Commissioners pass 2016 budget

LYNDON – After a public hearing Monday during which no members of the public spoke, the Osage County commissioners approved next year’s budget, which increased the county’s budget authority for expenditures by almost $7 million more than the current year’s estimated expenditures. The 2016 budget gives the county budget authority of $19,127,860 at a tax rate of 60.021 mills, while the current budget’s tax rate is 62.021 with an estimated $12,286,513 in expenditures.

Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall said he was pleased with the budget due to a two-mill reduction in the estimated tax rate, which came about because of an increase in the county’s valuation. Osage County’s assessed valuation last year was $127,667,501; in 2015 it was $133,398,835.

Kuykendall noted that one increase in expenditures was in the ambulance fund. Commissioners set the budget authority of the fund at $600,000, with amount of taxes to be levied for the fund at $521,575. The current year’s estimated cost for ambulance services is $487,937.

“The ambulance did go up,” Kuykendall said, noting commissioners had negotiated a contract with Osage County EMS, after rejecting bids from that company and American Medical Response earlier in the year. “Increasing service costs money.”

He said the new ambulance contract will provide two staffed ambulances in the county, along with staffing an on-call crew.

“The level of need of ambulance service has gone up dramatically,” Kuykendall said. “We looked at a third (ambulance), but went with on-call staff.”

Questioned by Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn about whether employee pay increases were included in the new budget, Kuykendall said employees would receive a one-time bonus in January, with the amount based on each employee’s years of service, and the lowest bonus set at $350.

Kuykendall noted a new law passed by the Kansas Legislature, which caps the amount local governing bodies can increase taxes without a vote of the people, had concerned commissioners during the budget development. In previous discussions, Kuykendall had suggested raising taxes before the law went into effect to ensure the county’s future taxing ability.

During Monday’s discussion, Kuykendall said commissioners also considered the new law when deciding how they could give employees raises.

“That tax lid is worrying us as far as (employee) raises in the future,” he said. “But we did want to reward everybody.”

Closing the public hearing, the commissioners voted unanimously to implement the 2016 budget.

Also during Monday’s meeting, the commissioners heard a report on the 2014 audit from Scot Loyd, of Swindoll Janzen Hawk & Loyd LLC.

Loyd reported on significant deficiencies found by the auditing firm, including the county’s lack of procedures for financial statement reporting, training and review.

The firm recommended following the Kansas Municipal Audit and Accounting Guide, staff participation in financial statement training, and adopting a policy that financial statements are reviewed by the commissioners before being audited.

“You need to make sure someone at the county can look at these financial statements,” Loyd said.

Loyd noted another similar deficiency occurred in the bookkeeping for the district court and county law library, for which monthly bank reconciliations are prepared by one person, the court clerk. The firm recommended that someone else in the office review the bank reconciliations to ensure accuracy and timeliness.

Another control deficiency reported by the firm was that of timely bank reconciliations by the county treasurer. Loyd said that one of the county’s main bank accounts had not been reconciled from June 2014 to June 2015.

Kuykendall asked if the reconciliations were the responsibility of now retired treasurer Jo Ann Hamilton, and Loyd said they were. Hamilton retired July 31.

“I’m not sure why they sat unreconciled for so long,” Loyd said. The report noted the accounts were all reconciled in July.

During the meeting, commissioners also discussed operations of the treasurer’s office with Osage County Treasurer Shari Weber, who was appointed to fill Hamilton’s term. Weber reported she has been rearranging the office to soon provide commercial vehicle services, and needed storage space for items that need to be removed from the office.

Weber also reported she had discovered many office supplies in the storage areas of the office and wished to distribute the supplies among courthouse offices. She said there was an abundance of paper clips, staples, adding machine paper, manila folders and sanitary supplies.

Speaking to department heads present at the meeting, Kuykendall said they should check with Weber before ordering office supplies.

“She has more than she needs,” Kuykendall said. “There’s no reason to have boxes of stuff sitting there.”

In other scheduled business, the commissioners voted to deny a conditional use permit that would have allowed Chester Bross Construction Company to operate an asphalt plant at the Plummer Creek Quarry. The company is to resurface state Highway 31 from U.S. Highway 75 to Osage City, and also state Highway 170 west and south of Osage City. The permit had previously been considered by the county’s planning and zoning board, which had recommended denial due to the absence of a company representative at a public hearing held by that board.

Osage County road and bridge supervisor Glen Tyson said he had been notified by the Kansas Department of Transportation office in Emporia that the construction company will instead use an asphalt plant already set up in a quarry near Lebo and will use Hoch Road, which crosses the west end of Melvern Lake and is a county road, to travel to and from the asphalt plant and project location. Tyson said an estimated 1,700 loads would be hauled for the project, which is to begin next week and is to be completed in eight days.

“So we saved it from being on Plummer Creek Road and instead they will destroy Hoch Road,” said Kuykendall.

The county recently renovated the bridge on Hoch Road that crosses Melvern Lake.

“That new bridge will handle it,” Kuykendall said, “but that roadway is not designed to handle that traffic. They’re going to gut it.”

Tyson reported he had received a letter from Chester Bross requesting use of Hoch Road to haul materials for the project. In the letter, the company said it would monitor the road condition throughout the project and take necessary precautions to maintain its condition.

“It is out intent to leave the road in as good, if not better, condition than what it is in at this time,” the letter from company representative Chad Otten said.

County counselor Caleb Crook advised commissioners the company’s letter seemed to offer assurances the county would want to ensure the road is not destroyed. Crook suggested the county should inspect the road with company officials prior to the start of the project.

Despite the company’s letter, Kuykendall expressed concern.

“All of the people on that live on that road are going to yell at me every night,” he said. “Seventeen hundred loads are going to wreck it and I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it.”

Kuykendall continued during a public hearing held for consideration of the asphalt plant permit, “We won’t get any tax dollars off of it either. Instead of destroying two miles of county road, we’re going to destroy six mile of paved road.”

Opening the hearing to public comment, commissioners heard from local resident Roger Davis, who told commissioners the county would receive sales tax from materials delivered into the county, due to the state’s destination tax rules.

Davis also questioned commissioners about the permitted uses of the Plummer Creek Quarry, which he said has stockpiled chat from Picher, Okla.

“I’m wondering if we can relook at how they can do business,” Davis said, saying the chat stored at the quarry was a hazardous material. “Is this a storage facility? The run-off goes right into Plummer Creek and into Pomona Lake.”

Commissioners offered no commitment to review the quarry’s conditional use permit. See related story here.

In other business during Monday’s meeting, commissioners:

  • Before the meeting began, discussed with Stephanie Watson, economic development director, a letter to the commission about a billboard located on Interstate 35. The owners of the property, Wesley and Ruby Garard, Lebo, notified the commission that the county must “quit and leave” the property by Jan. 1, 2016. Commissioners advised Watson to search for ownership records or a lease agreement for the property to determine whether the county or Osage County Economic Development Corp. held the property.
  • Heard that Watson and Kuykendall had been in discussions with COF Training Services about using the Osage County Senior Center as an activity location for COF’s clients. COF provides quality of life services for people with disabilities.
  • Approved commission meeting minutes from June 22 through Aug. 13.
  • Heard a request from Weber for help in shredding numerous documents. Weber was advised to refer to the Kansas State Historical Society’s guidelines regarding destruction of public records.

Agreed to tour the courthouse’s storage areas at the request of Weber.


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