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Bluemont Hill viewing platform slated to open in November

People will soon be able to take in the view above the iconic “Manhattan” letters on Bluemont Hill in a different way.

A ribbon-cutting is planned for Nov. 3 to unveil the new ADA-compliant Bluemont Scenic Overlook behind the letters.

“This way, people can actually come and enjoy the view. It’s a beautiful view,” said Kitty Pursley, secretary for the Manhattan Kiwanis Club. “It opens it up for more utilization.”

The Manhattan Kiwanis Club constructed the letters in 1927 and has continued to maintain the letters. The club raised $70,000 for the project from local businesses and community members, Pursley said.

When Kiwanis International celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years ago, the Manhattan club felt it wanted to do a special project to commemorate the occasion, said Kent Foster, architect of the project and the member in charge of community service for the local club.

“The main benefit is that anybody of any abilities can get out here,” Foster said.

The overlook will feature benches, adorned with donor plaques, and informational displays about the letters.

The last piece of the overlook installation is the glass railing.

Work on the project began last fall, with construction beginning in August. D & R Construction Inc. is completing the project.

The city cleared trees, and Schwab Eaton completed a survey of the area prior to construction of the platform, Foster said. Foster said the materials fit in with the surrounding area.

Pursley said the Manhattan Kiwanis Club is thankful for the community assisting with this project.

“This is a sample of community and individuals and businesses doing something (financially) that will benefit the whole community without any taxpayer dollars,” Pursley said.


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Officials teach parents how to deal with teen vaping

Riley County Police school resource officer Sarah Hagerty held up a vaping device in front of a crowd of parents Wednesday at Manhattan High School and told them how easy it was for minors to hide electronic cigarettes and related products.

Hagerty was part of a joint effort between the Manhattan-Ogden school district, the Riley County Police Department and Ascension Via Christi Hospital to educate parents on how to tell when their kids are vaping and how to talk to them about the topic. “Vaping” is the term for smoking e-cigarettes.

While overall drug and substance abuse has been down over the past two decades among all groups of minors, a Kansas Communities That Care survey — an anonymous survey administered to the district’s 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders each year — shows that use of e-cigarettes dramatically has grown over the past few years.

Since 2017, “frequent” e-cigarette use has climbed from 5.4% to 18% at Manhattan High. That’s in line with a similar increase of 9% to 21.9% across Kansas high schools.

Kari Humes, a licensed addiction counselor and the district’s drug and alcohol prevention coordinator, said drug education programs have been successful with other substances. With vaping, the programs are starting to catch up to the rapidly widespread e-cigarette use, she said, and further education efforts on the harmful effects of vaping should start to cut down on it.

Humes said parents should monitor their children for e-cigarette use by looking for these signs:

  • Presence of vaping equipment or related product packaging
  • Unusual online purchases or packages. Many vaping products are ordered from overseas, she said.
  • Faint scents or whiffs of flavoring like bubble gum or chocolate cake
  • Increased thirst or nose bleeds
  • Decreased caffeine use, since the nicotine chemicals in the products replace coffee as a stimulant
  • Use of vaping lingo in text messages or social media.

As with other conversations on tough subjects, Humes advised parents to talk with their children about vaping, rather than lecturing them.

Government officials have more heavily scruntized the vaping industry as hundreds of people across the nation have reported vaping-related illnesses.

Kansas has reported two deaths from vaping-related lung disease in recent weeks.

MHS Principal Michael Dorst said the school will continue with its zero-tolerance policy for e-cigarette use.

Students who are caught with any tobacco or e-cigarette products get three days of in-school suspension, and those younger than 18 are referred to RCPD for a $25 citation plus $108 in court costs. Those students also must visit with the school’s drug prevention officer.

Hagerty said she and Sonia Gregoire, the other school resource officer at MHS, typically receive tips that students might have vaping products.

They work with the school’s principals to call the students in and search them, although some students have hidden the products inside bras and underwear. Other students have hidden e-cigarette pens inside large Sharpie markers, making them easy to throw away if a student thinks they’ll be searched.

Dorst said when students are caught vaping, parents typically react in one of two ways: some think the punishments are too harsh while others react with shock and concern.

“Traditionally, what we see is that in the first camp, we see a higher rate of repeat offenders and consistent users,” Dorst said. “In the second camp, we hear parents come back to us and tell us thank you for making those decisions or tough phone calls.”

Dorst said that while the punishments and conversations might be tough, they’ve been effective in steering students to better lives.

“I never have a kid that comes back years later and tells me that we were really hard on them,” Dorst said. “We get the complete opposite. We get thank you’s for taking the time to walk families through hard conversations.”

The school will host another round of 35-minute presentations on vaping Thursday at 5 and 6:30 p.m. at the high school auditorium.


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City commission candidates talk deficits, taxes in live forum

Two candidates for the Manhattan City Commission generally disapprove of the .3% sales tax question on deck for voters to decide on during the Nov. 5 general election.

“I think we need to stop and take a breath,” said Mary Renee Shirk, city commission candidate.

Shirk, along with candidate Vincent Tracey, voiced their opposition to the question during a forum Wednesday hosted by Our Manhattan, a political action committee that prioritizes taxes and “responsible growth.”

Tracey said the decision is up to the voters.

“So we have to wait and see what all the citizens say,” Tracey said. “And that would guide the commission on what they’d be able to do for operating funds.”

Candidate Mark Hatesohl said he most likely will vote for the measure in November.

Candidates Aaron Estabrook, Kaleb James, Maureen Sheahan were less definitive on their positions on the sales tax during the forum, which was broadcast live on Facebook, and was moderated by John Matta, former Manhattan mayor and city commissioner. The two remaining candidates, Linda Morse, current city commissioner, and Sarah Siders, did not appear on the broadcast.

Morse had a family obligation, and it was not immediately clear why Siders chose not to participate.

The eight candidates are vying for three open spots on the commission currently held by Morse, Mayor Mike Dodson and Jerred McKee. Dodson and McKee aren’t running for reelection.

Each person answered the same questions, but audience members watching the broadcast had the opportunity to ask questions to specific commissioners through commenting on the broadcast post on Facebook. The forum lasted just over an hour.

Introductions

  • Estabrook, a former USD 383 school board member, said he is running because he grew up around and has a passion for public service.

He said if elected, he wants to make the Little Apple stronger and address housing issues.

“I see our community in a position where we’ve had growth, and yet we have a large socioeconomic gap where there are people that are in poverty,” Estabrook said. “There are children that are homeless in our school systems, as we all know. But there are also people thriving and very well off.”

  • Hatesohl, a city commissioner from 2003 to 2005 and mayor from 2008 to 2009, said he wants to reinstate methods from when he first served, if elected.

“I think that I’d like to go back on the commission and see if we can reestablish some of the policies or ideas, some of the priorities that we had back then that seemed to promote the growth a little bit better,” he said. “I realize that we had some better economic times at parts of that period, but there was also a bit of a downturn that last year of 2008 to 2009.”

Hatesohl said he wants to make the government “more helpful” to citizens and businesses.

  • James joined the military at 17 and served for eight and a half years, he said. He said he saw the impact of property taxes when attempting to buy a home in Manhattan with his wife.

“My platform is pretty plain, pretty simple. Number 1, I want to lower property taxes,” James said. “I tell everybody that I talk to I will not vote for a budget where property taxes are increased. Period.”

If elected, James also said he wants to balance the budget and uphold accountability for the commission.

  • Shirk, a performer and former reporter at The Mercury, said she can represent individuals from around Manhattan.

Shirk wants to focus on townies — people who live in Manhattan permanently — as the student and military population is decreasing, she said.

Increasing public transportation and increasing working wages are also focal points, Shirk said in response to a question about creating more affordable housing.

“Really it’s about making the town affordable, and not just looking at one aspect, at just housing,” she said.

  • Tracey, who ran for the city commission in 2009 and also served in the U.S. Army, aims to address food and health “deserts” in the city and combat rising taxes.
  • Sheahan, a K-State alum who manages a research lab at K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said she wants to give back to the community by running.

Sheahan said she wants to make sure that the commission “acts with compassion” and thinks of the citizens of Manhattan. She wants to support local businesses while bringing in new businesses as well, she said.

Taxes

Candidates also responded to a question about relying on sales tax over property tax in regard to “general operating revenue.”

Hatesohl said he likes the idea of sales tax funding more things.

“It is only slightly better than property tax,” Hatesohl said.

Sheahan said this measure is “problematic” because it puts a “burden” on citizens. She said both aspects need balancing.

In addition, Sheahan said she struggles with the sales tax question.

Shirk said she hopes to keep both tax rates low in addition to not supporting the sales tax question.

Additionally, Tracey said he does not want to raise property taxes.

Estabrook said he is undecided on the sales tax question, and wants to respect the voters’ decision.

James said he went back and forth about the sales tax question, and said there needs to be a balance on both tax rates.

“They’re both equally as important in my eyes,” James said.

He said if the commission does not raise property taxes, he favors the sales tax increase.

City debt

Another topic the candidates talked about was city debt. According to officials, city debt sits at $249.5 million as of July 2019. That is a decrease of 4.89% or about $12.85 million, from the amount in 2018, which was $262.38 million.

“I think the city debt, we are paying it down, but we have to be careful that we don’t borrow so much money that we lose our bond rating,” Tracey said.

Hatesohl said he does not want to borrow any more money, while James said the city needs to prioritize paying the debt back.

Sheahan said the level of debt is high and wants to find ways to pay it back.

Shirk said the commission needs to look at priorities and past mistakes to avoid problems in the future.

Estabrook said he agrees with other candidates in lowering the debt by using revenue.

New project funding

Candidates were asked if they would be willing to borrow money to fund certain projects.

James said that depends on the project, but he’d consider borrowing money for “very few things.”

“It’s going to have to be necessary for the safety and well-being of the citizens,” James said.

Sheahan said she agreed with James.

“It largely depends on what it is,” Sheahan said.

She expressed the importance of keeping Manhattan safe and prioritizing “wants instead of needs.”

Shirk said the city previously has borrowed a lot of money for other projects, so she wants to focus on maintaining current facilities. However, she said she would consider borrowing money for new projects in the future.

Tracey said he does not want to borrow money for new projects because the city has not paid off current projects.

Estabrook said “budgets and borrowing go hand-in-hand.” He said he could not answer that question straight-on, but said he wants to look at priorities and how it impacts the community and visitors.

Hatesohl expressed that he wants to “find ways to spread things out” in regard to projects.

“It’d have to be important, and would have to get a good return on investment,” Hatesohl said.

The second forum is planned for Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Topics on the docket include funding for social services, the Riley County Police Department and the Manhattan Public Library.


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Riley County interviews three for health department director position

Riley County commissioners planned to hold three executive sessions Thursday afternoon for interviews with applicants for the Riley County Health Department Director position, said Clancy Holeman, county counselor and director of administrative services.

Current director Jennifer Green’s last day will be Nov. 7.

Green and her family are moving to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, because her husband, who is in the military, received orders to move there.

She began her position as director in August 2016.

Commissioners reviewed applications Monday, Holeman said. He didn’t name the applicants being interviewed.

In addition to the three executive sessions for director interviews, the commission entered into two more executive sessions.

The commission discussed acquisition of real property for about 15 minutes and pending litigation for about 20 minutes. Commissioners did not take action after either executive session.

In other action Thursday, commissioners:

  • Gave Leon Hobson, director of public works and county engineer, more time to seek bids for a 20-ton rollback equipment trailer after the county didn’t receive any bids for the trailer.
  • Heard an update from Kevin Howser, director for GIS/IT. Howser said the departments are working with Pat Collins, director of emergency management, to update the radio system.

Additionally, Howser said he is looking at applicants for the open IT specialist position in the department.

  • Unanimously approved a rezoning application for an unplatted tract of land to change from an agricultural district to “C-4” or highway business. The property is near the intersection at Tuttle Creek Boulevard and Marlatt Avenue. County planner Bob Issac said rezoning is for extending a storage unit west of the property site.
  • Listened to an update from David Adams, ambulance and emergency medical services director.

The EMS department received 439 calls for service during August, Adams reported. The department had 18 calls from the northern part of county, which Adams said is typical for this time of year.

Adams also said the department treated 22 patients during the second Kansas State University home football game. Only one person was transported away from Bill Snyder Family Stadium during the second game. Additionally, the department looked at four patients during the first Kansas State University home football game.

Adams also said the new EMS substation at the public works complex is scheduled to open Oct. 7.

  • Approved sending a bid to county staff for review from Chunk Henry Sales Inc. of Solomon for a belly dump trailer in the amount of $29,750 and a delivery charge of $1,647. Hobson suggested the county picks up the trailer in order to avoid the delivery charge.
  • Approved sending two bids to county staff for evaluation for a one-ton 4x4 and chassis truck. Shawnee Mission Ford of Shawnee offered a bid of $59,454 while Laird Noller Ford of Topeka had a bid of $54,842.
  • Unanimously approved a request for ventilation for the Riley County Police Department evidence room at the Law Enforcement Center. Thermal Comfort Air offered a proposal in an amount that will not exceed $23,300. Hobson said this will stop strong odors from items in the evidence room that hinder employees.