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Larned council debates water, building issues
larned water project
Larned's CDBG waterline project stuggles toward completion as its Oklahoma construction company tries to stay within original project costs.

LARNED – Sharp words were traded on several occasions during discussion of issues relating to water infrastructure and building issues at the Larned City Council meeting as a late-evening thunderstorm rolled into Pawnee County Monday.

Action on several of the agenda items that drew contention in extended discussion was tabled until the next regular meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, July 5.

Sale of 4-H building

In his public comments address to the council regarding the proposed sale of the 4-H building, Dennis Wilson asked that the council “circle back” on a possible approval of the property sale. “When we go to start selling stuff out of our city parks, without the notice that the general public should have had on this, I think we might be looking at trouble,” Wilson said. He said that acting on a direct request to the mayor with interest in purchasing the building “was heading in the wrong direction.” He said that looking at it from the outside it could be construed as favoritism.

“The other issue is the offer of $3,500 itself,” he said. “A 10 x 14 shed costs $4,800 now.”

Wilson acknowledged that the city could not rent the building for public use because of ADA compliance issues. “Could the city rent the building if the bathrooms and the stage were closed? There are ADA bathrooms not too far from the building. I think that since it’s a public building there should be a public bid on it.”

Mayor William Nusser responded that the sale conditions were similar to a council-approved sale of ground to a private individual. “I think that those conditions were the same, in selling that city ground,” Nusser said.

“I understand that, and I knew that you would bring that up,” Wilson countered. “He was probably the only person that would have any use for that lot. But the 4-H building is part of the history of Larned. It should be offered to the public and I think, to me, $3,500 is a little on the low end.”

Prior to 2017, the 4-H building was closed to the public for deficiency of ADA requirements estimated to be $80,000 in that year. The building had not been put up for sale; rather, potential buyer Donnie Clark made an offer to buy the building prior to last month’s council meeting. 

Clark’s father is Terry Clark, a member of the city council. 

During the proposed sale discussion, Donnie Clark noted that he paid half-down on the $1,000 cost of a survey of the building site. The survey included proposed site boundaries that he presented to the council. He noted that a condition of the sale would be that the city would have first right of refusal for  ownership of the property at the cost it was purchased. He noted that as a private owner, he would not be subject to the same ADA restrictions as the city in making the building accessible for rental use.

“If something would ever happen to me, the only entity that could buy the building would be the city,” Clark said. “All improvements that I make to the building during the time I own it stay with the building. That’s why the offer was low; the city would always have the option to buy it back.”

After a motion to make the purchase was received, councilman Terry Clark abstained from further discussion and the vote.

The motion passed 6-1, with councilman Kim Barnes opposed and councilman Clark abstaining.

CDBG waterline project

Discussion of two agenda items relating to the city’s Community Development Block Grant waterline project currently underway morphed into a discussion of contractor Cobalt Construction’s progress.

City water superintendent Josh Taylor told the council that Cobalt was currently involved with service connections. “We almost have Santa Fe and Kansas (Streets) completed,” Taylor said. 

“Does that work into your timeframe as a water manager; is it realistic?” councilman Jason Murray asked Taylor. “They are not going to be done by the end of June, so where does that put you, in reality?”

Taylor responded that it would be difficult under the present rate of progress. “We’re at about 60 percent and we should be farther than that,” he said.

Stuart Porter and Keithan Meyer, representatives from Schwab-Eaton, appeared before the council serving as intermediary for the construction company via Zoom. Meyer said that Schwab-Eaton had been in contact with Fay Trent, author of the CDBG grant, who said she was looking into a possible timeline extension for the grant.

“Honestly, we are looking at this thing from the standpoint of a week at a time and staying on top of things,” Meyer said. The lowest-cost scenario would be to stay with the current contractor among all options, Meyer noted.

“I’m not against that; I’m just against having to continue to bend over and pay for their inability to complete what they agreed to,” Councilman Murray said. “With $12,000 here and $12,000 there, we could have another 300 feet or concrete street for another place we’re trying to develop. It’s beyond frustrating. We know we can’t go backwards but at some point we need to make sure we are tracking on this; it’s costing our citizens for them not doing their job.”

Sunflower extension

Sunflower Diversified Service’s Shawn Bates explained to the council that his efforts to keep Larned’s recycling from mounting up were becoming difficult without a price hike. Sunflower has been under contract with the city to pick up recycled items for the past six months.

“With everything going on, we’ve had to move to three days a week,” noted Sunflower’s Shawn Bates. “We’re coming Monday, Wednesday and Friday.” Bates told the council to consider having a building to house the recycling collection for the city. “We’ve even made second trips that we can’t afford,” Bates said. “Trash is worse than it was before. We are recycling, not picking up dirty diapers. People just go down there and throw whatever. We’re actually losing money doing this.” Bates said that it was costing Sunflower $298 per day to come over to Larned. 

“To be honest, I don’t want to keep picking up recycling in Larned. It’s not that big a deal to me if we don’t.”

Mayor Nusser asserted that in prior discussion, Sunflower would assume the cost risk if production went up.

“There is a lot of trash, that’s the biggest part,” Bates said. “That’s a matter of education. We’re just picking you up, I’ve sent several emails to tell you how to improve it. But you never are going to improve things leaving it open 24 hours with no one watching. You need something to hold people accountable.”

In council discussion, Nusser suggested getting together with the county commissioners, city council and Sunflower representatives to come up with a plan. Staff was directed to put a discussion proposal together within the month. 

Larned City Council meeting at a glance

Here is a quick at what the Larned City Council did Monday night:

• In the consent agenda, approved a request from Housing Opportunities Inc. for $8,101.26 for unpaid invoices out of the city’s unrestricted reserve account. After the request, the balance of the account will be $24,161.32, enough to cover three roof replacements totalling $23,055. The council also approved creating an account for the Larned Fire Department for expenses including clothing, food, beverages and miscellaneous at the department’s discretion. The account creation was accomplished by the passing of a resolution creating the LFD Firefighter’s Fund.

• Approved Appropriation Ordinance No. 5 in the amount of $880,817.13, plus transfers.

• Heard public comments from residents Dennis Wilson and Steve Murphy.

• Approved the sale of the city-owned 4-H building at Schnack Park to Donnie Clark, Larned, for $3,500 to use as a rental venue for the community. City use of the building was discontinued due to ADA compliance issues as a public structure. The measure passed 6-1, with councilmember Kim Barnes opposed and councilmember Terry Clark (Donnie’s father) abstaining.

• Deferred action on infrastructure improvements regarding the Larned Assembly of God Church construction on Eighth Street. Stuart Porter, Schawb-Eaton Engineering, provided an updated preliminary concept layout that focused on a third of the original 1,200 linear-foot extension of Deanne Street as a link to Eighth Street. Excluding electrical and gas service, project costs were estimated at $174,505 with the use of crushed concrete as opposed to concrete paving.

• Unanimously approved an amendment to the agreement for engineering services by Schwab-Eaton for the city’s CDBG waterline project. The amendment increases the agreement’s “not to exceed” amount from $64,500 to $76,000.

• Unanimously approved a change order for construction of the waterline project resulting in cost reduction of $5,613.50, for an amended total of $1,003,186.95.

• Deferred action on a proposed extension of the Sunflower Diversified Services contract with the city for recycling pickup. Shawn Bates reported to the council that continued trash dumping at the city’s unsupervised pickup site has increased, affecting the company’s ability to effectively collect recyclables, and was asking for an increased amount. The council had voted in November to pay Sunflower $800 for twice-weekly pickup.

• After extended discussion, deferred action on a proposed demolition cost assessment to current owners of the properties involved in the demolition of the Opera House. 

• Deferred action on the renewal of the Lift Larned improvement program fund, which has been exhausted, with applications waiting for approval. The renewal will be revisited after budget discussions provide a clearer picture of money available for the fund.

• Discussed possible replacement options for a section of water main on Fry Street and a forced sewer main on Santa Fe Street, with Fry Street as a priority. Steve Murphy, Larned resident, noted that the city water department repaired the leaking Fry Street main following an after-hours break, but the area needs attention to avoid further leakage. The council agreed that the Fry Street main should be given priority.

• Discussed future goals and priorities heading into the 2023 annual budget preparation.

• Discussed the status of a held water situation at the Assembly of God construction site as requested by councilman Gary Rainbolt.