LARNED — Monday night, Larned City Council met via Zoom in a virtual open meeting. The link to the meeting was available on the agenda posted on the City of Larned website. Members logged in with varying degrees of ease, with Sharon McGinniss notifying Mayor William Nusser she was unable to log in. Nusser opened the meeting, holding a photo of the American Flag in front of his web camera, and the council recited the Pledge of Allegiance, then began moving through the agenda.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the reason behind the decision to meet virtually, topped the list of new business items. Specifically, what measures the city may take to ease burdens of citizens and small businesses reeling from the recent statewide shutdown implemented to reduce the number of infections over the next month. With many businesses closed and many workers laid off or working on modified and reduced schedules, City Manager Brad Eilts asked council members to consider what other cities around the state are looking into and how they can ease the burden of how water and electric utilities will be handled in the coming months.
Some of the ideas included providing a grace period in which no late fees would be assessed, and having individuals and businesses apply for deferred payments if they have been seriously impacted by the shutdown. Some advocated for more leniency based on the industry segment affected, noting that food service and cosmetology businesses were mandated to shut down, and some restaurants providing curb-side and delivery options would prefer to shut down, but felt they could not because some utility payments would be due, such as sewer, even though usage was light or non-existent.
With many factors to consider, including the April 20 payment deadline coming up and the anticipated refund from Midwest Energy that will be applied toward outstanding utility bills, the council opted to wait and get a clearer picture of the impacts. They will continue the discussion at a later meeting.
Rein weighs in on County operations
County Commissioner Bob Rein Jr. was invited to give an update about what measures Pawnee County is taking to continue to provide services while keeping workers and the public safe. Restrictions on access to the Pawnee County Courthouse and other departmental offices have been implemented. Departments are operating with split teams and skeleton crews. Commissioners are considering limiting public access to the county landfill to three days a week. Two employees are required to be on duty at all times there, so limiting hours and access will lessen the risk of exposure, Rein said.
He praised the communication and recent joint statements provided by the University of Kansas Health System and the Pawnee Valley Community Hospital, which have provided timely information and resources, and kept the public informed about the implementations of planned phases necessary to protect the public health. He credited the efforts of the medical community and the early action of cities and the county with keeping cases of the coronavirus disease at bay.
“Mathematically, I’m surprised we haven’t seen one,” Rein said. “There’s a line basically along the eastern side of our county, with few cases to the west.”
Earlier, Rein communicated with officials at the Kansas Department of Corrections concerning plans for the closed Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility. It is not their intent to bring in patients infected with the virus for quarantine as some reports have incorrectly stated, he said. The plan is to quarantine new prisoners there before taking them to Emporia, he said.
Rein also presented a request for the city to partnership with the township and the Larned school district to chip in on payment for the North Broadway drainage project the County is taking on to divert water away from landowners impacted near the newly built elementary school. While the request was for $25,000, the city offered to pay two installments of $15,000 each in 2021 for the project. Both Rein and the council were in approval of the arrangement and the motion was passed.
City projects progress
Eilts gave an update on city projects already underway. They include repairs to the swimming pool, Moffett Stadium, and the fountain at Schnack Park. Each of the projects is moving along on schedule. Bids for the proposed lighting and sound system revamp at the pool have been slow to come in, with only the bid from Haynes Electric of Larned received by the deadline. However, council members elected to delay awarding the bid until proposals from Hammeke and P&S Electric of Great Bend, whom Eilts also approached, have been received. Councilman Jason Murray moved to consider all bids presented at a special meeting to be held via Zoom in a few weeks, and giving Haynes a chance to make sure the bids are “apples to apples.” The motion passed.
The council will also discuss what to do with utility issues when it meets in two weeks.