases.

The confusion was completed with Dallke and Holub joining to rescind Hein?s former motion even with an amendment to take the full amount from the sales-tax fund (Hein against), then Hein joining them in approving a new motion to purchase the tractor-mower from the sales-tax fund, apparently clarifying and exasperating the situation at the same time.

Summerville appeared to further illustrate the growing road problems with limited budgeting and limited population to pay for roads by bringing up questions on whether to abandon Timber Road between 150th and 160th after traffic counts of from 20 to 33 cars daily, and whether to gravel 290th between Xavier and Yarrow again when nobody lives along it.

The commissioners did approve his assistance to a farmer with a field on 180th between Kanza and Limestone. The farmer needs assistance to have a culvert installed so he can reach a field. But the commissioners thought it also would be OK to follow his further request to limit access to the road with locked gates to shut out ?sightseers, deer hunters and mudders? who help deteriorate the road and actually drive into his field.

The entire discussion led Dallke to request a work session from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. next Monday to discuss how goals will be accomplished with limited funding.

Summerville announced that the Union Pacific Railroad has decided to install a crossbar and flashing lights at its crossing on 30th Road between Nighthawk and Mustang. Summerville said the crossing has needed such safety measures following at least one fatality accident there, heavy traffic, and many near accidents.

Holub said road goals need to be set plus ?we still have the old jail rotting right in front of us.?

Solid-waste contract

The commissioners passed a contract with the Butler County Commission to transport Marion County solid waste from the transfer station to Butler?s landfill in a move to cut transport costs that have been paid to the Perry landfill east of Topeka.

They delayed approval of a second contract for recycling to further decrease the trash stream with Sunoco of Hutchin?son to look at an alternative contract with Steve Meyer, a Goessel resident, of South Central Recycling headquartered in Newton.

Either recycler would offer a paper baler for use by the county. Sunoco would take the paper. Meyer said he would offer the county a choice on where he would send materials.

The commissioners also gave Rollin Schmidt, transfer station manager, permission to proceed with the purchase of a new International Harvester semi-truck from Williams Service of Florence for $82,600 despite a lower bid of $80,588 from Roberts of Wichita for the same truck. They said the preference was given because Williams is in-county, and would be asked to do the maintenance work on the truck. The truck will replace trash hauling by contracted private hauler.

Tom Holub, road and bridge shop foreman, agreed with Schmidt and the commissioners that road and bridge could maintain the truck, and share in its use.

Fire-rescue equipment

The commissioners decided to provide $5,500 in sales tax funds to help the Hillsboro Fire Department for half the purchase price from Hurst Equip?ment of spreader-cutter equip?ment to be used for rescue in fires and traffic accidents.

Ben Steketee, Hillsboro fire chief, showed a portable demonstration unit to be purchased that can be operated by two men for such things as cutting a door open. The purchase also includes a used more powerful hydraulic model.

Dallke said the purchase demonstrates the commission?s commitment for gradually obtaining more and better rescue equipment for all volunteer county rescue units and fire departments.

The commissioners said rumors that some units might be gradually shut down in favor of others are untrue.

Holub said, for instance, that making sure the rescue unit at Florence is provided for could give a 15-minute jump to a rescue scene in the southern part of the county.

Other business

The commissioners approved a conditional use permit recommended by the zoning commission for a salvage yard at 3485 Quail Creek where Planning and Zoning Director Bobbi Strait said environmental rules and sightliness recommendations are followed.

Holub said the yard is the third or fourth one approved by the county showing that following regulations can pay.

Bruce Wells, Flint Hills Rural Conservation and Development, appeared with Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman to report on new FHRCD programs that have resulted in 13 new agritourism businesses, payments for carbon credits and such projects as wind energy development to enhance the rural economy.

The FHRCD includes Marion County in an area which extends from Abilene to near Manhattan to Emporia.

For educational and business opportunities, county residents may contact Huffman or Wells.

The commissioners noted that the county?s tax abatement program for new construction and additions is resulting in a lot of new construction.

But County Appraiser Cindy Magill said there are problems getting the word out about the program which can result in large returns of tax dollars to citizens who build. She said that too often people who build come in at the tail-end of their projects after hearing about the program from a neighbor.

Magill said the program creates enough work for her, County Clerk Carol Maggard, and County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman, that the county could almost justify a full-time person just to handle it.

The main work burden problem is human nature, she said. The taxpayers frequently come to her with bookkeeping as loosely done as providing grocery bags of receipts for proof of construction work wanting full-proof of the worth of their structure for the abatement.

Then for full taxation, they may want the worth cut in half, and then doubled again to sell it, she said.

Communications and Emergency Management Director Michele Abbott-Becker said 56 percent of 911 calls are coming from cell phones compared to landlines in November. In 2007, she said, 60 percent of 911 calls came from cell phones.

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