Citizens should pay close attention to how taxes are spent

Marion County taxpayers should know about potential pitfalls with respect to the county’s spending habits, policies, pay plan based on performance and other procedures that happened in the recent past.

In addition, what action is being taken to either correct or explain to the public what the commissioner’s reasoning is in resolving these issues?

One major concern is the spending habits and how Marion County overspent $2 million this last budget year, and at the end of 2018, we still didn’t have a completed transfer station or storage facility for confidential documents. Both of these two issues were discussed as far back as 2016, or even before that.

It’s also unclear, at least to a layman, where the $2 million was used. It could be a good guess that the road and bridge department was one of the areas.

But, this is something the county clerk should address in case one or more of the commissioners were unaware of such an excessively high amount of money spent.

Add in a pay plan for performance………

With commissioners considering a pay plan based on performance, dipping into the county’s cash reserve, should give taxpayers reason to pause, and ask themselves if the overspending was mismanagement or based on an emergency situation.

It should be troubling to the public if our commissioners are leaning toward jumping right into this new type of pay plan. According to a report on this subject, the U.S. Federal Government stated that: “one frequently cited challenge is that performance is often difficult to define and measure in public sector organizations. Even so, it is critical that this effort be made.”

The only way the county can meet the necessary requirements is to (1) have a culture that supports pay for performance; (2) have fair supervisors; (3) have a rigorous performance evaluation system in place; (4) have adequate funding; (5) have a system of checks and balances to ensure fairness; (6) have appropriate training for supervisors and employees; and (7) have an ongoing system evaluation.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said at a recent meeting that he knows that some supervisors give employees the highest marks possible on evaluations. His point was that if these supervisors consistently give the highest marks, then there’s no room for improvement. This is exactly the concern stated above in having “fair supervisors.”

The need to revisit policies and procedures……

A taxpayer alerted the commission about seeing a county road and bridge department employee using heavy equipment for personal reasons one weekend a few months back. The individual said the employee was using a track hoe and bulldozer to take down a mile tree line, and the road grader was used to push down the remains of an old burned down house.

When commissioner Dianne Novak questioned Jesse Hamm, supervisor of road and bridge, he said he had given the employee “a stern warning” regarding the use of county equipment. Someone said the previous supervisor, Randy Crawford, had a document employees signed that stated if they used county equipment for private, they would be fired.

How can our commissioners even consider a pay plan for performance with such a lax policy? Another taxpayer said road and bridge employees can use county equipment to cut weeds down on county roads in front of land they own.

While it’s a self-serving job after hours or on weekends, Hamm said they are paid.

It was also mentioned that some of the employees in the road and bridge department are not certified (qualified) to operate certain equipment, which is a requirement of their specific job classification. If this is true, how could these employees who aren’t even classified correctly be in the running for the performance pay?

The role of the county clerk….

In speaking with two other county clerks of similar size to Marion County, the question was asked if they attend a majority of closed-door (executive sessions)? The answer was a resounding, “no.” The only time both said they would be in an executive session is when it involved their specific department or employees in that department.

In Marion County, our county clerk attends more than 90 percent of the executive sessions, which is not part of the job description nor is it permissible, according to information by the Kansas Association of Counties.

It stated: “Only members of the public body have the right to attend executive sessions. Mere observers are not permitted when meeting in executive session. Also, a county clerk does not have the right to attend the executive session of a county commission. Persons who aid the body in its discussion may be admitted…such as human resource director (also county clerk) when discussing a personnel issue.”

Although an argument could be made that the Marion County clerk can “aid the body in its discussion,” it concerns some taxpayers that the county clerk has a finger in too many pies. Considering the previous county clerk rarely attended executive sessions, it seemed the “culture” of the new administration changed that. One concern is the commissioners’ dependence on the county clerk, rather than looking to their own research and each other for answers. It’s as if the county clerk is the “fourth commissioner.”

Budget continues to increase…

The following amounts are the county taxes only, and exclude cities, townships, school districts, and other jurisdictions within Marion County.

In 2018, the county tax was $10,144,943; 2017, the tax was $9,725,895; 2016, the tax was $9,291,670; in 2015, $8,527,953; in 2014, $8,387,541; in 2013, $8,037,834; and in 2012, $7,563,337.

In the years from 2012 until 2018, the budget increased by $2.6 million. 

With the county commissioners approving the same insurance plan as previous years, which will mean an additional 4.6 percent over last year, and the possibility of adding a pay plan at a cost of more than $125,000, it could mean another increase in the budget for 2019.

The purpose of this column was not to demean anyone or any department, but rather to offer some facts and opinions for readers to gain insight and understand more of particular subjects. All the information was from a different point of view, and it’s my intent that it is helpful to all taxpayers.

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