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Staff photo by Matt Lunsford  

Crews from Pavers Inc. of Salina pour concrete sections of the road in the eastbound lanes of Kimball Avenue near the intersection with North Manhattan Avenue on Tuesday.

RCPD reveals new armored vehicle

The Riley County Police Department displayed on Monday its new armored vehicle to law board members and the public.

Officials said the purpose of the vehicle, a 2019 Lenco Bearcat, is to transport officers in high-risk situations and aid in the recovery and protection of civilians in harm’s way. Such incidents may include armed and barricaded individuals, hostage situations and rescue missions.

“Essentially the best thing this can do for us is afford us the opportunity to communicate with people,” said Lt. Brad Jager, a tactical team leader. “The best outcome for anything is for us to have a peaceful resolution, and the only way we can do that sometimes is establishing communication. This allows us to get up close and personal to a high-risk situation where an officer may be vulnerable, and this affords us the protection to get up and speak to those people and hopefully bring that subject out to us versus us having to go up there.”

RCPD purchased the vehicle in late 2018 after an officer-involved shooting in Manhattan in January 2018, and the armed individual barricaded himself inside his home, firing several rounds toward police.

During that incident, RCPD requested a regional use armored vehicle from Junction City to get closer to the home and provide cover for officers.

RCPD acquired the Bearcat in early May and has used it once to execute a search warrant in which officers knew the occupant of the residence was armed. Sgt. Dan Bortnick, another tactical team leader, said they also use the vehicle for training exercises.

Jager said in any high-risk situation, police use a threat matrix to determine how to respond to the situation, such as whether a team is needed and what equipment should be used. Bortnick said they will be selective in what calls they will use the vehicle in.

“We try to limit the use, so we’re not rolling up on some search warrant where it’s not needed,” Bortnick said. “We don’t want to overextend the use of the truck, so we try to be selective in what we use it for. When we do that matrix, we look heavily at weapons use and prior weapons use, that kind of thing.”

The vehicle is built on the frame of a 2019 Ford F-550 and doesn’t have mounted guns. It has a turret hatch on the roof that serves as an observation point, as well as a ram equipped with a gas-injection system. Its steel exterior, windows and tires are all rated for ballistic protection from multiple rounds from high-caliber arms.

At an August law board meeting, then-director Brad Schoen said he previously resisted recommending the purchase of an armored vehicle because of perceptions that police nationwide are overly militaristic. He said he changed his mind when he saw the number of cases in recent years in which local officers were shot at.

He referenced the January incident, and said area vehicles may not always be readily available and response time is imperative in active shooter situations.

The vehicle cost $301,080 and was obtained through the use of “seizure funds.”

The money is generated by police seizure of cash and property connected with criminal cases, all resulting from court proceedings in Riley County or federal courts. The fund cannot be used to supplant RCPD’s budget.

OUR NEIGHBORS | Army wife turns handmade bath bombs, candles into business

What started as a hobby has bubbled into a career for a local woman.

Teri Keys makes bath bombs, soy candles and soap as part of her business, Bubble Luscious Soap Company.

Bath bombs are used to help people relax in the tub. They fizz and often emit a pleasant smell when placed in the water.

Despite moving around as a military wife, Keys has been able to grow her business through creativity and the support of her community.

Keys, 40, started selling handmade products around seven years ago when she was at Fort Benning, Georgia. Also a mother of three, ages 8, 14 and 19, Keys wanted to make a little extra money.

Initially she sold wooden, hand-painted signs at the Post Exchange at the base.

When those started becoming more popular, she decided to add more products to set herself apart. She’d made bath bombs before, so she made some small ones and put them in a jar on her table.

“People started coming and just buying my bath bombs,” Keys said. “They didn’t even buy the signs.”

Keys and her family moved to Manhattan in September 2017, and she brought her business with her. She said starting over from scratch in a new place was a challenge, but she was able to re-establish herself. The first place she sold in Manhattan was Eclectic Charm.

“I got a bookshelf in the back and now I have a booth,” Keys said.

She now also sells in Topeka, Junction City and at Fort Riley’s Post Exchange.

She said she tries to have new products and scents frequently to try to keep people returning and to catch the attention of new customers.

At one place she sold, another vendor started selling bath bombs after seeing how Keys’ products sold. Keys said learning to deal with competition was one of the biggest challenges of starting a business, but she said it made her work harder.

“It made me get really creative,” she said. “I knew it was going to help me grow.”

She starts out by mixing together the dry ingredients like baking soda and Epsom salts. Then she mixes in liquid ingredients and any color she wants. Keys uses the paddle from an electric mixer but mixes the ingredients by hand.

“It almost ends up like kinetic sand,” Keys said. “I have to have the perfect consistency, or it’s not going to stick together or it will overfizz.”

She then puts the mixture into a mold and lets it sit for around 24 hours. She said the process gets messy, and she wears a mask to protect herself from some of the dust.

“I have baking soda all over my face,” Keys said. “You have a layer of dust all over you.”

Keys’ favorite scents change from season to season, but right now some of her favorites are pineapple cilantro, cactus blossom and peach. She also makes bath bombs for kids that have small toys in them.

Keys’ friend, Helga Muren, is a fellow military wife and helps Keys sell sometimes.

Muren said she was impressed by how hard Keys works.

“She’s amazing,” Muren said. “I can’t believe the amount of time she puts into making her own products.”

Muren said that Keys somehow manages to find time to make things, drive her children to their activities and spend time with friends.

“She’s one of the friends I will have forever,” Muren said. “She always makes time for her friends. Her family and her business are her life.”

Keys said that the support of the military community has been crucial to her being able to maintain her business. She said sometimes military spouses have sought her out specifically because they want to support others in the military community.

“We kind of take care of each other,” Keys said.

Keys’ husband plans to retire from the Army soon, and they plan to stay in Manhattan. Keys said that eventually she would love to have a storefront to sell her products, but for now, she just hopes to keep working on creating new things.

“I don’t quit,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Pott County fails to find support for Belvue Bridge grant application

Two motions to seek a $25 million federal BUILD Grant to fund replacement of the Belvue Bridge died for lack of a second Monday before the Pottawatomie County Commission.

Following an hourlong, sometime contentious debate, commissioners made no progress in finding a funding solution for replacing the aging span across the Kansas River which connects Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties east of Belvue.

Deanna (Ebert) Pierson made the proposal to seek the federal grant in collaboration with BG Consultants, represented by Brady Hedstrom, a structural engineer.

Pierson, a private citizen with grant-writing experience, offered to develop the grant narrative for a fee of $10,000. BG would provide design parameters, cost estimates and a cost/benefit analysis at an additional cost of $5,000.

“I have no doubt I can put together the narrative, but I don’t have the technical expertise. That’s why BG is here,” Pierson told commissioners.

Federal BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants are awarded through the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to Pierson. For 2019, there is $900 million available, with no state to receive more than $90 million. A certain dollar amount must go to rural areas with no local match required, according to Pierson.

The fly in the ointment was the approaching July 15 deadline for 2019 grant applications.

Commissioner Pat Weixelman spoke in favor of the proposal, but abstained from voting since Pierson is his cousin.

“I don’t think it’s 15 grand that’s going to be spent unwisely,” Weixelman said. “We’ve been sitting on our hands for a year and what have we done? — not a thing. At least we’d have the horse out of the mud and walking down the road.”

Commission Chairman Travis Altenhofen questioned the legitimacy of the proposal by not going through the normal bidding process.

“This has stink written all over it,” Altenhofen said.

Commissioner Dee McKee questioned the late timing of the proposed grant application.

“The timeline just seems impossible,” McKee said. “It seems awfully nebulous to me.”

Following a heated back-and-forth between Weixelman and McKee and a subsequent 10-minute break, however, it was McKee who made a motion to proceed with Pierson’s proposal.

The motion died for lack of a second.

Altenhofen’s subsequent motion to develop an RFQ (Request For Qualifications) and seek the grant during the 2020 round of applications also died due to lack of a second.

In other business Monday:

• Pott County Fair Board members Troy Marple and Ben Shoenberger made a 2020 budget request of $85,000, and asked for the commission’s financial support for replacing two buildings at the Onaga Fairgrounds at an estimated cost of $450,000.

Marple said the buildings are in such disrepair that replacement is the best option. The fair board hopes to fund half the project through fundraisers, grants and pledges of time and materials, he said.

Commissioners took the request under advisement, but made no financial commitment to the buildings due to other large projects underway and restraints from the state-mandated tax lid.

• County Attorney Sherri Schuck and office manager Andrea Karnes reported a decrease in cases filed this year, and anticipated further declines due to the relocation of the Country Stampede to Topeka.

The Stampede normally results in around 200 cases filed annually, according to Schuck.

“I suspect this will be an adjustment year for us without the Stampede,” she said.

• Fire Supervisor Jared Barnes said 83,245 acres of pasture in the county were burned this spring, somewhat less than the 95,000-acre average.

Barnes also said the new Havensville Fire Station has been occupied, and an open house has been scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. June 29, as part of the community’s annual Fourth of July celebration.

“I have never seen a group so appreciative of what they’ve received,” Barnes said of members of the Havensville Fire Department.

• Appraiser Lois Schlegel reviewed 2019 appraisal values and topics from the recent conference of the Kansas County Appraisers Association.

The primary topic reviewed at the conference was the “dark store theory” and its potential impact on local units of government in Kansas.

“We need everybody on board with this because it’s going to affect every taxpayer in the state,” Schlegel said. “We need our legislators, county board, school boards and city boards — everybody.”

The “dark store theory” is being promoted by large retailers who claim their buildings are appraised unfairly.

If the theory is embraced by the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals, it would reduce valuations of counties and would likely result in a dramatic shift in the property tax burden to homeowners, Schlegel said.

Board approves $22.1M RCPD budget

The Riley County Law Enforcement Agency on Monday approved the Riley County Police Department’s $22.1 million budget for 2020.

This is a 2.8% increase from the department’s 2019 budget and also includes a carryover of about $91,700 from the 2018 budget.

The increases include merit, cost-of-living and on-call pay increases for personnel, the addition of three correctional officers and one crime scene investigation detective, and the creation of an IT reserve fund.

RCPD director Dennis Butler said the personnel pay increases will help maintain a well-trained and experienced workforce.

The corrections officers will also staff a control station in the Riley County Jail and monitor inmates, and the investigations detective will specialize in capturing cellphone evidence.

The IT reserve fund is intended to control spikes in IT expenses, such as when equipment needs to be replaced or updated.

The approved RCPD budget also addresses what police called “historic under funding” in the department’s overtime budget by increasing it over 36% from its 2019 budget to about $472,700 in 2020.

Officials said this increase will allow RCPD to pay overtime they said is needed to properly assist the community.

“Thanks to the department for the thorough review of the budget,” law board chairman and Mayor Mike Dodson said. “I think this … will stand us in good stead for years to come.”

The Manhattan City Commission and Riley County Commission now have to incorporate the RCPD budget into their overall budgets.

3 injured in Manhattan crash

Three people were injured Monday in a two-vehicle crash near the intersection of Tuttle Creek Boulevard and Allen Road.

Police responded to the scene around 10:55 a.m. and found that a 1999 Ford Taurus driven by Patricia Duggan, 83, Manhattan, had crashed into a 2000 Toyota Camry driven by Hang Huynh, 26, Manhattan.

Emergency responders took Duggan and a 2-year-old in Huynh’s Camry to Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan. Huynh was transported by helicopter to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka.

Police issued Duggan a citation for failure to yield at a stop sign.

Riley County EMS and the Manhattan Fire Department also responded to the incident.