More dollars than sense
There was plenty of activity at the county commission’s nickel and dime slots this week, with employees continuing to buy all manner of interesting items in June.
Emergency management had perhaps the most interesting expenditures: $683.60 for air fare plus $88.84 for a seat upgrade, $25 for excess baggage, $48.28 for travel insurance, $20 for liability insurance on two drones, and $104.88 for doughnuts for training sessions.
For some reason, the county paid for $11.97 in potting soil from Marion County Hardware, where part of a purchase by the health department was for a plant.
We itemized burgeoning cell phone costs a few weeks ago. For June, the county also paid a $124.30 for a cell phone battery for district court.
Dispatchers must have been pretty thirsty; their Culligan water system cost $63.55 in June along with the $53.94 they paid for coffee.
The county paid for $855 in advertising in Kansas magazine and a total of $135.99 in cell phones for the economic development office, which has been empty since early May.
One of last month’s leading claimants for mileage reimbursement was again near the top this month, with Gayla Ratzlaff of the department on aging, which has two vehicles, claiming $197.95 in mileage.
Emergency medical services paid Eagle Communications $156.90 for Internet access in Florence, Hillsboro, Marion, and Tampa — access that includes cable TV in Marion. It also paid Hutchinson Community College $1,886 in tuition to advance the training of an EMT, who will then earn a higher salary once training is complete.
It also spent $23.96 for water and $55.92 for toilet supplies from Carlsons’ Grocery, paid the city of Florence $200 for two toilets, and reimbursed Tammy Whiteside for $100 worth of candy for Tuesday’s parade in Peabody.
The courthouse overall paid $1,451.86 for restroom supplies from Pur-O-Zone.
Employees of road and bridges, which paid $85 to lease an ice machine, apparently will look sharper in $3,127.95 worth of new uniforms from Cintas Corp.
In addition to salaries paid out to the county attorney and county counselor, the county paid $144.44 in mileage for the county attorney and a $299.20 consulting fee to the county attorney’s law firm.
These are in addition to legal fees, mainly for indigent clients, of $2,404 to Seth Meyer, $325 to Karstetter & Bina, and $175 to Chris Costello.
EBH Engineering, which messed up the initial bid specifications on a Florence demolition project, nevertheless put in for $4,075 for its work on the project.
That wasn’t anywhere near the $28,920 charged by Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd for the county’s 2016 audit. Planning and zoning also spent $2,090 consulting with the private business of Junction City zoning administrator David Yearout.
After doing banner business the month before, Great Plains Computers got only $228.75 to set up, repair, or “clean up” four computers.
The county also spent $60 for taking notes at meetings of the same economic development group that wanted a secret session with commissioners.
And for those who lament that Marion County lost out on getting its own landfill, where tipping fees would have been waived, the county paid Butler County’s landfill $21,748.60 in June.
All these amounts pale in comparison to the high-stakes game — specifically, $1,565,050.92 in rat-holed sales tax revenue the county hasn’t yet needed in paying for its new jail.
By next spring, that amount will exceed the total needed over 20 years to completely pay off the jail. That’s why the county is starting the process of seeking voter approval to extend the tax and use its proceeds for other things.
While seemingly painless, sales taxes hit low-income residents hardest. That’s why they’re called “regressive.” The promise of big new projects may seem alluring, but the county would be well-advised to get the rest of its spending in order before coming to voters with a plea to make permanent a tax that was created for one specific, short-term purpose.
— ERIC MEYER