“No” Vote For New Voting Machines

County Commissioners said no to new voting machines, deliberated over paving West Water Well Road, and formally asked that the Kansas Corporation Committee take actions to insure Howison Heights residents have safe water.

Voting Machines

Three Saline County Commissioners, who are running in 2016 political races, voted no to purchasing new voting machines, in time for the August primary.  Commissioner John Price said he wanted to go another two years and then let a future Commission decide what to do.  Dave Smith questioned the overall $750,000 price tag as well as $48,550/year in additional licensing and warranty fees; Smith asked for other options.  Jim Gile also voted “nay”.

The proposed machines would give voters an option of casting an all paper ballot; the paper ballots would be counted electronically.  If voters used touch screen voting pads, the equipment would generate a paper receipt that then would automatically be stored beneath the machine.  If needed, the paper records could be examined.

County Clerk Don Merriman began planning for the replacement of existing machines four years ago by asking Commissioners to set aside $50,000 /year in capital improvement fund.  To date, that fund has $187,500 (one year, the Commission only set aside $37,500).  Existing equipment would be traded in, leaving a balance of $392,836 to be paid in the 2017 budget.  Adkins Election Services offered both a 3 and 4 year interest free price.  Previously, Commissioners considered lease options.

Commissioners Luci Larson and Monte Shadwick voted for replacing the machines.  Larson said that with tax lids and issues within the State looming in the future, she was willing to “bite the bullet” and moved to make the purchase now.  Shadwick spoke to the need to maintain the integrity of the voting process.  Neither are running for re-election this year.

On January 7, Merriman obtained a price quote from a second vendor that was $175,370 higher than the Adkins quote.  On May 14, Commissioners, staff, election workers, and the public got to try out the proposed machines.  Subsequently, the second vendor dramatically reduced its quote, but it still exceeded Adkins quote.  Smith referred to both options as “Cadillacs”.

The existing machines are ten years old and were purchased with the assistance of $236,000 in funding from the then newly established Help Americans Vote Act.  This act promoted the availability of adaptive equipment to help those with limited mobility, sight and hearing to be able to vote.  The cost of this adaptive equipment was a concern for Price, who suggested one such device would be sufficient.

Merriman said he has reduced the number of polling places from 42 in 2006 to 33 currently.

West Water Well Road Improvements

More than a dozen citizens packed the meeting room while Commissioners deliberated the merits of taking action to improve West Water Well Road.  Two weeks earlier, Commissioners heard from property owners, who consistently advocated for the County to pave this road, as it is, as soon as practical.

Shadwick framed today’s discussion as a chance to talk with staff that included Darren Fishel, Road & Bridge Superintendent, Neil Cable, County Engineer, and Mike Montoya, County Counselor.

  • Cable said that after studying traffic and the road itself, he saw no deterioration of the road from heavy trucks. He said most property owners didn’t want to contend with the dust associated with heavy trucks.  He examined 20 years of accident reports and noted many were caused by animals darting onto the roadway.
  • Montoya spoke of the possibility of creating a Benefit District, where those who benefit pay 75% of the costs while the County would pay 25% of costs. Costs may include acquiring land.  Years ago, when a developer wanted to have parts of North Ohio paved, the developer imposed a $5,000 charge on home owners.  With 42 lots, this raised significant funds.
  • Since this section of road is already part of annexation litigation with the City, Montoya said that if the County wants to continue to talk about upgrading the road, this section of road needs to be removed from the lawsuit.
  • Smith asked for ways to deal with dust without paving the road. Calcium and magnesium salts can be used, with costs of $20,000-30,000/mile, the need for a second application, and limited results.

Montoya suggested that the Commission needs to:

  • Decide if the County wanted to upgrade the road.
  • Look at whether there would be sufficient interest to create a petition for a Benefit District.
  • If not, the Commission will need to decide if they are willing to upgrade the road themselves.

Earlier, Price spoke of reducing the speed limit and limiting “through truck traffic”.  This drew a prompt response from the military, indicating it was not logistically practical for them to route traffic onto paved Old Highway 40, as it would require a 20 minute delay.

As the allotted time came to an end, one fellow left the room saying “this is a waste of my time”.  While Commissioners went into an executive session on another matter, individuals remained in the hallway and spoke of “all the fiber optics needing to be moved”, that the “road isn’t in the right spot”, that twenty to thirty feet of easements might be needed, and of those assembled–their willingness (or unwillingness) to pay for improvements.  Tim Unruh said he was appalled by the “condition of county roads”, especially in comparison to how they were maintained in southwestern Kansas.  He said it was a “matter of priorities”.

Commission Candidate Jim Weese, speaking in the Open Forum, said that if this section of road was annexed by the City, “it won’t be a priority” for the City to maintain the road as it is now.

Howison Heights Water Concerns

Howison Heights residents continue to experience challenges with having both adequate water pressure and quality.  Today, Commissioners directed Montoya to write a letter on their behalf, asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to take action to benefit the 70 home owners.  KCC had proposed action, but Shadwick said he recently learned that the KCC was not making anticipated progress in resolving the situation.

Shadwick commended J R Claeys for working with residents to try to get satisfaction.  Montoya explained that there was no way for the County to intervene, saying the County “isn’t in the water business, it can’t run a private system, and can’t grant access to Ottawa” Water Department #2.  Montoya suggested that private citizens might need to bring suit to force this issue to be addressed.  Shadwick said, “No one should worry about their water source in 2016.”  The letter was signed by each Commissioner at the conclusion of the day’s session.

Appraisers Update

Appraiser Sean Robertson told Commissioners that from 2015-2016, certified values for urban and rural residential housing increased by 2.9% and commercial properties increased by 2.0%.

In 2016, there were 374 requests to schedule informal hearings regarding property appraisals, and there were 366 hearings.  Robertson noted that this was the 5th lowest number of requests in 28 years of recordkeeping.  Of these, 65% of properties had assessed values that changed.  In addition, 44 hearings have been filed with the Board of Tax Appeals; 12 hearings have been conducted so far.

Robertson reported that on the rolls, in 2016, 895 properties were fully or partially exempted from paying property taxes.  In 2008, there were 876 exempted properties.

In 2015, there were 823 “open market residential sales”; in 2014, there were 683 such sales; in 2013, 615; in 2012, 557; and 2011, 452.  The number of commercial sales was considerably smaller.

In addition, Commissioners

  • Witnessed a demonstration of the Cartigraph software program used by Road & Bridge.
  • Declared June 2016 Elder Abuse Awareness month.
  • Approved the purchase of 28 additional Microsoft licenses; a percentage of the County’s software is updated each year.
  • Heard an update from Hannah Stambaugh, Emergency Management Director. Saline County received 4.3 inches of precipitation in April and 5.1 inches of precipitation in May.  She also recognized 28 graduates of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) who have met every week for two months to study different aspects of disaster readiness.
  • Approved a permit for a July 3 fireworks display at the Country Club, with a “rain out” date of July 4.

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