Wellness for county employees, in regards to two policies in particular, was a significant topic of discussion at Monday's meeting of the Harvey County Commissioners.

First, given an increased interest in gym memberships since the Newton YMCA opened, the Harvey County Wellness team brought forward a proposal for a gym membership subsidy from the county. After much input and polls showing a great number of employees with the same interest, the Wellness team proposed subsidizing memberships—to any gyms willing to participate—as a way to encourage the behaviors at the center of the team's mission.

Members of the Wellness team noted Hesston and Kidron Bethel have already verbalized a willingness to participate in the subsidy program, which would see the county covering $75 annually (or $6.25/month) for those employees who choose to take part in the program with an accepted partner.

"I think it's a pretty good idea, but I'd like to see it a little more refined," said commission chair Ron Krehbiel.

Questions arose about the financial burden and who would handle that, with the Wellness team noting it has about $18,000 in funds currently to help with a subsidy, though it was noted county funds may be relied upon at some point if the program continues. It was also pointed out that the subsidy lined out by the Wellness team is almost identical to a similar policy implemented by the City of Newton.

Keeping track of who utilizes the program and how frequently, as well as potentially establishing a threshold to be met in terms of monthly visits, were also discussed as options. Commissioner Chip Westfall suggested having the Wellness team monitor the program through the first year and make any adjustments after that. The commission ended up approving the subsidy through December of 2017.

Smoking among county employees also drew a great deal of attention, as county administrator John Waltner brought forward an amended policy to go over with the commission. Most notably, changes in the policy centered on prohibiting Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (like e-cigarettes)—along with already-prohibited tobacco products—on county property and increasing the distance at which smoking would be permitted to 20 feet (from 10) outside of entrances, operable windows and ventilation systems of enclosed areas where it is prohibited.

Currently, the state statue on smoking outside prohibited areas is 10 feet, but the proposed change would match the City of Newton's current policy. Commissioner Randy Hague suggested marking off that distance to make it clear where smoking is allowed.

Just how many county employees smoke is unclear, and with some of the changes being proposed commissioner Westfall suggested more discussion be had among departments to iron out the issues with this policy.

"To me, it's a little vague in what you're trying to accomplish," Westfall said.

For some employees at the Harvey County Sheriff's Department, namely those in the detention center, those policy changes could have a great impact. Sheriff Chad Gay noted it would be tough to get to a designated smoking area, as those employees are mostly confined to the jail.

Additionally, Westfall questioned how non-smoking tobacco (i.e. chew) would affect the work place, as many of those employees in the detention center utilize that particular form.

"Overall, the Wellness team is trying to promote healthy living and healthy lifestyles," said Health Department Director Lynnette Redington. "That's why we put tobacco in there."

"I think it makes sense for the organization to say that these kinds of behaviors are the ones that we value and that we'll support in the form of policy," Waltner said.

While many who spoke up noted they are anti-tobacco, they also pointed out how major these proposed changes are and questioned how far the enforcement would go. Getting feedback from employees, particularly those in the Sheriff's Department, was something in which the commissioners showed interest while Waltner noted that this is just a preliminary discussion and he will present a formal policy to be approved in the next couple of weeks.

In other business the county commission:

Heard a report from Gay on work being done by local detectives with drug operations and efforts to involve the county communities in establishing a drug task force, both in terms of active operations and preventative measures.
Learned that Mainprize Industries signed off on the contract for this year's Conquer the Gauntlet event, agreeing to the amendments.
Was informed of training that will be held in the community room of the courthouse on Feb. 15 regarding the Family Medical Leave Act.
Received a letter from the Census Bureau outlining extensive work to be done by the county for the upcoming decennial census, namely updating info on residence locations in the county (mainly in rural/unincorporated areas).
Learned that county employees Waltner, Gary Denny and Dan Bronson (along with Newton public information officer Erin McDaniel) will be meeting with a researcher from Wichita State University for an in-depth study on the communication process for emergencies.
Authorized an agreement with the Central Kansas Community Foundation to be able to receive and distribute funds to the Harvey County Food and Farm Council.
Gave consent to Solid Waste superintendent Rollin Schimdt to seek an agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for vertical expansion at the C&D landfill.
Was notified of the planning commission meeting on Tuesday.
Discussed the process of mortgage foreclosure sales, as that is an issue Gay and county counselor Greg Nye have had to address recently. Nye noted the money on those foreclosures first goes to taxes, then to court costs, then to the creditors and what's left will usually go to the previous owner.
Authorized changing the signature needed for approval from the treasurer's office regarding the Kansas Municipal Investment pool.
Learned that the House Selections committee amended a bill on write-in candidates after county clerk Rick Piepho's testimony last week.
Reviewed the 2017 Pavement Improvement Program with Road and Bridge superintendent Jim Meier, approving him to proceed with getting designs and bids for the proposed projects.