ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners discussed equipment needs and projects with the Road and Bridge Department director in a work session prior to Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown said the top of the project list for 2021 is to prepare Elk and Chase roads for traffic detouring around the US-169 project, while a new shop building leads the equipment wish list.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has scheduled US-169 for improvements between Earlton and the Allen County line. Although he did not mention the start date, Brown said he would prefer to have more time.
“I wish the project was a little further down the road,” he said.
Brown said he plans to ask KDOT about paving Elk Road south of 150th Road. He said he expects Chase and Elk to get more traffic than the unofficial detours did around the K-39 bridge project two years ago, and he wants to get traffic counts before and during the project. One mile of Elk Road is covered by the Road Use Agreement for the Neosho Ridge Wind project. Brown also noted that the wind project is coming to a close, and the county will need to look at roads under the agreement before accepting them back from the project builders.
“We want to be sure before they get out of Dodge that they are accountable,” Commissioner Paul Westhoff said.
Other projects this year include paving the south shoulder of Shaw Road near the Canville Creek bridge where it floods out, and also widening the turning radius of Shaw and Elk roads. Brown also said the north entrance to the Ash Grove plant will be rebuilt, with the county replacing culverts and Ash Grove doing cement work.
Brown said the condition of the department shop is such that he would prefer to build from scratch. It needs more office space, and he would like to build at a culvert storage area called the “poor farm.”
He also wants to have a machine shed and be able to park equipment under a roof to reduce wear and tear. He would like a road grader shed in the Thayer area, a new shed in Galesburg, and one in St. Paul. Brown said it would make the department more efficient to have tractors and mowers at those locations.
“There’s no question that it is a lot of money. It’s all in the name of progress,” Brown said. “It’s just an opportunity to get modernized.”
Dump trucks are also a top priority. The department has eight, and could use four more, he said.
Westhoff said county equipment is better now than in the past and could be improved, but it needs to be a slow process.
Commissioner Nic Galemore said he is concerned about the county’s debt load.
Potential new project
The commission heard a presentation from a company that wants to build a high-voltage electrical transmission line through part of Neosho County from Allen to Crawford counties.
Carl Huslig of Ameren Transmission said the 345,000-volt project would connect the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant with the Blackberry substation east of Pittsburg.
The 90- to 110-mile route has not been finalized and there are two possible paths through Neosho County. The Kansas Corporation Commission will make final approval, and the project is supposed to be in service by January 2026.
Huslig said expansion of electrical transmission began to clear up congestion in the western part of the state, and moved from central Kansas to the southeast. Westhoff asked if the transmission line would bring more wind projects.
Transmission is generation agnostic, Huslig said, meaning it must provide access whether it is wind, solar, nuclear, coal or other generating systems.
“Somebody’s going to build this project,” he said.
Kim Gross of Ameren said the company will acquire easements along the route, but will have the option of eminent domain if necessary.
She said the project would provide cash revenue to the county and a tax benefit, although there is a 10-year abatement from property tax.
Commissioners also met with Jacob Bertram with Civic Plus, a software company that designs websites for county and municipal governments. Civic Plus designed the Coffeyville and Kansas Department of Health and Environment COVID-19 websites. Civic has a contract to design a new Neosho County website, but the county is also committed to Advantage computers as its host this year.
County Clerk Heather Elsworth asked about a warning sent by the Kansas Secretary of State about Civic Plus’ security before the last election. Bertram and a company representative on speakerphone said the issue came about because of a California organization’s report in battleground states. They said the company determined there was no vulnerability.
Commissioners also met with property owner Stan Basler about forming an advisory committee for wind farm issues. Basler presented a resolution at the last meeting, and had a petition at this meeting with 75 signatures urging the county require Neosho Ridge Wind to have radar-activated aircraft warning lights.
A commissioner will be on the committee and the rest of its makeup will be determined at the next meeting.
Human Resources Director Jim Maher met with the board and discussed the recent wave of unemployment claim fraud. He said it has reached a new level, with identity theft victims now receiving 1099-G forms to pay income tax on fraudulent unemployment benefits they did not receive.
Maher said the county has received claims as recently as the new year, and 17 current county employees have been named in fraudulent claims.
Galemore said three of his employees at Medicine Shoppe in Chanute have had fraudulent claims filed, as well as one person who never worked for him. He said he and his wife both have had fake claims filed on them twice.
Maher said two county employees were filed twice.
Maher raised the question of whether county employees who decline the COVID-19 vaccine would still receive salary reimbursement if they must be quarantined. He also asked if employees who are vaccinated, but still must be quarantined, will be reimbursed.
Commissioners approved a $1 million lease-purchase agreement with Bank of Commerce for the courthouse renovation project. They approved a contract with Cook, Flatt and Strobel for work on the Grady Road bridge project, approved bridge inspections, and agreed to purchase 1,000 tons of road rock from the Stark quarry for $7 per ton.
They approved an accounts payable schedule that included changing the March 16 meeting to March 11 due to Spring Break.
Commissioners discussed, but took no final action, on a replacement resolution on bids. Commissioner Gail Klaassen proposed updating the limit above which a purchase must be bid, because the limit in the 1994 resolution was out-of-date. Galemore expressed concern that someone might make multiple purchases at just below the new limit to avoid bidding. Commissioners also discussed whether to allow a percentage that favors a local vendor over a lower bid.