Several object to idea of county building panel

By Maura Wery

Nine members of the public questioned the need for a proposed Public Building Commission during a hearing held by the Riley County Commission Monday.

County commissioners are considering creating the building commission, a special board that could give county commissioners purchasing and building power without having to submit the necessary bonding questions to voters.

At deadline the hearing was continuing, and it was not clear whether the county commission would act on the question following conclusion of the hearing.

The idea of a Public Building Commission has been discussed for years, but commissioners have not previously acted on it.

Late last year commissioners reviewed a study concluding that the county would need 111,322 square feet of space over the next 20-year period, a bit less than double the present space inventory.

The study, commissioned in 2007, envisioned the purchase of the First Christian Church building adjacent to the county office building, with demolition of that building in order to construct a brand new facility on the cleared space. The entire project would cost the county about $3.2 million. Public Works director Leon Hobson said the new office building would be operational, efficient, contextual to the site, sufficient and sustainable. Those same plans also called for demolition of the current county office building in favor of an 85-stall parking site.

County counselor Clancy Holeman asked the commission to seek public input last week. The main thought expressed by members of the public Monday was a concern that commissioners were taking away the right to vote for projects, coupled with concerns over what exactly this board is going to do.

“I don’t think this is democracy,” Goldie Dall said. Dall said creation of the commission would take away her 19th Amendment right to vote.

“We fight for democracy but you don’t want us to have it,” Dall said. “I have the right to vote, ‘No’.”

Under present state law, county commissioners seeking to make improvements to buildings in excess of $300,000 must submit the question to a vote. If a building commission is created, that body can authorize bonding for building improvements in excess of $300,000 without submitting the question to a vote.

Other questions Monday were whether the commission would lease buildings back to the county, and whether they would remain liable for the project. The answer was that the commission would remain accountable for a 50-year term.

Another question was whether the public could protest and petition against a project? The answer was also a yes, during a 30-day stop period following authorization by the building commission.

Budget approved as amended

Commissioners approved their budget for the 2014 session as amended Monday. Expenditures will total around $30 million and the budget will set the county levy at 37.345 mils, an increase of 1.949 mils from 2013.

That translates to a levy of about $773 for the owner of an average $180,000 residence. Factoring in about a 3 percent valuation increase, the owner of the same home would have paid about $720 in property taxes this year. 

Commissioners said they tried to further reduce the increase, but could not do so.

“We’ve already made significant changes,” Commissioner Dave Lewis said. “I think we always want to see it lower, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job this year.”

Budget and Finance officer Johnette Shepek will now place the budget into the state worksheet and then will submit it for publication on Aug. 5.

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