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Road work has county at crossroads





The prospect of bonding infrastructure projects near a growing industrial area sparked debate Monday at the Ellis County Commission meeting.

Mike Graf, Ellis County Public Works director, said the Kansas Department of Transportation has asked what funds the county could commit to upgrading 55th, 230th and Feedlot Road. There are no figures available yet for the work, but Graf estimated it could cost several million dollars.

Commission Chairwoman Barbara Wasinger said the construction is necessary, but she did not embrace taking on debt to finance it.

"I have three thoughts on it: (1) It has to be done; (2) We don't have the money for it, so (3) We're going to have to bond it," she said. "The last, final part of that is we're going to figure out how we're going to pay the bill."

Commissioner Swede Holmgren said the endeavor would be an "$8 (million) to $10 million horseshoe," and he suggested the county would be building an asset for Hays.

"My contention is we're building a bypass for the city of Hays," Holmgren said.

Removing one road from the discussion and rerouting some traffic could reduce the project's sticker shock.

"I am convinced there's got to be a way we eliminate tearing up 55th Street and forking out $4 million to repair that if 2 miles north of there, or a mile north of there, we have Feedlot Road," Holmgren said.

The commissioner doubted taxpayers would support financing the project.

"If you force a bond issue on the people now, you're going to have a revolt," he said.

Holmgren asked Graf if a load limit could be placed on 55th while exempting county and government traffic.

Graf said the road is used for reaching the landfill.

Commissioner Dean Haselhorst did not attend the meeting.

In other business:

* Commissioners approved the 2015 budget after no individuals from the public spoke during the hearing. Net expenditures are expected to be $24.2 million in 2014 and reach $27.7 million in 2015. Subsidies to outside agencies are allocated at $1.3 million.

* Graf shared an update on projects. Federal funds can cover 100 percent of upgrades to signage on some county routes.

The county also is eligible for $120,000 from KDOT to replace a bridge. County staff has identified 15 bridges eligible for the assistance. The county would be responsible for 10 percent of the cost.

* Commissioners passed a resolution giving them the flexibility to allow fireworks. Sky lanterns explicitly are prohibited in the new rule.

* A $5,598 bill will be paid for Ellis County to remain a member of the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition.

* Wasinger was chosen as the delegate to attend the Kansas Association of Counties, with Haselhorst as the alternate.

* Commissioners approved a draft of a letter in support of the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act. If approved by Congress, it would allow the county to collect sales tax on Internet sales.

* Four preliminary bids were returned for renovations to the courthouse/law enforcement center. LAW Co. added $50,000 on the envelope, holding their estimate immediately before submitting it. The contractor's staff later contacted Sund and said it could forgo the raised bid.

Wasinger said it "speaks poorly" of the company.

Bids range from $5.51 million to $5.55 million.

* Commissioners discussed setting up a new phone system in the temporary offices for its courthouse/LEC staff. No decision was made. The phone system also needs to be upgraded, according to Sund.

* A 15-minute executive session took place to discuss union negotiations and non-elected employees. No action was taken.