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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission discusses road issues, reopening county shop

Many of the gravel roads in Linn County became difficult to negotiate after arctic temperatures followed by freezing rain followed by rain made them slick and then muddy over the past 10 days. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – Discussion at the Monday, Jan. 29, Linn County Commission meeting about purchasing new road equipment led to talk about the conditions of the roads after the recent snow and rain, whether the county could provide assistance to help cities and lake communities on snow and ice removal, and the need to reopen the county road  shop for District No. 2 in the Pleasanton area. 

When Public Works Director Shaun West asked the commissioners asked about going out to bid for new road equipment, Commissioner Danny McCullough brought up his continuing concerns about why Pleasanton no longer has a county shop.

McCullough said that he would like to reevaluate the closing of the Pleasanton shop and how it has affected the roads in that area. He said that he would like to hold off on purchasing any equipment until the county figures out what it is going to do about the District No. 2 shop.

“There’s nothing getting done. Why was it shut down?” asked McCullough.

Commissioner Jim Johnson said that, instead of taking care of roads like they were supposed to, they were taking care of schools and the Southeastern Technical Academy for Rural Students (STARS) program. 

Johnson said he heard on the radio all the time that Fort Scott Community College is in financial trouble and may be out of money in April. He said they were talking about what kind of cuts they were going to have to make.

“What’s going to happen with the STARS program over here?” asked Johnson.

The county levied a one mill levy worth about $347,000 for 2024 to help STARS with remodeling. The county also sponsored a community development building grant (CDBG) specifically for youth training that was for $100,000.

McCullough said that helping youth in the county is important.

But if they can get dow the roads, what good does that do, asked Johnson.

McCullough continued, “I’m tired of asking about it (the shop closure). I guarantee you that the people up there in my district want that opened back up.”

Commission Chair Jason Hightower said he thought it was purely a financial decision. 

County Counselor Gary Thompson said that the county saved by cutting back the road foreman there and the mechanic. But now there is a mechanic over there.

‘I think we’ve got three mechanics now. I think we have been easing back into what Danny is talking about,” said Thompson.

The District No. 2 road shop was closed down during the term of his predecessor more than five years ago.

“I would like to hold off on the equipment, and I make a motion that we start the process to open up District 2 barn,” said McCullough.

The motion died for lack of a second.

Johnson pointed out that other nearby counties only have one road boss, we need to utilize what we have. 

Hightower said he would like to look at the ramifications of opening up the District No. 2 shop before approving it.

Johnson brought up that the road foremen had told them at a meeting last week that they only clean the ditches three or four months a year. 

”We just missed the best opportunity in the fall, one of the best falls we ever had, to clean the ditches out. We went and bought two brand new skid steers, track hoes here, how many months ago? How many hours have we got on them?

“We bought them with the heads to clean brush and to clean ditches out and you know even said we would clean ditches out even if it was a little damp with the track hoe because we knew we could do it.” 

McCullough said, “We just talk about it, we don’t do anything.” 

During the discussion, McCullough received a text from a woman complaining about her road being muddy.

McCullough suggested having a full-time crew of three people just to clean the ditches. He also questioned whether the county should just contract with companies to install the asphalt in Linn County instead of taking employees away from the road work.

Hightower questioned how much that would cost. He pointed out that the two road foremen who came in talk with them last week are both new and he did not think these issues were brought up by the commissioners in the meeting.

West told the commissioners that the attrition rate has been very high even though the county has started its own CDL training course. He said that the county shops had not been full at any point since he has worked for the county.

“So we have struggled through that process to get the manpower and the labor and then, of course, the training curve as you pointed out that once you hire them, we’re not hiring people with 20 years of operator experience. We’re competing to hire people that we have to train to get CDLs and also train on those equipment,” said West.

West said he has scheduled the asphalt foreman and himself for asphalt training, the two new foremen for gravel road training, and Public Works Assistant Jessica Hightower and himself for public works training. 

West told the commissioners that some cities and lake communities had asked for help from the county with snow removal and salt all through and around their gates because their equipment had broken down. 

West said that until he had direction from the commissioners he would only send equipment to clean off areas if law enforcement or fire needed to get in.

The commissioners told West to have them fill out an assistance application. West asked if they would like them to fill out the applications prior to the need. The commissioners agreed.

County Counselor Gary Thompson pointed out that there was difference between an application from a city as compared to a homeowner’s association. 

“It’s one thing to spend county resources helping another governmental institution because that is all for the public, but it is different to be working on private property,” said Thompson.

West agreed. He said that it was not uncommon for cities to ask for help. 

McCullough said that the county was not in a position to be helping anybody because the county roads were also in bad condition after the snow.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved the renewal of the cereal malt beverage license for the On The Go store at Prescott.

• Approved the commission chair signing the IRS notice required for the recent bond issue.

• Approved verifying Interim Appraiser Lisa Kellstadt’s hours she had worked for the county appraisers office. Kelstadt has completed her RMA and to receive her license had to have verification of hours worked in the appraiser’s office. Previous appraisers Steve Thompson and Kathy Bridges also turned in verifications for her time working under them. At present, she is working directly under the commissioners as interim appraiser.

• Approved signing the contract with Kaw Valley Engineering for on-call engineering services for 2024 and 2025.

• Gave Public Works Director Shaun West approval to send out request for proposals (RFP) for mowing county properties. West explained that the new proposals would make the mowing company responsible for mowing the grass as needed, no taller than five inches. 

He explained that he and Fire Chief Randy Hegwald had worked this out. He said that Hegwald had also requested that the fire stations be removed from the proposal as fire department employees would mow at the fire stations.

• Learned that Jason from BG Engineering would be down next week to discuss options about the Hell’s Bend Bridge next week. 

• Requested that West hold off on equipment request for proposals (RFP) but develop with asphalt foreman Tod Moeller RFPs for asphalting and chip and sealing roads.

• Learned from West the Lake Region Resource Conservation Development (RCD) was held at Mound City last Thursday. It was a good meeting. He said that Jessica Hightower and he spoke with them about grant possibilities.

He said they provided RCD staff with a list of what items the county might potentially need in the future so they could reach out and look for opportunities for us that we could bring back to the commission especially regarding the landfill and issues that the county has out there.

• Heard and update about Terracon’s work with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) on how to tweak the design plans for the landfill so the state will approve them.

• Learned that the two current CDL trainees will complete their road testing on Friday which will allow new trainees to come into the program. 

• Moved Casey Jensen to Assistant Foreman position at the south shop at the new rate of $21.26 per hour.

• Hired William Anderson as an Operator II for the South Shop at the rate of $18.36 per hour.

• Hired Anthony Nation as an Operator I at the Pleasanton Shop for  $17.51 per hour. 

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