First District Commissioner Bob Hein from Hillsboro returned to the Marion County Commission Monday after a two-month absence because of health issues.
Commissioners Randy Dallke and Dan Holub, as well as county personnel, warmly welcomed him back.
Hein said he is feeling good and is ready to get back to county governance and problem solving. He said he talked to constituents in person and by phone during his absence, which kept him aware of what was happening.
Hein?s opponent for commissioner in the fall election, Roger Fleming, was there for the second week to observe county business.
Hein said constituents have told him they understand how difficult it is for the commissioners to decide whether to spend $30,000 to $50,000 to upgrade the older building in downtown Marion that houses the health department, or whether to spend much more to build a new building that would solve several county needs.
County Clerk Carol Maggard said the preliminary round-figure estimate was about $1 million for a new building that could house several offices and solve county storage problems.
Checking with bond finance consultants, Maggard found commissioners could authorize funding for the building with no referendum by doing a lease-purchase program through a bank.
?We do need to do something, but I?m uncomfortable with that,? Holub said. ?Not having something of this magnitude on the election ballot for the public to make a decision bothers me.
?I don?t like to do things that just seem to slam it down the public?s throat. We need to see if we can work the price down.?
On the other hand, Hein said, it might be that economic conditions warrant putting in a building as soon as possible.
?I think there could be a lot of contractors out there who could be hungry to make a deal,? he said.
Maggard suggested the commissioners could take bids, or limit a contract by money amount, for an architect to make an economical plan for a building that could be built for less money.
Dallke suggested the commissioners might want to just move on with the building.
?We are three elected officials already charged by the public to make decisions,? he said. ?We may be at that point where it?s wrong for us not to go ahead.?
Holub said, ?We?d have to be very diligent. We could get an architect if we put everything in writing, and say this is all we?ll spend.?
Hein agreed: ?There?s two lots by the road and bridge shop we could look at.?
In his role as commission chairman, Dallke said he was putting the issue ?on the back burner? for a week for the further thought.
Incident at Peabody
Mental health and the public good came to the forefront several times during the meeting.
Running against the public good, Sheriff Robert Craft said, was a false communication by one person concerning vandalism by juveniles on veterans? flags at Peabody?s Prairie Lawn Cemetery. The communication has touched off an emotional firestorm on the Internet and in the public that could become violent.
Craft said a deputy is assigned full time to investigate the incident at Peabody. The truth is very different from what the e-mail stated, Craft said.
Craft said he isn?t at liberty to talk about the details because of the ongoing investigation.
He warned the person instigating the reports that if he proceeds with sponsoring an event protesting the situation he alleged, he also assumes responsibility for what occurs at the event.
Craft said, ?It?s a bad situation, derogatory to Marion County and especially to Peabody.?
Holub said he also faulted stations in the broadcast media for taking up the report without checking facts with Craft.
Threat against appraiser
In a similar bent, Appraiser Cindy Magill said one of her appraisers working in Marion was told by a property owner not to come on his property without a copy of the Kansas statute allowing him to be there.
Magill said that constitutes a threat, even if the employee carries the statute. She asked if she could have a sheriff?s deputy accompany the appraiser when the time comes to do the valuation.
The commissioners said the county attorney should write a letter to the property owner advising of the statute involved, send a copy with the appraiser, and have a deputy at least standing by in a nearby squad car.
Prairie View assistance
Then Prairie View admini?stra?tor Jessie Kaye asked the county to maintain its contribution to the agency in a time of greater need and state cutbacks.
Kaye said Prairie View had 1,500 crisis telephone calls from Marion County residents in the past year dealing with everything from contemplated suicide to family-abuse situations. Usually, she said, it involved a trained psychologist meeting the caller somewhere to talk.
Prairie View actually served 500 families in Marion County during the year, she said.
This has happened during a time, Kaye said, when increased admissions to state hospitals have ?gotten to the breaking point? with the state placing a moratorium on voluntary admissions.
This leaves agencies such as Prairie View trying to contend with patients who are too violent for the agency to be able to meet their needs. Law enforcement is looking for places to send such people, she said.
?It?s especially bad in rural areas because they don?t have the other resources you find in urban areas,? Kaye said. ?It?s what happens in the system when the caregivers are underfunded.?
She asked the commissioners to continue with the $65,000 Prairie View received from the county in last year?s budget when the new budget is written.
?We appreciate it, and know how hard it is when times are tough,? she said.
Ty Wheeler of Kansas Legal Services, headquartered in Emporia, but serving Marion County, had much the same story in telling of state cutbacks while asking that Marion County maintain its $4,000 contribution to keep KLS services going.
He said the private, not-for-profit law agency uses the county money in matching shares to get grant money to help people who can?t afford attorneys in the county.
Wheeler said the state even reinstated some of his funding when it was realized that Kansas gets $14 back for each $1 spent on the program.
Wheeler said his service represented 26 Marion County cases in 2009, totally closing 17 of them. The advised in nine other cases and rejected 10 cases.
KLS acts quickly in domestic violence cases to prevent further injury, he said, with eight cases this year.
The agency also is considered second to none in closing successful Social Security benefit cases, he said.
It handled seven Marion County cases in 2009 with five of them successful, he said. The cases generated $40,440 in direct income back to the county.
Road and Bridge Director Jim Herzet reviewed a concern, recently brought up in conversations with a landowner, about how country roads opened through the county in the 1800s have ?drifted? off their surveyed courses through the years.
Surveyor Steve Brosemer, who accompanied him, said the drift can be caused by something as simple as road graders tending to one side over time.
Brosemer said the course of the road can also be altered by a mistake in one place being amplified miles down the road.
He advised the commissioners that Kansas law allows for a county to keep a road legal in its current location, 25 feet on a side, and that new surveys are taken from there.
The commissioners accepted a road signs bid for $5,909.50 from National Signs of Ottawa over competitive bids of $6,418.29 from Hall Signs of Bloomington, Ind., and $6,042.74 from Newman Road Signs of Jamestown, N.D.
Cooperative Grain & Supply of Hillsboro was awarded a road and bridge transport fuel bid of $19,273 over a competitive bid of $19,640.50 from Cardie Oil of Tampa. The CG&S bid included 3,500 gallons of clear diesel at $2.49 a gallon, 2,000 gallons of dyed diesel at $2.24 a gallon, and 2,500 gallons of unleaded gasoline at $2.42 a gallon.
Herzet pointed out a benefit to the county in its contract with TransCanada Keystone Pipeline. He said the company paying is $20 a truckload to the county for dumping unwanted rocks and mud on a county site. The county can then own the rock and mud to use for its own construction purposes, he said.
The commissioners approved zoning changes brought to them by Tonya Richards, including:
? allowing a single-wide manufactured home for Kevin Shields at 2430 310th while he builds a permanent home;
? rezoning acreage at 1077 190th, near Hillsboro, from agricultural to residential to allow sale of a home on 1.44 acres and to allow development for housing of 12.53 acres;
? adoption of the covenant code for Eastshore Subdivision District over the county code.
The commissioners authorized Creek Electric of Wichita to examine the need for replacing wiring for the middle and top floors of the courthouse after the company found two breaker ?hot spots? in preliminary investigation of the middle floor. It will cost $1,200 to fix the problem.
Dallke cautioned that since the company will be required to do the work on weekend days, it will have to use overtime employees, which could make the job cost a lot more.
Michelle Abbott, communications and Emergency Management director, said the Homeland Security Grant for the Kansas South-Central region has awarded a new truck and communications trailer to the region. The truck has been received and the trailer will be delivered.
Marion County will be the owner of both vehicles, she said.
The commissioners said they will investigate finding garage space for the new vehicles.
Abbott said Marion County also is receiving a $17,734 Emergency Management grant from the state. It is the highest it has ever received because the county has a director and its mitigation plans are current.
Abbott said the use of cell phones in emergencies continues to grow, with 237 of the 911 calls coming from cell phones compared to 108 from land lines.
Sixty seven percent of 911 calls for the year have been made from cell phones, she said.