Once again this spring and summer, there will be cars racing at the Ellis County Fairgrounds.
The Ellis County Commission at its regular meeting, including two new county commissioners sworn in Monday evening, agreed to extend a lease with RPM Speedway Inc. and the Ellis County Fair Association.
The only difference is that instead of the usual three-year lease, the lease is for one year, said County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes.
“This year we were notified by RPM that they decided not to extend the lease for an initial three years and instead requested to negotiate a new lease that is on a single-year basis,” Smith-Hanes said.
New County Commissioners Butch Schlyer and Dustin Roths were sworn in just minutes earlier at the start of the Monday evening meeting at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.
Roths asked if RPM’s managers indicated why they wanted the shorter lease.
“I don’t want to speak for them, but I believe it’s a business decision on their part,” said Smith-Hanes. “I think they’re just looking at a transition period over some period of time.”
Roths asked if that meant possibly different management next year, and a different lease.
“If we got different management we’d need to open new negotiations with that group,” Smith-Hanes said. “But yes, I think they just want to provide flexibility and not be locked in for a three-year period.”
Schlyer asked about any noise complaints, and Smith-Hanes said there are usually one to two a year, when races are delayed and go late, instead of wrapping up around 11 p.m.
They particularly seem to happen, he said, “when three things have occurred: When races have gone late into the night; two, when it’s a holiday weekend; and three, when the wind is blowing out of the west toward the city of Hays.”
County Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst told the new commissioners it can happen with one of the track’s biggest races, Fall Nationals.
“Regular races only bring about 150 cars on a typical weekend,” Haselhorst said. “Fall Nationals is pushing 300.” A three-day event, the Fall Nationals can run until 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, with Sunday not so late. Entries come in from 13 states, he said.
“You’ll find out you’ll probably get some phone calls,” Haselhorst said.
RPM’s lease runs from April 1 this year through March 31, 2020. RPM has the right to renew the lease for two additional one-year terms.
The contract calls for RPM to pay 10 percent of the gross front gate receipts to the Fair Association, or a minimum of $100. RPM gets to keep all the pit pass and race entry fee money.
The lease benefits the Fair Association, but has no financial impact for general county operations, according to commission briefing papers.
Haselhorst welcomed the new commissioners. Roths, owner of Diamond R Jewelry, 807 Main St., and newly elected chair of the Ellis County Republican Party, expressed his enthusiasm.
“I’ve been a county commissioner for about 30 minutes now, so I haven’t done a whole lot in that timeframe,” Roths said. “But it’s been exciting meeting the staff of the county and different directors.”
He and Schlyer will attend training in Topeka for all the state’s new commissioners in the next few weeks.
“I can tell you right now it’s a lot to wrap your mind around,” Roths said. “There’s a lot of people doing a lot of things in the county and that’s been exciting to see. It looks like we have a very dedicated work force.”
Schlyer, a retired county health department head, said he was excited to be a commissioner.
“I had to defeat some very worthy opponents in the election, both the primary as well as the general, so I am glad to be hear,” he said. “I want to assure the public, that I’ll make very fair decisions and what’s in the best interest of the public as well as what’s in the best interest of this Ellis County organization.”
In other business, the commissioners took steps to start the new year, including reorganizing the commission. Haselhorst was elected commission chairman again. Schlyer was elected vice chair.
Elected to represent the commission were: Roths, Northwest Kansas Community Corrections and Juvenile Service boards; Schlyer, High Plains Mental Health; Haselhorst, WorkforceONE; and Schlyer, Northwest Planning and Development.
Existing department heads were appointed to their respective offices. The commission also appointed: non-commissioner county representatives, the Ellis County Fair Board, the Fire District company chiefs, the local emergency planning council, the Ellis County Council on Aging Board, and the CARE Council.