File Photo/Herald-Chronicle
A truck supporting a "no" vote on the road question drives in the Sunflower Days parade June 26 in Melvern. Signs supporting both sides of the issue have popped up all over the county, with the vote in the primary election less than one month away.

Wayne White | Managing Editor

LYNDON—While Osage County commissioners have said they plan to develop two budget proposals for next year – one for regular county operations and another that includes the possible takeover of township road maintenance – it appears voters might not have solid figures to help decide how to vote in the county unit road maintenance election Aug. 3.

Osage County currently operates under the county-township system, in which the county maintains main traveled roads in the county road system, and townships maintain local roads not in cities and not maintained by the county. In February, commissioners approved a resolution that would convert the county to the county unit system after a valid petition was filed requesting adoption of the system. The resolution was followed by another successful petition that brought the issue to a vote. If voters approve the county unit system, the county will be responsible for maintaining all roads in the county except for city streets and state and federal highways.

Tuesday morning, commissioners met with Perry Thompson, Osage City, a proponent of the county unit system, who questioned how a change to county unit would affect rural taxpayers.

“For rural people, property tax, it’s going to decrease, is that correct?” Thompson asked.

“That’s what we think,” said Osage County Commissioner Mike Pruitt.

The three commissioners agreed they expected rural taxpayers to have a decrease in property tax levies if the changeover was successfully voted in, but they did not yet know how much the savings would be.

Thompson questioned the accuracy of a previously suggested county mill levy increase of 8.5 mills if the county took over maintenance of township roads. Thompson said he was seeking an accurate figure to inform rural taxpayers of how much savings they might expect if townships no longer levy a tax for road main-tenance and instead the county tax is spread across all taxpayers in the county.

Currently, people who live in cities do not pay taxes into the township road funds, although all city taxpayers, except those in Osage City, pay taxes toward townships’ general funds, out of which expenses not associated with road maintenance are paid.

Pruitt said commissioners did not know how much the county road mill levy would increase.

“We can’t come up with a real figure because we can’t get all the answers,” Pruitt said.

Osage County Commissioner Carl Meyer agreed, noting that some aspects of the conversion, such as the number of additional county employees that would be needed, remain unknown.

“There are some totally unanswered questions,” Meyer said.

Commissioners pointed out that the county’s auditor is working to estimate the cost of the possible road system conversion for development of an alternate budget, but has not been successful in obtaining equipment lists from all of the townships in the county.

“The auditor called them all and got chewed out by a few,” Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall said equipment lists have yet to be collected from seven of the 16 townships in the county. Commissioners indicated the information might not be known in time to develop the budgets before the election.

Questioned by Chuck Sypher, Vassar, about the legality of townships withholding information, county counselor Delton Gilliland said township records are subject to the state’s open records law.

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“Anyone has the right to request the records,” Gilliland said.

“The problem is,” Sypher said, “we don’t have time to go to all of [the townships]” to request the records.

In reference to townships’ operating costs, commissioners noted the townships’ budgets are developed at the same time as the county’s and that information will be available to everyone when the budgets are published.

Thompson also asked the commissioners to confirm other expected cost savings from conversion to county unit, pointing to hiring full-time employees to replace the townships’ mostly part-time road maintenance employees.

“You’re always better off having full-time employees with benefits instead of a bunch of part-time employees,” Thompson said.

Although commissioners did not confirm Thompson’s comment, they agreed the county would need fewer full-time employees to maintain township roads than the current number of part-time township employees.

Thompson suggested other savings would come in insurance paid by the townships, saying the townships’ 16 liability insurance policies would be combined into one policy for the county road and bridge department.

“The (county’s) road and bridge insurance will probably increase, but not a lot,” Gilliland said, adding that he would contact the county’s insurance carrier for an estimate.

During discussion of insurance savings, Gilliland said that with fewer employees, unemployment and worker compensation insurance would also be less than that now paid by the townships.

Sypher suggested the main savings would be in equipment costs, saying he had checked with other counties that operate one road grader per 100 to 110 miles of roads. He said all of the townships in the county maintain less than 85 miles of road, including a couple that maintain about 40 miles.

“We’re road grader heavy,” Sypher said.

During the discussion, Thompson also questioned whether county rock haulers and other vendors would be excluded from providing services if the county took over maintenance of township roads.

“There is no way Osage County can haul all of the rock for all of the townships,” said Meyer, confirming that local vendors would still be utilized for road maintenance in the county if the conversion happens.

Kuykendall noted that all of the townships will have clerk positions on the ballot of the upcoming election, but only nine candidates had filed to fill the 16 positions.

“What worries me in the townships is the lack of interest,” Kuykendall said, “except right now.”

In other business, the commission:

o heard from county road and bridge supervisor Glen Tyson that another semi-trailer had become stuck on the railroad crossing west of Carbondale last week. Commissioners noted that signs had been posted warning of the hazard that was created when the railroad recently rebuilt the crossing. The signs will have to suffice until the county can rebuild the approach to the crossing during summer roadwork, Kuykendall said.

o learned from Tyson that Shawnee County commissioners had approved of Osage County hauling asphalt from an asphalt plant in Shawnee County via back roads to projects near Overbrook.

o heard from Kuykendall that Osage City’s Kiwanis Club had inquired about the possibility of the county assisting in hauling the club’s collection of newspapers and other paper products to an insulation manufacturing facility near Wellsville. Kuykendall said he advised club members to make a formal request to the commission.