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Staff photo by Matt Lunsford  

Lilli McIntosh, 13, left, and Emersyn Colby, 13, work on decorations for a bulletin board in the library at Northview Elementary School on Tuesday. All the books in the library were removed last month during the evacuation advisory for the neighborhood. Officials put the advisory in place because of potential flooding from Tuttle Creek Dam water releases. “We hope to have all the books back in place sometime in July,” Northview librarian Andrea Wollenberg said.

Pott Co property values up $94.7M

The assessed value of all property in Pottawatomie County jumped a whopping $94.7 million in 2019 — more than four times the average increase over the past eight years.

County clerk Nancy McCarter on Monday presented the July estimates to the county commission.

The assessed (taxable) value of property is the baseline used by local units of government in developing budgets and property tax rates for the coming year.

With an increase in assessed value, a lower property tax levy is required to raise revenue equal to the previous fiscal year. The county commission is expected to receive a proposed FY 2020 budget document early next month, according to Robert Reece, county administrator.

The total assessed value of all property (real estate, utilities, personal property and oil) in 2019 is $672.87 million, an increase of $94.7 million from 2018, according to the estimates.

The 2019 increase is largely attributable to a nearly $77 million jump in the assessed value of utilities, due to the expiration of a 20-year property tax exemption for Jeffrey Energy Center, according to McCarter.

The largest increase in the previous eight years was in 2012, when the county’s assessed value jumped by about $47 million.

The assessed value of real estate increased from about $294 million in 2018, to $313 million this year. That includes about $10 million in new construction. Utilities increased from $278 million to $355 million; personal property, from $5.8 million to $5.2 million; and oil remained static at $11.9 million.

The 2019 assessed values of the county’s major cities are Manhattan, $55 million; Wamego, $44 million; St. Marys, $19 million; St. George, $6.8 million; Westmoreland, $4.3 million; and Onaga, $3.9 million.

In other business Monday:

• The commission agreed to hear a presentation next Monday by BG Consultants regarding application for a federal “Build Grant” for the Belvue Bridge.

Commissioners were at odds whether or not to proceed with the application, estimated to cost around $15,000, due to the July 15 deadline.

Build Grants are very competitive and require extensive planning and engineering, according to Peter Clark, public works director.

“If you want to pursue this, this would be a good time to start for the next round (of applications) next year,” Clark said.

Commission Chairman Travis Altenhofen said he would like to hear BG’s proposal, but didn’t want to spend $15,000 on a grant application “because I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.”

“We need to do something besides patching,” said Commissioner Pat Weixelman. “Let’s get our foot in the door. If it doesn’t fly, it doesn’t fly.”

Commissioner Dee McKee, present via teleconference, said an application for a Build Grant should also include a proposed Blue River bridge at Marlatt Avenue, providing a second access point to Manhattan from western Pottawatomie County.

“We can’t isolate these projects,” McKee said.

Representatives of Wabaunsee County will also be invited to hear next Monday’s presentation.

• The commission approved an agreement with BG Consultants for design of a fleet maintenance facility for the county — a primary capital improvement project identified earlier by the commission.

Design fee for the facility is an estimated $942,000, or 7.5% of the estimated construction cost of $1.26 million. Estimated total cost of the facility is $1.76 million.

• Chris Trudo, emergency management director, said daily meetings at the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Wamego were discontinued Friday after the threat of flooding subsided.

As of Wednesday morning, the level of Tuttle Creek had dropped to 1,129.03 feet above sea level (about 81.8% of capacity) from a high of 1,135.8 on May 31, according to Trudo. The lake’s maximum capacity is 1,136 feet.

Water release from Tuttle’s stilling basin (“the tubes”) continues to decline and the Kansas River level at Wamego fell to 12.9 feet Monday from 15.5 feet Friday. Flood level of the Kaw at Wamego is 19 feet.

• Scott Schwinn, sanitarian, said the county landfill has seen an $81,000 increase in revenue for the first five months of 2019.

In May, the landfill took in 1,381 tons of transfer waste and 125 tons of construction debris — the highest month since 2007, according to Schwinn.

• The commission received a 2020 budget request of $82,500 from the Pott County Conservation District, the same amount and requested last year.

• Doug Dunafon questioned why he received a notice of delinquent taxes and special assessments on two parcels he hasn’t owned for three years.

Dunafon said he should not be liable for the delinquencies since the parcels were sold to a builder and remain undeveloped.

The commission took the question under advisement.

Former 1st ID leader to become sergeant major of U.S. Army

The U.S. Army announced on Tuesday that a former 1st Infantry Division leader will be the 16th sergeant major of the Army.

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston will become the Army chief of staff’s personal adviser on enlisted force matters and the Army’s top enlisted soldier.

Grinston currently serves as the senior enlisted officer for the U.S. Army Forces Command and previously served as the 1st Infantry Division command sergeant at Fort Riley.

As sergeant major of the Army, Grinston will succeed Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey, who has served in the role since January 2015.

While serving as an adviser, Grinston will travel throughout the Army to observe training, talk to soldiers and their families, and recommend quality-of-life improvements to Army leadership and Congress. He will also serve as the public face of the Army’s NCO Corps.

Grinston will be sworn in during a ceremony at the Pentagon on Aug. 16.

Grinston is the third former Fort Riley official recently promoted to a high-ranking Army position, including Gen. Paul Funk, who is now commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Lt. Gen. Joseph Martin, who is vice chief of staff of the Army.

Defendant: Meeting with escort consensual, whereabouts unknown during other incidents

A Manhattan man accused of several sex-related offenses said on Wednesday that a 2016 meeting with an escort had been discussed thoroughly prior and was consensual.

Tommie Baggett, 18, testified Wednesday on the third day of his trial at the Riley County District Courthouse. He is charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape, one count of criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated robbery, three counts of aggravated burglary and three counts of aggravated battery.

Baggett is accused of raping, battering and robbing a woman in August 2016. He’s also accused of entering a home in February and March of 2017, and attacking and attempting to rape three women who lived there.

Baggett said in 2016, a high school friend showed him an app that essentially allowed users to arrange sexual services. He said he contacted a woman on the app, whose prices for her time were listed on her profile. He said the profile also listed prices for “extra” sexual acts.

Before the two eventually met in August 2016, Baggett said they exchanged messages about details of what they would do and the prices. He said he asked the woman at some point if she had a condom and when she said no, he brought one.

Baggett said he arrived at their agreed-upon location, Northview Park, first and waited for her under a shelter. He said the woman walked up to him and while at the park, they discussed money and other small talk. When she asked him what he wanted to do, he said he asked her to perform oral sex on him and then had sexual intercourse with her, which he said she consented to.

Baggett said the woman wanted to leave after about half an hour because it was raining heavily outside, and he said he was not going to pay her because he did not get his full time. He said she became angry and tried grabbing for his wallet, and he pushed and hit her in the process of preventing her from doing so.

When she said she would call the police, he told her to do it because he had messages on his phone of their conversations. Baggett said Wednesday that he was unsure whether those messages were still accessible to him because he had gotten a new phone in 2018.

Baggett said the woman got dressed and left the park before he did.

In regards to the February and March 2017 incidents, Baggett said he did not know any of the alleged victims nor why his DNA would be linked to them. Baggett said he did not remember much about what he did on those days.

He said after he’d been arrested in connection with the crimes, he called friends to fill in the blanks. One friend told him he’d gone to a party the night of the February incident and that they had seen a video of him drinking, but he did not appear drunk. On the day of the March incident, which was Fake Patty’s Day, Baggett said he had been in Aggieville at some point but could not remember what he did that day.

On Tuesday, Troy Mohror, a print and tire track examiner for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office who consulted on the case, said he had compared a pair of shoes collected from Baggett’s residence to pictures of a partial footprint discovered inside the victims’ home. Based on the shoes’ tread design and size of the design elements on the sole, he concluded that it was possible the footprint inside the house could have been made by Baggett’s shoes or another pair of similar shoes.

While police noted other footprints outside the home, Mohror said the tracks from those prints were different from the one on the sink.

Kansas Bureau of Investigation forensic analysts testified Tuesday that they’d tested some of the evidence provided from all four victims and found DNA that was consistent with Baggett’s DNA in its system. Baggett’s DNA had been entered in the system after he’d been arrested for possession of marijuana in 2018, which is required by Kansas statute after a felony has been committed.

KBI Forensic DNA Analyst Jena Sparling said the DNA hits technically could not be called a full match, as that would require identical hits at 23 locations, but the results the KBI had were consistent with Baggett’s profile.

Prosecutors and the defense counsel delivered their closing statements late Wednesday morning and the jury began deliberation.

Newest city budget proposal calls for 3.06 mill increase

Manhattan city administrators presented a lower 2020 budget at the city commission meeting Tuesday, but commissioners want more options detailing what further budget cuts might look like.

Bernie Hayen, finance director, updated the commission with a new proposal that calls for a 3.06-mill increase. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

A property tax rate of 52.415 mills would bring in $30.7 million in property taxes for the city.

Based on a 0.4% increase in the average value of a home in the city, the 3.06 mill increase means that a homeowner paying $567.59 in city taxes for a $100,000 home in 2019 would pay $605.18 for a $100,400 home in 2020. That’s an increase of $37.59 or 6.62%.

Of the 3.06-mill increase, 1.037 mills would go to the city’s proposed $32.4 million general fund. Hayen said the city has increased the mill levy rate in recent years due to stagnation in the general fund’s non-property tax revenues.

Excluding property tax revenue, the general fund’s other revenues have hovered around $24 million in the past half-decade, increasing only slightly from $23.8 million in 2016 to an estimated $24.7 million in 2020, or an increase of about 3.81%.

In contrast, total general fund revenues, including property taxes, have increased by 6.63% to $32.4 million over that same time period. As a result, citizens have had to pick up that slack through property taxes.

“That is troublesome, commissioners, because it makes it extremely difficult to get away from either leaning more heavily on our utility funds or on property taxes,” Hayen said. “And again, if you look at why we’re looking at an increase of 1 mill in the general fund, this tells you why.”

Hayen said much of the increase in this year’s general fund is due to $1.4 million in higher personnel costs.

As part of the 2020 budget, city administrators are recommending the commission fund $327,000 for nine new positions from the general fund, including two code services officers, two human resource technicians, an engineering aide, a maintenance worker, animal shelter intake coordinator and technician, and an asset management analyst.

Four other full-time positions — including a water distribution maintenance crew leader, two equipment operators and an assistant city attorney — and three part-time Sunset Zoo educator positions will be funded from other sources, including utility revenues.

The city is also looking for a 1.6% cost-of-living adjustment of about $224,000 and a 2% step adjustment for most city employees amounting to $153,000. The remainder of the $1.4 million in increased personnel costs comes from seasonal position, overtime and allowance expenses, as well as a $200,000 buffer the city is seeking for variance in personnel costs.

The budget proposal also includes a new equipment reserve fund to go alongside the city’s general fund capital improvement program. The capital improvement program has fluctuated in past years, and administrators said an equipment reserve fund could help provide some stability for some of the city’s equipment needs.

“Revenues will pick up commissioners, and when they do, whoever is in my position would hopefully recommend that we move some of those monies over to this equipment reserve fund and hopefully help pick that up,” Hayen said.

Commissioner Jerred McKee said he was not as optimistic about future revenues, and that without additional revenue sources, the commission will be forced to raise the mill levy each year unless it starts to cut staff.

“It’d be nice to fund all of the projects we have, but at the end of the day, there’s a much more fundamental issue that we’re dealing with,” McKee said. “I appreciate your optimism of the future, Bernie, but I’m not as optimistic as you are. I think the markets are going to go down nationally, and I think it will get worse before it gets better. We have to figure out a way to solve this.”

To commissioner Wynn Butler, the requested increase is a symptom of a spending problem in the city. With recent increases, the city will get way beyond 50 mills, Butler said — something he could not support.

“To me, maybe you just limit those step increases and everything else to $310,000 and live within the budget, instead of asking people to raise the mill levy,” Butler said. “If you’re running a household, and you get a pay raise of X-amount, you spend that, not double that.”

Mayor Mike Dodson said he was frustrated with the budget presentation and wanted city adminstrators to come back with a clearer explanation of their budgeting process.

“You’ve got great snapshots here, but I cannot connect the dots, and I actually know a lot about budgeting,” Dodson said. “You should be able to walk from where you start to where you end up and find out where you’re getting there.

“Just to automatically say, ‘this is our budget’ — to me, you can’t do budgeting that way,” Dodson continued. “You have to say how much you expect to get, how much you expect to spend and then figure out what you have to do to resolve those two numbers. We’re being presented almost with a fait accompli here.”

Commissioner Usha Reddi said the city has to really consider when to give pay increases, since she said it seems the city tends to set cost-of-living adjustments and step increases for employees based on of what the Riley County Law Board and fire department union set.

If Kansas State University hasn’t given those kinds of pay increases in recent years, then maybe the city should be more willing to keep pay the same, she said.

“We haven’t always had declining revenues, but when that has been the case, we need to be a little bit more cautious about raises,” Reddi said. “We do have excellent staff, and we want to keep them and be competitive, but at the same time, we want to make sure they stay and that we have the budget to keep them.”

Commissioner Linda Morse said she also had trouble matching expenditures and revenues in the budget proposal. She also expressed concerns on how the city is relying on utility funds for some of the proposed new positions, particularly the new assistant city attorney position.

Last Tuesday, the commission approved a ballot initiative that will ask citizens to approve raising the sales tax rate by three-tenths of a percent to 9.25%.

That permanent tax increase would raise $99.9 million over the next 30 years to help pay for several city projects, including raising the levee, airport runway reconstruction, Aggieville redevelopment, the city’s contribution to North Campus Corridor, the Joint Maintenance Facility and the Douglass Park recreation center. The projects and their debt service are estimated to cost the city $90.9 million over 30 years.

“I think the general fund is pretty predictable, and I think the property tax is predictable,” Morse said. “I think sales taxes are the variable here for us and anticipating what our sales taxes will look like next year, I don’t feel comfortable holding the line. I think what we’re missing in the community right now, related to (decreases at) Fort Riley and K-State, is that there’s a serious sales tax debt coming, and I don’t know if we’re prepared for that.”

The commission instructed city administrators to return to the next budget work session with a proposal that outlined scenarios where the mill levy is kept flat and increased in smaller amounts than Tuesday’s proposal, as well as what impacts those scenarios would have on city operations.

Dodson also requested city staffers to provide insight into the city’s fee structure at its recreation facilities, as well as a long-term estimate of what the city’s bond and interest fund might look like beyond 2020.

The next budget session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. June 25 at City Hall. Outside agencies will make their 2020 funding requests.