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County burn ban in place
new deh county commission burn ban pic
A blistering Kansas sun glares down on wheat in Barton County Monday afternoon. Dry conditions have sparked a county-wide burn ban which will remain in place at least until Monday. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

County eyes ways to save money


The Barton County Commission Tuesday morning approved two initiatives to help pinch some of the counties pennies. The savings will come through an audit of the county’s telecommunications services and new fleet gasoline cards.
“Both of these are efforts to try and save the county some money,” County Administrator Richard Boeckman said. It may not be much, but every little bit helps.

Phone service
Boeckman said he’d been approached by Espy Services several months ago. Basically, Espy is part of a growing number of companies that audits government phone bills looking for errors and over charges. Upon finding an error, Espy works directly with the telecommunications provider to secure a credit for the account.
If a billing error is found, and as a result credits or refunds are issued, Espy Services is paid half of the amount recovered for its services. Audits could be conducted on cellular voice and data, networks, internet, centrex, local phone and long-distance services.
He said the firm contracts with several counties in Missouri, and works with the city of Mulvane and Garden City and Bourbon County in Kansas. They have all benefited from the service.
Barton County’s phone bill comes to about $3,000 per month. Boeckman said any savings would be welcomed.
Espy will examine current and past bills and my also find retroactive overages.
Although for the idea of contracting with Espy, commissioner Jennifer Schartz was angered by the actions of the telecommunications companies. “Why are their charges we can’t find on our own?”
The county has the advantage of being able to hire someone to track these. Individuals don’t, she said, adding she may question her personal phone bills.
“There is something really, really wrong with this industry,” she said. The fact that an entire service industry is cropping up because of it (including Espy) only drives the point home.
If no savings are found, Espy won’t charge any fee.

  Gas cards
Commissioners also gave the nod for the county to submit a credit application to Wright Express. The savings comes from the fact that Wright Express has negotiated deals with vendors across the state to forgo sales taxes. The company makes its money from each swipe of a card and a percentage taken from the dealer.
However, county employees would use the cards to gas up  county vehicles when out of the county only.
The Road and Bridge Department and the Barton County Sheriff’s Office already have a deal with three local vendors (Zips, Great Bend Co-op and Moeder Oil) to provide discounts on a rotating basis. “The agreement with the local vendors is a good agreement,” Boeckman said.
A similar card is used for these purchases. Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips said the local dealers supply a statement each month that allows the departments to track fuel usage and mileage for each vehicle.
But, “I think this sends the wrong message,” said commissioner Kenny Schremmer. He felt local vendors may be offended if county employees started using the Wright cards within the county.
This is why the motion approved included language to assure the new cards would only be used outside Barton County.
Currently, employees use county credit cards when on the road.
Boeckman said only a limited number of the Wright cards would be issued. He assured commissioners there wouldn’t be a problem finding a filling station that would accept them.
Through the state Government Fleet Program, Barton County is eligible to acquire fleet cards for fuel, fluids and automotive services to use when traveling. By joining under the state, the set up fee and monthly card fees are waived. Advantages include a reduction in retail transactions, automatic tax exemption and roadside assistance.

Hot gusts whipped a wheat field fire Saturday afternoon, requiring fire departments form Albert, Great Bend and Hoisington to remain at the scene for hours. Firefighters returned throughout the night to douse hot spots.
The situation was dangerous and only served to highlight the tinder-dry conditions plaguing the county. It also helped spark the Barton County Commission Tuesday morning to approve a county-wide burn ban resolution.
The ban was effective at 12:01 p.m. Tuesday and will remain in place until noon, June 4, unless extended.
As for the firefighters Saturday, “they had a lot of problems with wind,” Communications Director Doug Hubbard told the commission meeting in the Courthouse. Hubbard also serves as fire chief for Claflin.
“It’s just really dry out there,” Amy Miller, emergency risk manager, said in making the emergency declaration request. There are already burn restrictions put in place by fire departments in Albert, Beaver, Claflin, Great Bend and Pawnee Rock with other departments eying limitations.
Miller said fire chiefs from across the county are in favor of the ban.
Under the ban, open campfires and fires are prohibited. Outdoor residential fireplaces, stoves and grills are not included. There are exceptions, but approval must come through the local fire department.
Any questions concerning local burning should be directed to the fire chief having jurisdiction of the area where the burning is to take place, Miller said. The fire chief may or may not issue an agricultural burning permit.
Violation of this state of emergency may result in fines of up to $2,500.
“We have a real good plan in place,” commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. The ban puts a stop to most burning, but there is some leeway.
Although Barton County is not currently listed as experiencing drought conditions by the U.S. Drought Monitor, limited rainfall and dry vegetation have created a local fire danger.
 In other business, the commission:
• Approved a proclamation honoring the late Kansas Representative Bob Bethell who died in an car accident May 20 on his way home from the 2012 legislative session. As a Republican member of the House from 1999 until his death, he served the 113th District. The proclamation declared Tuesday as Rep. Bob Bethell Day, is a means of remembering Bethell “as a man of faith, passionate in his love for family, friends and the State of Kansas.”
“I served with Bob Bethell in the Kansas House for several years,” said retired Republican state representative and commissioner John Edmonds. “We were, up until the day of his death, good and close friends.”
Edmonds, who read the resolution and moved for its approval, said Bethell was a “good and competent legislator” that served his constituents and the entire state well. “We should long remember his contributions.”
• Authorized the purchase of fencing for the Barton County Landfill for $48,130 from Metta Technologies, Toledo, Ohio. In 2007, the Solid Waste Department purchased Bull Litter Fencing to reduce blowing litter. Bull Litter Fencing uses unique side nets to prevent litter from escaping.
In addition, the back net angles forward to drive litter to the ground where it is caught. The nets, which are attached to the steel fence framing, are portable and can be moved by being hoisted by the compactors. Mark Witt, landfill manager, proposed the purchase of 10 24-foot by 15-foot units. The original 10 units will be transferred to the Construction and Demolition Landfill to aid blowing litter problems.
Witt said before they installed the fences in  2007, his staff racked up 1,200 hours per year with litter control. The fences cut that to 430. The new barriers are even better and should reduce that workload more.
The landfill closes if sustained winds there reach 30 miles per hour with gusts more than 35 mph. The fences won’t impact this, but will help prevent the blowing of trash off the site.
• Boeckman provided his bi-weekly report of county department activities.