County Gets Down to Business
Karen Shade - January 11, 2017 3:04 pm
A day after four new commissioners were sworn in, the Saline County Commission wasted no time in debating meeting times and locations, assigning members to serve on committees, and planning study-session topics.
After commissioners and staff have a chance to look at options, commissioners may:
- Move their meetings to the first floor, such as room 107 or 107B. Commissioner Bob Vidricksen said this would leave the possibility for another county department—such as Planning and Zoning–to occupy the existing commission office in room 209. The City County Building Authority would likely need to approve any changes.
- Start their meetings at 8:30 with the obligatory signing of documents. Then at 9:00 AM, the Commission would begin its Open Forum, which is televised on ACCESS, where most decisions are voted on.
- Immediately following the Open Forum, the commission would move into its study sessions. Chairman Monte Shadwick said he hoped that the study sessions would focus more on “long range thinking, versus what” the commission is “buying this week”.
Commissioner Bob Vidricksen said he hoped the commission would maintain its practice to studying matters one week and then voting on them the next. Commissioner Jim Weese agreed, asking if the audience was well served by the present meeting room; he noted that it can be difficult to hear discussions, especially when noise comes from the hallway. Commissioner Mike White advocated for “whatever expedites staff time”; recently, department heads might have devoted most of their morning to the commission—appearing first at a study session and then at the Open Forum. Shadwick said he didn’t care if he was at a commission meeting all day; he just wanted to be useful and have his time be well spent. There was general consensus that they would not need to buy furniture.
Commissioners began discussing their salaries. In 2015 and 2016, former Commissioners Jim Gile and John Price earned a higher salary, KPERS retirement benefits and health insurance than did Shadwick and former Commissioners David Smith and Luci Larson. The 2017 budget was based on paying each commissioners $30,000 per year, for a total of $150,000 for the entire Board.
- Shadwick noted that some 2016 candidates and now 2017 commissioners ran with the idea that they were there to perform a public service and campaigned on keeping salaries low. Vidricksen favored a low figure, not exceeding $12,000/year. Weese repeated a suggestion from the League of Women Voters that salaries approximate $15,000/year. Rodger Sparks had campaigned that commissioners earn $30,000/year, as budgeted. Shadwick advocated that all earn the same salary.
- Alan Jilka, former Salina Mayor, provided commissioners with a copy of a letter signed by eleven other city mayors. He said they were “strongly opposed” to county commissioners earning more than $12,000/year.
- Vidrickson said he wanted to hear public input on this. White said commissioner salaries might be the most controversial decision they will make. Shadwick said that the vote should be televised. County Administrator Rita Deister confirmed that in terms of the staff processing payroll, a decision made sooner might avoid the need to issue “catch-up” checks.
Shadwick announced the following appointments to different boards that commissioners will serve on:
- Salina Airport Authority (non-voting)—Bob Vidricksen
- Salina Area Chamber of Commerce—Monte Shadwick
- Central Kansas Mental Health Center—Mike White
- City County Building Authority—Rodger Sparks, Bob Vidricksen, and Mike White
- Commission on Aging—Jim Weese
- Tri-Rivers Fair (non-voting)–Rodger Sparks
- North Central Kansas Region Juvenile Detention—will be filled by a designee of the Sheriff’s Office
- Committee to Reduce the Jail Population—Monte Shadwick
- Health Department Advisory Council—Jim Weese
- Regional emergency planning will remain with Hannah Stambaugh, who directs this department
Last year, a committee addressed issues surrounding the EXPO Center lease. Shadwick and Deister said it was possible that this group may meet a few more times, but it completed its task when they assembled a written presentation for the city. Shadwick said any commissioner could attend the Soil Conservation meetings; the county commission has no vote on this board. Shadwick said the Economic Development Incentive Council has no usual meeting time. All commissioners are welcome to attend any rural fire department board meeting; Weese wondered if the fire chiefs periodically met as a group.
As possible topics for future study sessions, Shadwick and others mentioned:
- Road and Bridge campus; Water Well Road improvements; and looking at the long term plans for road and bridge improvements that have already been developed. Deister acknowledged these multi-year plans “might benefit from being dusted off and polished”.
- Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) for all of the County’s buildings.
- Discussing 2017 budget goals (such as moving money from or to a department or function) prior to starting the budget process. Deister said she had some “adventurous ideas” about dealing with a State imposed “tax lid”. She discussed the challenges of maintaining property tax revenues when large properties—such as the hospital and mall—have come off the tax roles.
- The EXPO Center.
- Sheriff’s budget.
- City-County Building “front door security”, given the implementation date of concealed carry laws.
- Bid processes.
- Staff salaries.
- Departmental planning; Planning and Zoning has some issues that would benefit from some long term strategic planning.
EXPO Center Matters Approved
Commissioners approved in a 5-0 vote to purchase two new 10 ton heating and cooling units for Kenwood Hall. EXPO Center Director Rick Lamar said both units failed in early January; he said he also devoted significant amounts of time to keeping them functioning during the summer. Consistent with an “emergency purchase”, Lamar obtained bids from three vendors; the low bid was from Callabresi’s for $14,736. In examining the bids, Vidricksen named a couple of other potential vendors that Lamar had not contacted. Lamar then asked for, and received approval, to go out for formal bid to replace three 10 ton heating and cooling units at the 4-H building. The formal bid process takes 30 days to complete. Weese asked why the 30 year old heating and cooling units had been allowed to deteriorate. Lamar said he’d approached commissioners in December 2015; they wanted to resolve the lease issues surrounding the EXPO Center. Lamar said that as he understood it, even if no lease agreement was reached, the county could still occupy the present EXPO Center site until 2023. If something should happen and the EXPO Center lease was not extended, the county could then sell the recently acquired units. Deister said that when people rent either Kenwood Hall or the 4-H building, they expect heating and cooling capabilities. Money to make these replacements is already in existing funds.
Lamar asked commissioners how they wanted to deal with leasing crop and pasture land that had been part of the Oliver Hagg farm. Existing leases expire March 31st; the leases stipulate that the County is to provide notice by the end of the January. Lamar said the United States Department of Agriculture determined that Saline County crop and pasture land rents on average for is $61.50/year. Lamar said he contacted near-by farms to see if these owners had any interest in leasing the land. County Counselor Mike Montoya said that there are no statutes dealing with how counties lease land for farming.
Vidricksen said that these leases are “the talk at the Gypsum café”. Sparks had also received questions; Sparks asked if the tenants were good. Discussion followed on the value of tenants who take care of fences and address musk thistle.
Commissioners voted 5-0 to extend the leases for three years. Vidricksen asked that next time, the Commission publish the leases, 120-180 days ahead of expiration, for transparency. Proceeds from the lease support 12 or more $1,000 Oliver Hag scholarships; a couple are awarded annually to graduating high school seniors. These scholarships can be renewed annually if the student continues to study agriculture and maintain an established grade point average.
- There is concern that as designed, Road and Bridge shop’s “drainage box” (for washing out vehicles) may not be adequate. Staff are looking at a design that is constructed for heavier use.
- The Internal Revenue Service will be conducting what is thought to be a routine audit, in February.
- Commissioners accepted low bids for purchase of traffic signs for Road and Bridge.
- County commissioners and their spouses will be able to socialize with their city counterparts on January 28th at Kansas Wesleyan University. The 6:15 PM “social” will be open—meaning the public will be permitted to observe. At 7:00, they will watch a basketball game.
- White, Weese, Sparks and Vidricksen plan to attend the Chamber of Commerce’s annual fund raising dinner in February. The County pays for the commissioner’s ticket; if they bring their spouse, individual commissioners will need to pay for that ticket.
- Bonds for the newly elected commissioners and County Clerk were signed.
- The Commission will likely hold a study session on January 24th at Road and Bridge.