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County weighs 2015 budget options

1/23/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

The Ellis County Commission outlined its 2015 budget priorities at Wednesday afternoon's special meeting at 718 Main.

The three commissioners took turns detailing what their individual priorities were, including paid time off for county employees; water issues; public safety; economic development, which would include planning and zoning; asset management; union contract negotiations; and health insurance for county employees.

Commissioner Swede Holmgren's main concern was the dwindling water supply.

"The No. 1 issue I have is the allocation of the resource of water," he said. "One of these days pretty soon -- I'm talking three to five years at the latest -- you're going to turn a faucet on and there's not going to be anything coming out of it. And that's scary."

Commission chairwoman Barbara Wasinger was the only commissioner to mention health insurance as a priority.

"We are all aware that health insurance is becoming out of control," she said. "It's out of control for a lot of people. We need to get a handle on that.

"We've been very fortunate in the county to have great health insurance. I'm not going to change the health insurance, but we may have to change the structure in order to keep it sustainable."

Also on the agenda was a report from Commissioner Dean Haselhorst on the EMS/rural fire building the county plans to build. Haselhorst showed pictures of the Ford County EMS/rural fire building he toured in Dodge City last week.

"Over the past three weeks, I went around viewing EMS/rural fire stations," Haselhorst said.

The Ford County station has EMS employees sharing sleeping quarters, with two to a room. Ellis County EMS Director Kerry McCue said female technicians prefer single-bunk rooms for privacy reasons.

Wasinger agreed she, too, would prefer to sleep alone, but financially that might not be possible for the Ellis County station.

The commission also discussed a road improvement project for 230th Avenue and Feedlot Road. The Kansas Department of Transportation supports the economic development project, and $500,000 in funding would be available.

"The state put a lot of caveats on the funding," Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund said.

KDOT's requirements include creation of 100 new jobs in the industrial sector; 17 new jobs in the retail stores sector; approximately $8 million in capital investment at the Hess Services location; approximately $5 million in capital investment at the interchange in the short term, and an anticipated $11.3 million anticipated at full build-out.

"We need to talk about if this is a priority project," Sund said. "If it is a priority, I think we need to talk about borrowing money to do it. It becomes another bond issue."

Employee meal reimbursements also were discussed, with commissioners approving two motions.

In the first motion, county employees on county business would use the then-current general services administration rate, with details of additional billing for receipts to be worked out.

In the second motion, the then-current IRS mileage rate would be used by the county.

Commissioners also discussed an employee compensation study. Sund said in his meeting memo because the county has job descriptions that are out of date, lack some uniformity and do not conform to modern standards, it would be a good idea to have a consultant perform a compensation survey and work up new job descriptions.

"I would like to make this a priority," Wasinger said.

Sund said the study could cost approximately $40,000.