Here’s a quick glimpse at what the Barton County Commission did Tuesday morning:
• Accepted a proposal from Carey Hipp to serve as the county counselor. This matter was tabled from last week so the entire commission would be present to vote.
• Approved one additional application for property tax relief relating to the May 16 tornado. As a result of the storm, Barton County saw a tornado destroy property along a path from Pawnee Rock to K-4. After the event, the commission adopted a resolution allowing property owners the opportunity to apply for tax relief if damage to their homesteads equaled or exceeded 50 percent of the market value, County Appraiser Barb Esfeld said.
The claimant’s property was 80 percent destroyed in the storm. This claim came with property tax reduction for the county of $1,042.56, covering 230 days from the tornado.
At an earlier meeting, the commission OKed a four other applications.
• Designated Barton County financial institutions as official depositories for county funds. Such institutions must meet the 100-percent pledged securities requirement for all county funds. According to the resolution, all depositories must provide to the County Treasurer Jim Jordan and Financial Officer Matt Patzner proof of security for these funds whenever such information is requested.
• Approved suspension of a section of the county employee handbook dealing with employee pay ranges. County officials regularly review the handbook for updates and, in a recent review, it was determined that the ranges used in this section were outdated. It was suspended until a more comprehensive review can be performed, Operations Director Phil Hathcock said.
• Heard a county services informational update. Hathcock presented the report of work completed during the two weeks.
Carey Hipp will serve another year as the Barton County counselor, the County Commission decided Tuesday morning. The item had been on the commission’s agenda last week but was tabled since Commissioner Alicia Straub was absent and commissioners thought it best to have all five members present for the vote.
In November, Barton County accepted proposals for the job. Under the proposal, the counselor is to provide legal services as required by state law, but excludes duties of the County Attorney’s Office, Operations Director Phil Hathcock said. Two proposals were received, from Hipp of Ellsworth and Allen Glendenning of Great Bend.
“I think we have a very good problem,” Straub said. The commission’s options included two strong candidates.
Hipp is a partner with the firm Sherman, Hoffman and Hipp of Ellsworth. She was hired as an independent contractor first in January 2017 on a six-month contract which was renewed in July for six more months.
Glendenning is a partner with Watkins Calcara Chtd. of Great Bend. He advised the commission extensively with legal matters arising from the resignation of longtime County Administrator Boeckman.
But, Straub moved to reup with Hipp for a flat rate of $4,500 per month. “Carey took a chance on the county and the county took a chance on her.”
It ultimately passed on a 4-1 vote with Straub joined by Kenny Schremmer, Homer Kruckenberg and Don Davis in voting yes. Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz was the sole no vote.
Both bids included options for both flat monthly rates and hourly rates, Hathcock said.
Hipp’s monthly rate came in at $4,500 ($54,000 annually) and her hourly rate was $180 with an $1,800-per-month minimum. Glendenning’s proposal called for a monthly rate of $4,800 ($57,600 annually) plus $175 per hour for the tax sale and other tax work, or $175 per hour with no minimum.
With so many unknowns, Straub said she didn’t like to gamble and supported the flat rate proposal. “This is kind of an insurance policy.”
It was also noted that Watkins Calcara provides legal services to EMC, the county’s insurance provider. Despite assurances it would be a factor, there were some concerns this may create a conflict of interest should the county question a claim.
Also, Hipp will not bill the county for her travel time to and from Ellsworth.
Hipp has served in this capacity since last January following the December 2016 resignation of Boeckman who had handled these duties. In July, the agreement with Hipp was renewed but at a cost of $6,000 per month for six months ending Dec. 31, double the $3,000 per month she initially agreed to in January.
The initial deal with Hipp was based on her working five hours a week, but both the commission and Hipp realized the work was more involved than originally thought, so the new agreement was based on 10 hours a week.
In July, County Attorney Amy Mellor suggested moving the counselor’s job to her office instead of renewing with Hipp. However, after much discussion, it was decided that hiring a county counselor was more cost effective than having to hire another full-time county attorney to handle the job.