County Ponders Howison Heights Water Issues

County Commission Chairman Monte Shadwick asked County Counselor Mike Montoya to look into concerns with water at Howison Heights, located north of Salina. On February 16, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) issued a “boil water” alert. Montoya said he would review documentation and speak to County Planning and Zoning Director David Neal to look at compliance issues.

Shadwick’s request was prompted from multiple calls from residents. According to Shadwick, many households are willing to spend $4,000 a piece to hook up to a water source in Ottawa County, but this is being met with resistance from the developer. Montoya said KDHE is deeply involved and noted that while there “could be private remedies”, there are “health issues to be concerned about”.

New Appraiser Appointed

Sean Robertson, Deputy Appraiser, was appointed to replace Sheryl Sammons, County Appraiser. Sammons will retire this week. Sammons said that now, when citizens speak to her about rising property values, she can sympathize with them, but will continue to educate them on “market value”.


Road & Bridge Shop Follies

On Monday, Commissioners Jim Gile and John Price attended a “mandatory walk through” for businesses seeking to bid on a list of proposed shop building improvements. One contractor, along with his subcontractors attended. Commissioners then reviewed the mailed notification, which they said they had not seen prior to this afternoon’s session. Pointed discussions followed. Commissioner Dave Smith was absent during the afternoon session and was not part of this discussion.
2017 Budget Preparations Begin

After County Administrator Rita Deister reviewed budget preparation procedures and 2015 revenues and expenditures, she asked Commissioners to give direction on an initial budget target that she could communicate to department heads. For example, the Commissioners could choose to start the 2017 budget using the 2016 department budgets as a baseline. They could also look to increasing or decreasing the budget, for the County as a whole or for specific departments.

Speaking for himself, Shadwick said he wanted to “cap the levy” and put salary adjustments on hold (until the Commission gt the results of the salary survey, approved in 2016’s budget). Shadwick also confirmed that monies needed for proposed updates to the EXPO Center have been largely set aside in the EXPO Center’s own Capital Improvement Fund (but the desire for a warm-up barn may require more than one additional year’s contribution to the fund). Others suggested looking at alternative locations for Community Corrections as a 2017 budget concern.

There is much uncertainty about how a State imposed “tax lid” will impact the budget. Both the Kansas House and Senate have different bills with different impacts; key hearings will take place Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Despite changes in property tax values, the “tax lid” may limit how much additional money the County can spend.

Deister said, “In five out of the last ten years, the County spent more money than it took in; encumbered cash reserves have dropped.” Deister said she didn’t know how this year’s audit will turn out; the auditor has discovered a $100,000 bookkeeping error.

Desiter gave credit to the vast majority of departments that consistently operate within their budgets. She said the Jail and Courts exceeded budget. Jail expenses from 2015 exceeded budget by $651,839, with $739,000 being spent to house inmates off-site, in jails in other counties. Smith said the “root cause” of the jail exceeding its budget is that too many individuals are put in jail–often with just probation violations, and the Sheriff can’t control that. The Courts exceeded their budget by $21,430 due to an increase in jury trials.

During the Public Forum, Karen Shade asked why other counties can house inmates at a per inmate cost of $30/day while Saline County’s costs are $50-55/day? Price responded that other counties had overbuilt their jail capacities. Shade suggested that managing Sheriff’s Office and Jail staffs’ overtime, re-bidding the jail’s food service management contract, and exploring health insurance options for inmates are areas that could produce savings.

In other action, the Commission:
• Awarded ten bids for materials routinely used by Road and Bridge to maintain the County’s roads.
• Signed agreements for a phone service for the EXPO Center and for a copier lease. The Sheriff also presented an amendment to the “impaired driver deterrence program” agreement that allows the grantor/agents to audit program records.
• Approved purchase of a mower deck and oil distributor truck for Road and Bridge.
• Signed a proclamation for Women in History Month. Commission Luci Larson will be honored at a March 31st event; she is the County’s first Hispanic female City and County Commissioners and a former mayor of Salina.

Next week, the Commission will hear plans regarding a “road maintenance and gravel program” from Road and Bridge Director Gary Nash and County Engineer Neil Cable.