Harvey County Commissioners have concerns about two bills working their way through the state legislature — bills that could have a major financial impact on the county.
One of them is a bill that would allow people in Kansas to have concealed weapons in courthouses and other public buildings. Currently these places may ban concealed weapons by posting a sign. The law would change that to require them to provide electronic security equipment and an armed guard in order to stop people from carrying concealed weapons.
If passed, the bill would not cost the state of Kansas any money, but it will put a strain on local government budgets, said John Waltner, county administrator.
"We don't have a really good estimate of what the cost will be," he said. "... It's going to be many hundreds of thousands of dollars to do this."
The courthouse likely would have be locked down to one public entrance. Waltner said the courthouse's main entrance area would have to be expanded to accommodate people who will have to wait in line to go through security, and the county also would have to hire a minimum of two to three staff members to man the security checkpoint.
The courthouse would have to be closed down at night and likely would not be open to evening civic meetings anymore, due to the cost of paying for a guard to work those hours.
In addition to the courthouse, Commissioner Chip Westfall thinks at least two other county buildings would have to be secured: the health department and the road and bridge shop.
The other option for counties would be to allow concealed carry inside public buildings, but commissioners said they had reservations about this idea.
Westfall said people may not realize that when law enforcement officers respond to an incident involving a gun, they have to decide very quickly who is a threat and who isn't. A well-meaning citizen — or even a county employee — with a permit to carry a concealed weapon could be mistaken for a threat.
"More than likely, something nasty could happen," Westfall said.
"You're going to have good guys shooting good guys," Commissioner Ron Krehbiel added. "It's hard to tell who's the good guy and who's the bad guy."
Krehbiel said providing security likely would be a struggle for the smaller counties across the state. Regardless of the size of a county, security will cost the same.
"That's a scary deal," he said. "But I just see no way we can put the surveillance in the courthouse ... in small counties. We can't afford it."
"I think they'll just allow guns in them," Commissioner Randy Hague said.
Commissioners said they wanted to make sure community members were safe but also asked for the state to provide funding for security measures if the bills passes.
"I think people should be able to walk out of a courthouse and feel safe," Hague said.
Commissioners also discussed a bill that could reclassify certain types of commercial fixtures — such as catwalks, loading platforms and elevators — and make these fixtures tax-exempt. However, commissioners said a break in taxes for commercial properties could cause the tax burden to shift to residential homeowners, farmers and small businesses.
"A lot of the general public is not aware of the impact of this bill on their checkbook," Westfall said.
The bill could result in an estimated loss of $76 million in property taxes statewide.
"This bill just has enormous impact statewide," Waltner said. "I don't know if that's a message that's getting through to legislators."
"I just hope they (the legislators) think it out before they act on it," Hague said.