By LESLIE EIKLEBERRY
Saline County today took another step forward in its efforts to build a new jail.
By a 5-0 vote, commissioners approved a contract with the LaVelle Frick Trust to purchase approximately 17.94 acres of land located southeast of the intersection of East Pacific Avenue and North Front Street at the east end of East Woodland Avenue on which it plans to build the new jail.
According to information in the commission meeting packet, the project architect has verified that the space "is suitable for the jail as designed as well as future expansion.
The sale is contingent on both soil testing and upon approval of this usage by the City of Salina Planning and Zoning, County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes told commissioners this morning during their regular meeting. According to information in the county meeting packet, an environmental survey of the property is scheduled to be conducted this week. Additionally, the county's architect for the project met with city planning staff Thursday to begin the process of getting city approval.
The land will cost the county $500,000, $10,000 of which is due upon execution of the agreement. The balance is due at closing, which is to be prior to the end of January 2021, according to the contract.
Commissioners also approved 5-0 the the acquisition of emergency communications equipment for the rural fire districts and the offering for sale of general obligation bonds to pay for the equipment.
Smith-Hanes told commissioners that the original plan was for each rural fire district to "seek lease purchase agreements with local banks to finance the remaining portion of their share of the radio equipment that they do not have currently in their special equipment funds."
"They have done that previously on other equipment, so that was sort of what we were thinking, but on the advice of our financial advisor, we believe that we can actually get a lower interest rate by pooling all of the fire districts together rather than have each one go separately out for financing," he said. "This would involve the county issuing general obligation bonds and essentially serving as the bank that would then lease the equipment to each of the rural fire districts until they had paid off their particular equipment, at which point in time it would become their property."
In a related matter, commissioners approved 5-0 requesting that the Saline County Public Building Commission proceed with selling up to $6.5 million in revenue bonds to pay for the emergency radio system for the county. Smith-Hanes said money raised from the bonds would pay for the towers, backbone system, etc., for the county. He said the bonds would be paid back in about 15 years.
Commissioners also heard a proposal in which the county could lease non-patrol county vehicles from Enterprise Fleet Management at a cost savings compared to the county's current practice of purchasing vehicles. Smith-Hanes told commissioners that several cities and counties in the Kansas City metro area are utilizing the program, which has been competitively bid by the Sourcewell buying consortium. He said that Saline County could piggyback on that program per the county's purchasing policy.
After much discussion, commissioners voted 3-2 to table the matter for a week. Commission Chair Robert Vidricksen strongly urged Smith-Hanes to set up a public study session for the commissioners prior to the next commission meeting so that commissioners can further study the proposal.
Smith-Hanes also updated commissioners on the status of the county's coronavirus relief funds (CRF).
"We did submit and the state did approve a plan for spending the full $11,026,434 that Saline County received, however we have become aware that some of the agencies that were allocated funding under that plan are likely to be unable, principally through no fault of their own, to fully expend the funds they were allocated by the federally imposed deadline of Dec. 30," Smith-Hanes said.
As a result, the county's CRF advisory committee recommended that the county accept supplemental applications for any unused funds still available. A notice about the supplemental applications was issued on Nov. 5, with a deadline of Nov. 18. Smith-Hanes said that 39 supplemental applications were received and included a mix of new requests and renewed requests from original applicants from July.
"On Nov. 25, the advisory committee met and identified eight of those 39 applications to target for available funding. This includes six applications for additional funding from organizations that were part of the plan approved by your commission on Aug. 11 and two applications from new organizations," Smith-Hanes said.
He explained that county staff worked with the existing awardees to determine what unexpended funds might still be available. Smith-Hanes estimated the amount to be a low $100,000 amount.
"The advisory committee then met again on Dec. 10 and recommended that the county commission award each of the eight identified organizations the lesser of their full application or $10,000 -- that is projected to total $67,629.16 -- and then for any available CRF in excess of that amount divided equally among the organizations that requested in excess of $10,000 up to the full requests of those organizations," Smith-Hanes said.
Vidricksen praised the advisory committee for its work.
"They took this job head-on and they've done a fantastic job, and thank you to those people who were on that committee," he said.
Commissioners then voted 5-0 to approve the committee's request concerning unexpended funds.
In a COVID-19 related matter, Vidricksen told the other commissioners that he had received coronavirus information from the Kansas Hospital Association. He said that as of Monday, according to the report, 6.2 percent of the Saline County population "had been affected by coronavirus."
"That is equal to Clay County, which is 6.2 percent, Dickinson County, which is slightly less than Saline County at 5 percent, and Ottawa County, which is right at 6 percent," Vidricksen said. "It's amazing to me the counties who were slow to go with a mask mandate, and I will specifically say Cloud and Republic counties. Republic is at 9.6 percent and Cloud is at 8.5. The big one was the county of Ellsworth, which was the last one to, I think I'm correct by saying that they were the last one to approve a mask mandate and their percentage of population that has been effected is 14.5 percent."
Vidricksen noted that since the commission's last meeting, the county has seen 448 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
"And that's why I wanted to specifically ask Jason a few questions in light of the fact that it's been announced that the vaccine is available," Vidricksen said.
County Health Officer Jason Tiller told the commissioners that his office had yet to receive vaccine information specific to Saline County. He said that although some healthcare workers in Wichita have been vaccinated, no one in Saline County has been. Once the health department receives county-specific information about vaccinations, it will be disseminated to the public, he said.
"Anytime in the next week or so, I expect to start hearing about those initial pushes for our healthcare workers and long-term care, but it's going to be a while for the general public," Tiller said.
Tiller informed the commissioners that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is including on its website a general vaccine update once a week. He said the county would be sharing that information "just to make sure people are aware of them."