Weather report: Wait a bit on planting gardens, outdoor burning

High fire danger Saturday (National Weather Service graphic)

Hold off on any outdoor burning today, and hold off on planting anything that could be affected by a freeze.

The National Weather Service predicts a heightened fire danger this afternoon as humidity values fall in the region and wind speeds in the double digits are expected.

Today’s high may be 45 degrees, with winds currently at 12 mph. Temperature at 10 a.m. Saturday was 36 degrees, a wind chill of 28.

Sunday’s forecast is sunny and a high near 41.

Then, on Monday, there will be a 40 per cent chance of snow and rain, with less than a tenth of an inch possible. The high will be near 43 Monday.

Chances for accumulating snow Monday (National Weather Service graphic)

Motor Vehicle office will try paging system to reduce long waits in office

Unhappy taxpayers, crying children, and personnel who were applying for other jobs – that is how Unified Government Treasurer Debbie Pack described the situation in the Motor Vehicle Department in Wyandotte County.

Ever since the state shifted more of the workload to the local offices in May 2012, also changing forms and software at the same time, there have been long waits in the Motor Vehicle office for people who want to get their vehicles registered. The state shifted the approval process from the state to the county.

The county office handles about 60 to 70 new registrations a day at each of its two locations, and sometimes the number is 100.

The average wait in February 2014 was four hours for new registrations, Pack told the Unified Government Commission at the 7 p.m. meeting March 20.

But something is being done now that may address the long waits in the office, she said.

Currently, Wyandotte County’s Motor Vehicle office is working with Shawnee County, which developed its own queue system to allow customers Internet access that will tell them the approximate wait time, she said. The office is also working on a call-in system.

That will mean that customers may come in with their paperwork, leave for a few hours, get a message that they will be needed in 45 minutes, and then come back when it is close to the time they will be needed.  The office still will need about the same amount of time to process the paperwork, she added. But customers will not have to wait in the office the entire time.

Pack hopes the new system will be running by the end of March.

The county office handled more than 37,000 new registrations in 2013, and there were 114,000 renewals that year.

Pack said the state had four to seven full-time persons at the state level working on Wyandotte County cases in 2012 when it shifted the approval process to the county level. That shifted some additional costs to the county in the form of extra personnel needed, according to UG officials.

The county has had to add one approver and other staff since then. Only one employee can take time off from the office at any time, she said. She also asked the commission for additional personnel.

Low property taxes one of priorities for UG Commission

Keeping property taxes low or at their current rate is one of the priorities the Unified Government Commission gave Administrator Doug Bach on March 20.

At the 5 p.m. UG meeting, Bach said that the commission also has made it one of its goals to balance the budget. This year, the UG had $4 million more in expenses than revenues, UG officials said.

“We’re already starting at a deficit,” he said.

Many goals were discussed at earlier commission workshops on the budget, including restoring the fund balances, more aggressively approaching capital improvements, doing planning work in their early stages, and a liaison position for the commission. Each commissioner would have about $10,000 to use for research or consultants under one proposal.

Commissioner Hal Walker discussed the Wyandotte County Fairgrounds’ request for funding. It currently receives about $77,000 and is requesting another $100,000 this year.

There is also a request for a bond issue to finish building out the structures at the fairgrounds, including building a trap shoot target range and a recreational vehicle park. Plans would include a pocket park, walking trail and playground for residents. It would be the only park in Piper, he added. The fair foundation would be responsible for the bonds, according to Walker.

Walker said a vote in 1954 authorized three-tenths of 1 mill for the fairgrounds, but that it has not been levied recently. The fair was told to move from its long-standing location at 98th and State to make room for the Schlitterbahn development. After four years of temporary locations, the fair found a permanent location near K-7 and Polfer Road.

Commissioner Jane Philbrook supported the idea of an improved fairgrounds, and thought it was important to the children, and also could be part of a destination community bringing others to the area to compete in competitions. It has plans to support itself with the RV park and the competitions it will hold.

Commissioner Mike Kane pointed out that the fair never got what the people intended it to get when they voted to allow three-tenths of 1 mill.

“It’s time to right the ship,” he said. “Maybe we don’t owe it to the adults, but we owe it to the children.”

While some commissioners questioned the attendance in recent years, and talked about doing what was reasonable now, Kane said, “This is hugely important in District 5. Everybody wants a piece of the pie. These guys have had their pie stolen from them and all they want is their pie.”

Walker said that that the county has invested money and has half of the project done, and the question was whether to invest the rest of the money to make it succeed.

Commissioner Brian McKiernan suggested stabilizing it this year, and laying out options for the future to move it forward.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend was in favor of scholarships or grants to help with the costs of EMT training, so that more local residents and minorities are included in the cadet program.

Commissioner Tarence Maddox said he would like to make sure the Community Development Block Grant funds will reach low-to-moderate income residents of the 1st, 4th, 3rd and 2nd UG districts. There will be another special session to discuss CDBG grants, Mayor Mark Holland said.

The mayor supported a data renovations project. A classification and compensation study and review of public safety functions also were goals that were discussed.

McKiernan also discussed the top priorities of the citizen survey, including street maintenance and motor vehicle registration improvement.

Given the projects that are already committed, and the possible reduction in revenues, it may be a challenging budget year for the UG. Local officials believe it will be another year or two before finances ease up with the early payoff of the Village West sales tax revenue bonds and more revenue coming in.

The commission will have to fund a $25 million radio communications system already approved, about $1.3 million per year to come out of the county funds, UG officials said.

While it is possible to reduce the Kansas City, Kan., mill levy slightly to balance the county increase, so that a resident of Kansas City, Kan., will not see much of a change, the commission cannot balance it out for Bonner Springs or Edwardsville, Bach said.  The radio project, for police, fire, emergency and utility communication, means a slight increase for the county rate.

Another $1.8 million a year could be lost in UG revenues if a mortgage registration bill passes in Topeka, according to Holland.  The latest version of the bill calls for phased-in cuts, starting at a cut of about $400,000 to $500,000 the first year, according to UG officials.

According to legislative records, that bill phasing out the mortgage registration fee passed the Kansas Senate on Wednesday, March 19, and was introduced in the House March 20. The bill also has a slight fee increase for recording some documents.

Some commissioners also said they wanted any personnel reductions to be in the form of attrition, not layoffs. Holland earlier talked about the possibility of reducing overtime for public safety employees to substantially reduce costs.

The commission is getting an early start on the budget, about six months ahead of last year’s schedule, according to the mayor.

Commissioners also sorted through community requests and listed their priorities.

Holland noted that while the commission is setting its priorities to help the administrator craft a budget, nothing has been voted on, and final decisions will be made later when the commission votes on the budget.