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Commission wants to get tough with state
Officials give review of state conference
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In recapping last week’s Kansas Association Of Counties annual meeting, Barton County officials who attended returned with a handful of key takeaways, and the review of these led to passionate discussion amongst county commissioners when they met Tuesday morning at the courthouse.

The 46th Annual Kansas Association of Counties Conference and Exhibition was held Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 18-20 at the Sheraton Overland Park Convention Center. There were over 330 county government staff representing 71 Kansas counties registered, and over 90 exhibitors.

In addition to the educational workshops and vendor exhibits, the KAC’s Legislative Policy Statement was finalized. It was the soft-handed tone of this statement that sparked frustrations for commissioners.

“The KAC needs to be tougher on the state,” said District 3 Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson, who was Barton County’s voting delegate and attended along with District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld. In particular, he referenced the statement on property taxes and Senate Bill 13, the so-called truth in taxation or revenue neutral law.

“It’s very legal mumbo jumbo,” Hutchinson said. “It just needs to say this thing is stupid. You need to get rid of SB 13.”

In a nutshell, SB 13 prohibits all taxing entities from increasing their tax collections by more than they did the year previous. In addition, it requires notices be sent to taxpayers and public hearings for municipalities seeking to collect property taxes exceeding their revenue-neutral rate.

Passed in April, SB 13 sent public officials scrambling as they tried to meet the challenging deadlines.

The statement plank on the topic reads: “Property Tax Procedures – KAC supports correcting the unworkable procedures in the property tax disclosure process to ensure a practical law for local officials. KAC further supports reasonable exceptions to these processes to allow local officials necessary flexibility in carrying out their duties and obligations.”

“I had never been one who was really up on the different legislation,” said County Appraiser Wendy Prosser, who was one of a handful of department heads who attended the convention. “But, being in this role, I’ve learned a lot and how important this is.”

She was referring to tax and appraisal matters. But, it applies to all areas and all citizens. 

“I never realized how much of a trickle-down effect it really has and how important it is,” she said of legislative action. “I hope that people are listening, just take heed and get involved.”

“I like this discussion that we’re having. We’re headed in the right direction,” said District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz. “The education piece is so important for people to understand but that education piece means absolutely nothing unless we move it into action.”

She agreed with Hutchinson. “We’ve got to get KAC to use what muscle it has to impose what we want on the Legislature.”

In addition to the property taxes, the five-page policy statement covered such issues as home rule (the ability of counties to run themselves without state interference), opposition to unfunded state mandates, and infrastructure funding (from roads and bridges to high-speed internet access).

“We did vote on the policy statement and it was pretty cut and dried,” Esfeld said. “There wasn’t any controversy.”

But, that didn’t paint the entire picture.

“This was an easy year,” she said. “That’s because they were pretty vague.”

She did come away believing Barton County commissioners needed to meet with area state lawmakers prior to the January start of the 2022 legislative session. This would allow them to get their points across.

The plan is to invite them to a commission study session. “I think it’s important to get those folks in one room and discuss this. The platform we have, they need to hear it strictly from us,” said Chairman Jim Daily, District 4.

Besides the policy statement, conference attendees sat in on several sessions and workshops. These covered such topics as American Rescue Plan Act, emergency preparedness, the history of taxation in Kansas, hiring and retaining employees, executive sessions and the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System.

Hutchinson noted the county’s bottoms-up approach to raising staff salaries to keep valued workers was the envy of other county representatives. He said he stopped short of going into too much detail in what he revealed to them since there is some competition between counties for industry and development. 

After sitting through these and hearing the laments from other counties, he had one comment: “The biggest takeaway after getting to meet with all the other counties in the state is that I am very proud to be a part of this group right here in Barton County because we’ve got things going on that people don’t even realize we have going on.” 

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Tuesday morning:

• Approved Facade Improvement Grant program applications for A440 Music, 1207 Main in Great Bend; Forest Avenue Antiques, 2025 Forest in Great Bend; and for The Tap Room and Joe’s Wood Designs at 170 and 172 South Main in Hoisington (owned by Randy Polzin).

• Tabled offering American Rescue Plan Act funds to Rural Water District No. 1, Ellsworth County. It will be back on the agenda next Tuesday.

On May 20, Barton County received $2,503,634.50 in ARPA funding. The district sought the money to assist in the installation of 17 automated meters for Barton County residents.

• Approved the Fiscal Year 2021 Emergency Management Performance Grant Program application totalling $25,460.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management accepted applications for the EMPG Program that provides funding to assist states and local governments in developing and carrying out emergency management programs, said Emergency Management Director Amy Miller.

This is an annual application and involves federal money funneled through the state to help with emergency training and planning.

• Approved utilizing the Computer Information Concepts Personal Property Portal for the Appraiser’s Office. 

State statutes allow the listing of tangible personal property for assessment, said County Appraiser Wendy Prosser. To create the listing, Barton County has historically provided personal property owners a rendition via the mail.  

CIC has developed a personal property portal that allows taxpayers the opportunity to complete the process online, she said. The purchase of the hardware, software and Peopleware agreement comes  to a first-year total of $2,770.

For the past several years, Computer Information Concepts software has provided cross-department unified bookkeeping, off-site digital backup of county records, digital image conversion and document indexing, and employee time keeping. 

• Ratified the $8,677.70 cost to replace one of the air conditioning units and the air handler for the county-owned building at 1208 12th St. in Great Bend.

In June, one of two air conditioning units that serve the building failed. At that time, the outside temperature was consistently 90 to 100 degrees, therefore it was imperative to have the unit replaced quickly to maintain a reasonable work environment for employees, said Facilities Director Phil Hathcock. The county has received the invoice for this emergency repair.   

• Ratified the spray services charge from Hydro Chem.

The Noxious Weed Department regularly provides spraying services for area farmers, municipalities and railroads. In doing this work, the department has subcontracted spraying K&O Railroad right of way to Hydro Chem for a number of years as county equipment, particularly tires, have been destroyed when performing services, said County Works Director Darren Williams.

It has been determined, however, that this practice is outside the scope of the procurement policy. So, the commission ratified the $2,890 service charge.

Williams said the county provides the chemicals for the work.

• Approved participating in the national opioid settlement. 

Proposed settlements have been reached in the opioid legislation against McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen (Distributors) and Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). As the State of Kansas has opted to participate in these settlements, the commission had to determine if Barton County would participate, County Counselor Patrick Hoffman said.

It is unclear how much money will come to Barton County, but he said the more counties that participate, the more money the state will receive.

• Heard a review of the Kansas Association Of Counties annual meeting last week.

Last Tuesday through Wednesday, county officials met at the Kansas Association of Counties KAC meeting in Overland Park. In addition to the educational workshops and vendor exhibits, the KAC Legislative Policy Statement was finalized.