With site preparation for a new school underway in Blue Township, Pottawatomie County commissioners are hoping for better communication with the Manhattan-Ogden School District.
Commissioners met with USD 383 officials following last Monday’s commission meeting, just days before Friday’s groundbreaking for the new Oliver Brown Elementary School in Pottawatomie County.
“I think they know we’re alive now,” said Commissioner Pat Weixelman, adding that he wished commissioners had been kept in the planning loop much sooner.
And Weixelman didn’t seem pleased Monday when Administrator Chad Kinsley announced an upcoming meeting in his office Thursday with Eric Reid, assistant superintendent of USD 383.
“I’ll tell you what kind of communication that is ... it’s bulls**t!” Weixelman said. “Anything that has to do with that new school I want to be part of the conversation. I want to know what’s expected of Pott County.”
Both Weixelman and Commissioner Dee McKee indicated their intention of attending Thursday’s meeting, although Kinsley questioned whether Reid would attend with commissioners present.
“His normal operating procedure is to communicate with staff, not commissioners,” Kinsley said.
At last Wednesday’s school board meeting, superintendent Marvin Wade and Reid said they’d met with the county commissioners and other staff on Feb. 3, talking about improving communication between the two entities.
“I lost my main contact out there shortly ago, who I’d had conversations with previously,” Reid said, speaking of previous county administrator Robert Reece, who retired Jan. 8. “We lost some things in that transition that we need to pick back up, and I’m planning on meeting with the new county administrator. Once he and I get a chance to sit down, we’ll hash a lot of things out.”
School board member Katrina Lewison noted that Pottawatomie County staffers have been invited to but not attended intergovernmental meetings, such as one on Jan. 27 where district officials briefed several other government agencies on the school district’s construction plans. Pottawatomie County’s Monday meetings typically overlap with the intergovernmental meeting time.
“I think there’s enough issues going on, and it’s difficult to update the same groups multiple times, and it does take (Pottawatomie County) out of the equation,” Reid said. “I don’t know if there might be a chance for them to move meetings or shorten them.”
USD 383 is building a new elementary school in Blue Township to accommodate 400-plus students. The school will be located on a tract just south of the intersection of Junietta and Moody Roads.
In other business Monday:
• Commissioners approved a $400 donation to help fund an after-prom celebration for Rock Creek High School students.
The decision reverses an unwritten policy the past four years of not using county funds to subsidize school events.
“It’s a big thing, and it costs about $8,000 to run it,” said Tammy Hafenstein who, with Beth Fischer, made the funding request.
“We’re a little different than Wamego and St. Marys. We don’t have a lot of businesses to ask for funding,” she said.
Commissioners used to make regular contributions to high school after-prom and after-graduation events, but discontinued the practice in 2016.
“I’ve never thought it was government’s responsibility to put on a party,” said McKee who, along with former Commissioner Travis Altenhofen, had voted against the county stipend since 2016.
Prior to that, funding for the events was taken from the county’s Special Alcohol Fund, derived from revenue from sales tax on alcohol.
“It’s very limited what you can do with that money,” said Weixelman, who made the motion to donate $400 to the Rock Creek event. “I’ve voted to keep this program going the last four years, but I’ve been voted down.”
McKee voted for the motion since the event is to include alcohol prevention training from the school resource officer.
“I admire what you’re doing,” she said, “but the kids who really need it probably won’t be there.”
Commissioner Greg Riat also voted for the donation and added a personal contribution of $25.
• Sanitarian Scott Schwinn said he expects five proposals for a new landfill scale by the end of this week.
A new scale — a capital improvement priority for this fiscal year — is expected to cost around $100,000.
• Voted unanimously to support a recommendation by Betty Abitz, register of deeds, to not waive her office’s website service fee for the city of Manhattan.
“I treat everyone the same,” Abitz said. “It’s very important to me as an elected official to place as little cost burden on taxpayers as possible.”
Abitz said her office pays for the web services and passes that cost along to subscribers who utilize it.
In making the request to waive the fee ($800 annually), Kinsley added: “(Manhattan officials) also wanted me to remind you that they just let us off of $11,000 in (utility) connection fees for the new EMS building.”
• The commission considered a request to rezone from A-1 (Agricultural) and R-1 (Residential) to PUD (Planned Unit Development), a 73-acre tract northeast of the intersection of Junietta and Green Valley roads.
After about 45 minutes of discussion, the commission tabled the issue until a final resolution is presented.
Mercury education reporter Rafael Garcia contributed to this article.