ERIE – A group of Neosho County residents wants to keep a half-cent county sales tax to fund road projects.
After talking to Neosho County Commissioners Tuesday, resident Tom Giefer, a Queens Road resident who met with the commission in November, said that they will meet with an attorney to set up wording on a petition to bring the measure to a vote.
A half-cent sales tax to fund improvements to 160th Road between Elk Road and US-59, informally known as Shaw Road, will expire in two years. Geifer said the vision is to continue the tax as a reserve fund for future county road projects as money becomes available.
To do that, organizers will have to get an exemption from requirements that the tax be tied to a financial product such as bonds. They plan to meet with representatives in Topeka, but the current legislative session is nearly over.
To put the tax renewal to a vote, there will need to be a vote by the commission or a petition with 10 percent of the voters in the last election.
County Counselor Bret Heim recommended that the group pursue a petition. State officials will want a plan on the proposal, he said, and the time until this year’s second legislative session would give organizers time to gather community support. It would also give time to have more clarity on what the state plans to do with taxes overall.
“If you don’t get the exemption, it’s all for naught,” Heim said, adding that it wouldn’t hurt to have both commission support and a petition.
Commissioner Nic Galemore said he prefers to have a petition.
“It’ll have to be the people to bring it before the commission,” he said.
The Shaw Road project was sold as a tax that would go off when the project funding is complete, Galemore said. He is not opposed, but does not want to endorse any tax proposal.
“I’m not going to shoot it down,” Galemore said.
The proposal would be to continue the existing tax, Giefer said.
“This is not a new tax,” he said.
“A continued tax is not the same tax,” Commissioner Gail Klaassen said.
Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown said Montgomery County did the same thing.
Galemore warned that the language in the petition would need to be very careful.
In the November election, Neosho County had a 5,128 voter turnout of more than 10,500 registered voters.
The county will also have another question about a sales tax to support ambulances, Galemore said.
County Attorney Diversion Fund
During commissioner comments, the commission discussed but did not take action on issues with the county attorney’s diversion fund bank accounts.
Galemore said that it has been 30 days since he brought it up, and County Attorney Linus Thuston has not signed signature cards for the account.
“Those funds are not being monitored,” Galemore said. “We’re going to have to do something more aggressive.”
The funds need further forensic accounting, he said. At the start of February, the commission took action to move diversion funds from Community National Bank to a Bank of Commerce account controlled by Thuston, County Treasurer Sydney Ball and County Clerk Heather Elsworth. The diversion fund handles restitution and other fees in criminal cases where defendants receive diversion or probation in lieu of jail time, and the money usually goes to court expenses.
Heim suggested having Thuston at the next meeting. Galemore requested a three-year accounting of the diversion funds, but Thuston did not attend the last meeting.
“I’m sorry. I’m not confused. I wasn’t the one that’s been in trouble in the past,” Galemore said, adding that he will seek an attorney general opinion.
Vouchers at Tuesday’s meeting included those from the diversion fund, Klaassen said. The commission should have January and February financial information at its next meeting.
“Temptation is great and I don’t like temptation,” Galemore said.
21st and Plummer project
Klaassen raised concerns about Chanute’s project to improve the intersection of 21st Street and Plummer Avenue. The intersection itself is outside of the city limits and is under county jurisdiction, where Plummer is designated Douglas Road.
A bridge between 35th and 21st streets on Plummer is limited to 15 tons. The intersection improvements include a turning lane from the west to the south, and Klaassen questioned how much heavy truck traffic will go onto the bridge from Orizon Aerostructures. She wants to set up a meeting with Orizon before the intersection opens to make clear whether the company plans to use the bridge.
Brown said 15 tons is about the range of an empty semi. He wants to know the long-term big picture of potential for the corridor before the county replaces the bridge.
“There’s a lot to consider on that bridge,” Brown said.
Truck traffic is not limited to one business, Galemore said, because a lot of grain trucks also use the intersection.
Brown said it would be nice if the Kansas Department of Transportation installed a ramp from 21st to US-169.
“That would solve a lot of problems,” he said.
Among items where commissioners took action, they voted to set a deadline of 3 pm the Thursday before a meeting for items to be placed on the agenda.
The clerk’s office sends a draft agenda out on the Thursday before a meeting and posts it on the county website on Friday.
Elsworth said her staff becomes frustrated because of people who call on Monday afternoon to get on the agenda before a meeting on Tuesday. If the commission set a deadline, her staff would celebrate, Elsworth said, and she would buy the dinner.
“The agenda is not the most fun document to prepare,” she said.
After the commission approved raises last week for county employees, commissioners voted Tuesday to change the pay difference between day and night shifts.
The previous shift differential was 40 cents per hour, which the commission changed to $1 per hour for employees who work between 6 pm and 6 am. Weekend shifts will not change.
Commissioners allowed Health Department Director Teresa Starr to correct salary amounts on a $149,850 grant application to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment because of the raises.
County 911 Director Lori Nally reported that she has not located written mutual aid agreements or contracts with any area fire department.
“I’m sure this was 30 years ago and a handshake was all it took,” she said.
Three areas in Neosho County are considering changes in service area, she said. The St. Paul Fire Department is interested in covering more area, while the Erie Fire Department is not interested in giving up area.
Commissioners set May 2-6 at the county landfill for the spring cleanup to coincide with the Chanute cleanup. The date follows The Tribune’s citywide garage sale on April 29. The county landfill is open for cleanups twice per year and the city once per year.
Brown reported downed trees and limbs and some signs blown down from thunderstorms Feb. 26.
Commissioners reviewed a written procurement policy to compare with other counties. They revisited service agreements for the 2022 audit and 2024 budget with an accountant over whether they are for one year or three years.
They approved a letter of support for a grant application by the Oak Grove School House, and named Lydia Beachner, sheriff’s department office manager, as March Employee of the Month.
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