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Vacant lot sales may indicate rise in residential construction is coming

By The Mercury

Residential construction in Pott County should be picking up soon, if the recent sales of vacant lots is a valid indicator.

Twenty-three vacant lots were sold in February and another 15 in March, Appraiser Lois Schlegel told county commissioners Monday.

“Those are very good numbers,” Schlegel said. “Everybody’s getting prepared to start building houses.”

The 23 February vacant lot sales is the highest monthly total in at least three years, according to figures provided by the appraiser.

Sales in other categories––residential, commercial and farmsteads or ag land––also continue to improve, according to Schlegel. There were 51 sales in March and 49 in February, boosting first-quarter total sales into to the highest level in recent memory.

“This has probably been the best first quarter we’ve had in a long time,” Schlegel told commissioners.

Schlegel said she is also working with several property owners whose property value may be impacted after being included newly redrawn floodplain maps.

“We’re trying to gather information,” she said. “We’ll do whatever we can to help in any way, but I’m not sure we’re going to get anything solved this year.”

When the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) updated floodplain maps last year, several Wamego businesses along U.S. Highway 24 were included, requiring them to purchase expensive federal flood insurance.

Schlegel said her office went through a similar process years ago when a cleaning solvent from the former Atlas Missile Base northwest of Wamego leeched into the groundwater and contaminated private water wells of area homeowners.

In other business Monday:

• Commissioner Stan Hartwich inquired about the status of an investigation into the damage of a new county bridge on Neuchatel Road in the northeast part of the county.

“A lot of people around Onaga are really disgusted with that and I am too,” Hartwich told Leu Lowrey, public works director. “Somebody should have to pay for that. I don’t care if it was youth or not, they should know better. What they did was steal from the taxpayers of Pottawatomie County.”

The new bridge, completed in September of 2012, was damaged when bonfires on two different nights in December were started in two different areas of the bridge decking.

Heat from the fires damaged the concrete and likely affected the steel support structure, reducing the lifespan of the bridge, according to Lowrey, who noted that expensive testing would be required to determine the exact extent of the damage.

At Hartwich’s request, Lowrey said he would get an update on the investigation from the sheriff’s department.

• Dustin Trego, operations assistant, reported 231 riders and 888 trips by the county’s mini-buses for the month of March.

Radios provided by the Kansas Department of Transportation were installed April 9, in the county’s three buses, Trego said.

“We’re still under budget for the fiscal year, which ends in June,” Trego told commissioners.

• Bruce Brazzle, fire supervisor, said he continues to work on a consolidation plan for the county’s fire districts. Six to eight county departments and one township department are on board with the plan, while two others are “iffy” or simply not interested, Brazzle said.

“We’re still working on the legalities and then we’ll go to all the districts with the consolidation plan,” he said.

• The commission approved a bid of $78,500 from Foley Tractor for a used county grader. REED Co. also submitted a bid for the equipment.

“I’m really happy with these prices,” Lowrey said, estimating the county purchased the grader new for $150,000 13 years ago.

• The commission approved a donation of $400 for the city of Olsburg for a park improvement project.

The commission also put a cap of $800 annually for cities in the county seeking assistance for similar projects.

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