Jeremy Gaston/Herald-Chronicle

Wayne White | Managing Editor

LYNDON—With the election next Tuesday, Osage County commissioners revealed Monday the amount of taxes they expect to be levied if voters approve the county unit road maintenance system.

Noting they had just received the figures that morning from the county’s auditor, commissioners estimated that 7.5 mills, or approximately $932,880, would be added to the county road and bridge budget for maintenance of roads previously maintained by townships.

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners Carl Meyer and Ken Kuykendall were questioned by Perry Thompson and Casey Mussatto about details of the conversion from township maintenance to county unit if the ballot question passes. Osage County Commissioner Mike Pruitt was absent due to a family emergency.

“We’re curious about what the commission is thinking and if they are going to do anything to inform the public better with the election a week from tomorrow,” Thompson said.

Kuykendall outlined the plan as it was considered during development of an alternative budget.

“The 12 districts is the plan,” said Kuykendall, “hiring 11 more employees – nine road people, one mechanic, and one more administrative person. We already have a budget if it passes for county unit.”

Thompson noted the 7.5 mill budget figure was lower than previously discussed by commissioners. Recently commissioners had estimated that 8.5 mills would equal the amount expended by the townships for road maintenance in the current year’s budgets.

“There is an efficiency difference between what the townships are spending, at 8.5, and what our auditor came up with,” Kuykendall said.

He explained the county’s auditor had compared Osage County with other counties that operate under county unit. In a letter drafted by the commissioners, to be published in this week’s Herald-Chronicle, they refer to another county used as a model. Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets confirmed Monday the county referred to in the letter was Marion County.

Meyer noted the 7.5 mills would include “payments to the townships” and taking possession of the townships’ equipment over a two-year period.

“If it does pass, then there’s the remaining months of 2010,” Kuykendall said, “which you will just have to get by on what’s left in the townships, and you’re starting on the townships’ equipment, too.”

“And with the operation (of the townships) we may have to contract with township operators to continue operations,” Meyer added.

“Because you’re not going to hire nine people in one day,” Kuykendall said. “There will have to be a transition period of some kind if this passes.”

After opening the meeting to questions from the public, Kuykendall answered Ken Dubois, saying the plan was tentative.

Meyer agreed.

“This is the tentative plan for the operation if it passes, to have 12 motor graders that have equal amount of roads in each of those districts,” Meyer said.

“That’s 100 percent more than we had two weeks ago,” Dubois said.

Jim Foster questioned whether the budget line item for township road maintenance included purchasing the townships’ equipment.

“There is no other mill levy, the way I understand it,” Kuykendall said, “and the equipment will come the way the county usually buys, where it is on a lease purchase thing. So it’s not all like we have to buy x number of road graders in one heap at one time, it’s budgeted over several years and it’s all factored in that 7.5.”

Questioned by Marcia Elliot about the suggested budget amount, Kuykendall said commissioners were “fairly confident” the number was accurate.

“Our auditor does several other counties,” Kuykendall said. “He compared the township operations here with what those counties have been doing, the size of those counties, the number of roads they’re doing, all that has been factored in.”

Emery Elliot asked if the budget amount could be changed “down the road.”

Kuykendall said it could, but not without public input.

“It has to go before a hearing,” Kuykendall said. “It’s just like townships, the townships can raise theirs too, at any time.”

Foster questioned the auditor’s comparison of counties.

“You’re taking a county that’s already been running that way for 30 some years and you’re trying to drop those numbers into our county and there hasn’t really been a study that shows as to what it costs to convert, upgrade and do,” Foster said. “I don’t think that’s been factored in and really talked about much and I think it’s been overlooked.”

Kuykendall said the proposed budget included factors such as Foster suggested.

“Our auditor has tried to factor some of that in the conversion process, and there are a lot of unknowns in some of it, I’ll grant you that,” Kuykendall said.

Marcia Elliot asked who citizens would contact about road issues if the question was approved.

“You call the road and bridge department and if you don’t like what their answers are, you come to the county commissioners,” Kuykendall said.

With citizens present representing opposing opinions, the “vote no” contingent questioned the “vote yes” people about statements made in advertising.

“To me this is spin,” Dubois said to Thompson. “I want to know what double taxation is?”

“We pay for two road systems,” Thompson answered.

“You mean you just pay to one entity instead of two services?” Marcia Elliot said. “It’s not really double taxation.”

“You pay two so we call it double,” said Thompson. “If we pass this, we pay for one road system.”

“You also pay state road and federal road,” Foster said.

“They’re saying that they’re going to do it for considerably less for all the rural people,” Thompson said. “So why would you want to have two systems, why would anybody? It’s cheaper with one system.”

“Bigger government does not mean efficiency,” Elliot replied.

Foster argued that the suggested reduction in total taxes was “an illusion.”

“It’s just simply more people paying and there are people that aren’t paying now,” he said.

Kuykendall noted the road issue was just one of the issues commissioners were grappling with during next year’s budget development.

“Our biggest budget issue is the upcoming capital murder trial for 2011,” he said. “It’s going to be a giant problem for the three of us and the county taxpayers, and we’re spending as much time on it as we are on this. And the unknowns on it are probably way more than the unknowns on the road (issue).”

Voters will head to the polls next week to decide primary runoff elections in addition to the county road question. The question to be answered is: Shall Osage County Resolution No. 10-05, a Resolution adopting the provisions of the County Unit Road System become effective and the provisions of the County Unit Road System be adopted in Osage County pursuant to K.S.A. 68-515 b?

Interested voters still have an opportunity to learn about the issue before the election. Dubois announced that a town hall meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. July 30 at the Osage County Senior Center, in Osage City. All citizens are invited, he said. No political signs are to be displayed and the forum will be moderated, Dubois said.

In other business, the commission:

• approved a bid for a new roof for the Osage County Health Department. Kitzelman Construction, Lyndon, offered the winning bid of $11,065 to replace the roof.

• approved a conditional use permit for the Lyndon Amish Mennonite Church to establish a cemetery on church property.

• approved a purchase order for a tractor for the road and bridge department from Sloop Sales and Hook Repair in the amount of $41,773. Beets said the commission had already approved a lease purchase agreement for the tractor, but a mix up in paperwork caused the purchase order to be overlooked.

• approved purchase orders for the Osage County Sheriff’s Office including $2,305 for a jail booking management software, hardware and services provided by Information Technologies Inc. Also approved with the contract was a monthly service fee of $269. Other purchase orders were to Factory Direct in the amount of $517 for a stove for the jail, and to Dell for a computer costing $967.98.