Building lease, rescue plan among county business

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
The Harvey County Board of Commissioners prepare for the weekly meeting Tuesday morning.

The Harvey County Board of Commissioners met in regular session Tuesday at the county courthouse meeting room.

Among items the commission took action on was approval of a lease for the City of Newton Building V (formerly the ABI Building) at the Newton City-County Airport.

The building is being leased to Human Plant Solutions LLC for 90 days, with an option for an additional 90 days.

The county was required to sign off on the lease because, while the building itself is owned by the City of Newton, the land is jointly owned by the city and county.

Human Plant Solutions LLC manufactures human prosthetics from hemp. According to the proposal presented to the board, the county has “no financial obligations for the lease agreement.”

In the legislative update, the commissioners expressed concern over state Senate Bill 13, which as proposed, would require counties to “refund property tax dollars to businesses as a result of any order (or closure).”

A provision in a separate piece of legislation (SB 286), the county would have to refund property tax money to businesses if a mask mandate was issued.

“We continue to watch those and see how those play out,” county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber said. “It would be very difficult for the county to refund not only the county’s portion, but the cities’, the townships’, the schools’ and everybody else’s. Hopefully, they continue to have sensible discussions.”

• Swartzendruber said the county will receive $6.7 million from the American Rescue Plan, while cities in the county will receive about $4.1 million. The county will receive the funding directly from the federal government, while the cities will receive the funding through the state. He said the program was going to have funding for the townships, but in the most current plan “it will be a little difficult for townships to spend money and/or comply with federal requirements if funding was made available to them. We need to wait and see.”

Swartzendruber said there are four uses of the funding:

1. Respond to the public health emergency with respect to the COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality

2. Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the county that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work

3. For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue (i.e. online, property or income tax) due to the public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year of the county prior to the emergency (i.e. Jan. 20, 2020), or

4. Make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

“We were hoping that would include road infrastructure and bridge infrastructure, as well,” Swartzendruber said. “I’m not 100% sure why they are providing for water and sewer and not the other types of infrastructure that will certainly help cities, but not the counties.”

One of the commissioners pointed out that there is a bill in Congress that would provide money for roads and bridges, which is why it might have been pulled from the American Rescue Plan.

The money will have to be spent by the end of 2024. Half of the funding will come to the county within 60 days. The next half would come in a year.

Periodic reports will have to be made to the federal government.

• A joint meeting between the Harvey County Commission and the Newton City Commission will take place at 11:30 a.m. April 7 at the Meridian Center.

• The county approved a contract with Unruh Mowing to provide mowing services with the Harvey County Parks.

The contract is for $3,400, an increase of $150 (4.6%) over last year, reflecting rising fuel costs. Even with the price increase, the contract is $700 below the county’s budget.

In other parks news, one shower house is open at West Park, which has heat. One was open at East Park, but had to be closed for repair. Those that don’t have heat will remain closed until the possibility of a freeze subsides.

Commissioners asked about the dams at the parks, in light of recent earthquakes. They are currently under inspection. An engineering firm will conduct the parks’ five-year dam inspections. A drain pipe under the dam at Camp Hawk has developed a leak and will need repair.

• The commission approved a letter of support for the Kansas 9-1-1 First Responders Act, which would classify 9-1-1 dispatchers, as well as workers at “Highway Patrol, Tribal, military and University dispatch centers” as first responders.

• The county approved the 2020 Noxious Weed State Report and the 2021 Control Plan.

In 2020, the county had a beginning budget of $190,644 for noxious weed funding. There were $204,517 in revenues and $173,616 in expenditures, with a carryover balance of $30,901.

Weeds of concern include field bindweed, Johnsongrass, musk thistle and sericea lespedeza. Noxious weeds are estimated to be on 4,419.2 acres of private land, 600 acres of county land, 1,013 of township land, 475 acres of state land and 75 acres of city land.

•The county opened bids, but took no action, on a vibratory smooth steel drum roller, used in road work.

There were four bidders on the project, offering bids on six different vehicles. Only one met the price requirement ($70,000), but that vehicle didn’t meet required specifications.

The county is looking to replace a 1994 Ingersoll Rand DD90.

The required specifications included fewer than 500 machine hours, 100 horsepower minimum, drum width of 66.1 inches and an operating weight of 21,000 pounds minimum.

Bids ranged from (with trade-in allowance) $62,897 to $117,989.

• While taking no action, the commissioners were informed by the City of Halstead of an annexation proposal. The commissioners suggested those in proximity to the land should be notified of hearings.

• Hearing from parks department director.

• The county approved the final expense report for SPARK Phase 1 CARES Act Funding.

The county received nearly $7 million in funding from the CARES Act. The money went to six cities in the county and five school districts. Money also was distributed for community testing, public health, community support, senior centers, long term care facilities and private schools and colleges.

According to a state of Kansas release, the funds can be used:

“• To address medical or public health needs related to the emergency & provide economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19.

• Payments can only be used for costs:

• Necessary public health (COVID-19) emergency expenses;

• Not accounted for in the budget approved as March 27,2020;

• Incurred from March 1 to Dec. 30, 2020.”

• The commission heard from Joni Embree-Meindoes of the Citizens for the Conservation of the Equus Beds.

The Equus Beds aquifer provides drinking water for communities in Harvey, McPherson, Reno and Sedgwick counties.

The group will hold informational meetings March 23 at the Lake Township building, March 24 at the Kansas Health Museum in Halstead and March 29 at First Christian Church in Burrton. The meetings begin at 7 p.m.

Embree-Meindoes said water test kits are available from the group.

• The commission approved warrant checks of $198,415.45.

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com