County Commission Begins Transition Plans

As the Saline County Commissioners discussed many of the topics before them, the conversation included references to what they had accomplished in the past.  Four new commissioners will take office in January.  Chairman Monte Shadwick is the only seated commissioner whose term of office extends through 2018.

Commissioners Jim Gile and Dave Smith identified ways they’d like to help the incoming commissioners get oriented to different committees and advisory boards they have served on.  Commissioners-elect Jim Weese and Rodger Sparks attended both the study session and public forum; Robert Vidrikson attended the public forum.

County Counselor Sends Letter to Sheriff Regarding Spending

At prior sessions, Commissioners asked County Counselor Michael Montoya to send a letter to Sheriff Glen Kochanowski regarding the “budget”.  Montoya’s November 18th letter reiterates that statutes require that if the Sheriff is going to go over budget, the Sheriff is to meet with the Commission prior to exceeding the budget.  In recent years, costs for providing jail inmate medical are as well as costs for housing inmates outside of the County have exceeded what the County budgeted.  Commissioners have previously acknowledged that the Commission has not adequately budgeted for the Sheriff’s Office, especially when it came to costs related to running the jail.

The letter also asks that the Sheriff refrain from purchasing “certain discretionary items” if the Sheriff knows that the budget will be exceeded.

Here is the letter: County Commission Letter to the Sheriff.

Discussions Relating to Reducing the Jail Population

Last year, the Commission formed a committee tasked with reducing the jail population.  Seven individuals were selected to serve on the committee.  Smith summed up last week’s meeting, saying some members questioned if the committee had a purpose or if it was a waste of time.  Some committee members wondered if the County Commission was able and/or willing to address the larger issues.

Smith has previously said that jailing offenders does not seem to deter crime.  Shadwick asked if expanding the committee or making changes in its membership would yield different results.

Later, Community Corrections Director Annie Grevas suggested that the committee would benefit from having individuals who had more power to affect change.  She spoke of a proposal to allow Court Services and Community Corrections to do greater bond supervision but said this had “fizzled out”.  Grevas said that the committee would have limited impact in addressing arrests and prosecutions.  She spoke of a grant she and Undersheriff Roger Soldan applied for through the MacArthur Foundation.  She hopes to know if the $49,999 grant to provide technical assistance and research is funded next month.

Assaria Fire Station Discussion

Commissioners participated in two discussions regarding building a new fire station for Assaria.  RFD #2 Board Chairman Calvin Kelsey supplied documents dealing with design, construction costs and financing.  Later, Commissioners discussed the matter with Montoya.  While the Commission previously approved plans to proceed with designing the station, the Commission made that decision with the understanding that one method of financing the construction would be used.  Plans appear to have changed.  The Commission expressed desire to iron out the financing details before approving the project.  With the upcoming holidays, Montoya didn’t think bank officials would be able to complete their part of the agreement within a week.

Howison Heights Water District Deal Formalized

In the public forum, State Representative J.R. Claeys thanked both the County Commission and Ottawa County Rural Water District #2 for their efforts to resolve issues involving the Howison Heights water district.  Claeys said that the “State didn’t have the tools to deal” with some of the issues raised.  He was appreciative of the County “stepping up” to help “neighbors in need”.  Commissioners unanimously reaffirmed their support of Resolution 16-2213.

Update on “Annexation Statute Question” 

A judge heard arguments yesterday and will then rule about an “annexation statute question” that has divided City and County officials.  Montoya stated the County has put significant amounts of money into maintaining the roads and shoulders of roads used by trash haulers to reach the City landfill.  City officials had demanded that the County drop the “annexation statute question” before the City would negotiate a road maintenance agreement for these routes.  Per a long standing joint agreement, the City collects $108,000 annually in tipping fees that are paid by trash haulers.  These fees have been withheld from the County in recent years.  Montoya said that how the “annexation statute question” is settled will impact when annexation is triggered.  As certain parts of the City develop, the County has asserted that certain roads that have been previously maintained by the County need to be annexed by the City.

Outcomes from Attending the Kansas Association of Counties Conference

Last week, Shadwick, Gile and Commissioner John Price, as well as multiple other county staff attended the Kansas Association of Counties Conference in Overland Park.

Gile reported that he attended a session on railroad crossings.  He spoke to railroad officials about the on-going problems where railroad tracks intersect the Country Club road near the grain elevator.  Gile said Burlington Northern hauls grain out of the elevator, on tracks owned by Union Pacific.  While a temporary fix to the roadway has been made, Gile said a switch needs to be installed and that another party was unwilling to do this.

County Administrator Rita Deister and Shadwick attended a session on a tax lid that Deister characterized as being “a re-hash of what had already been discussed”.  She and others are struggling with how the tax lid impacts law enforcement.  Deister said it was likely that the tax lid will force counties to “tighten their belts and possibly cut staff”.  At the same time, the Association is raising the dues it charges counties by 3.5%.

Commissioners returned to discussions related to the possible purchase of a new electronic voting machines, or returning to paper ballots that would be scanned.  Shadwick said he spoke to others about the possibly of having all voting take place in the Bi-Centennial Center.

In other matters, Commissioners:

  • Learned that Deister took packets regarding the EXPO Center to the City. The City owns the EXPO Center land while the County owns the buildings.  The lease will be up for renewal in 2019 and the County is seeking a multi-year lease before it makes a series of improvements.
  • Appointed Glenna J. Phillips to fill a vacancy on the Committee to Reduce the Jail Population. She works for Central Kansas Mental Health and has been involved with outreach activities in the jail.
  • Approved line item adjustments to the KDOC Juvenile Services FY 17 budget. Grevas recommended splitting $10,000 among three local programs that include an intermediate diversion program, drug and alcohol evaluations, and funding restorative justice initiatives at USD 305.
  • Signed a settlement with Bronson Farmer, former Director of the Saline County Health Department. There is no monetary component to this settlement.  Farmer agreed to not bring claims to Saline County and will not be employed by the County.  Smith commented that it had taken a lot of “work to get here” (to reach a settlement).
  • Learned that Saline County’s costs for housing juveniles in a Junction City facility will likely be reduced by $30,000 in the next fiscal year. Gile reflected on how the County used to spend over a million dollars a year running its own juvenile detention facility.  At this time, an average of 13.75 youths were housed locally.  Now, an average of 2.4 youths are being housed in the juvenile justice facility at a cost of $385,000 to the County as well as an additional $65,000 to transport youths back and forth.

Commissioners Luci Larson and John Price were absent.

Next week, there likely will be a special meeting of the City-County Building Authority to discuss matters related to the bringing down the pedestrian bridge on the north side of the building.