State budget crisis sobers Legislative Coffee gathering

Area lawmakers speak to constituents Saturday morning inside the Sunset Zoo Educational Center in Manhattan for the first “Legislative Coffee” session of the year. (Staff photos by Brady Bauman)

Rep. Tom Phillips summed it up best for his colleagues Saturday morning, when speaking in front of constituents for the first “Legislative Coffee” session of the year inside the Sunset Zoo Educational Center in Manhattan.

“We’ll just have to see how this plays out — I’ve never seen anything quite this challenging,” the Manhattan Republican said, speaking about the state’s budget woes. “But, we got to do it. I just keep telling myself, like (K-State football coach) Bill Snyder says, ‘Keep sawing the wood,’ and that’s what we got to do.”

The event, organized by the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, is a longtime staple in the Little Apple and allows legislators to answer prepared questions from constituents in a panel setting.

Phillips and Democratic Rep. Sydney Carlin — also of Manhattan — were present, along with Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego and Rep. Susie Swanson of Clay Center, who are both Republicans. Democratic Sen. Tom Hawk of Manhattan was also present.

Phillips, Carlin, Swanson and Hawk supported Wednesday’s efforts to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax bill that would have restored income taxation to pre-2012 levels. Highland, however, differed, and voted in support of Brownback’s veto.

The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.

Rep. Susie Swanson of Clay Center, center, speaks to constituents Saturday morning inside the Sunset Zoo Educational Center in Manhattan. Also pictured, from left, Sen. Tom Hawk, Rep. Ron Highland, Rep. Sydney Carlin and Rep. Tom Phillips.

“We got to just keep working at this until we figure it out,” Phillips continued. “It’s just too darn critical to all of you and to our children to fix this situation for our state. I do remain optimistic and we’re going to have to make tough decisions — and they’ll probably be the very decisions that could be the reasons why we’re elected out of office.

“But you can’t make leadership decisions based on political careers. It’s time to be leaders in the state and do what we think is right.”

 

Highland said he wants compromise and more information.

“What we need to do is work together and figure out what’s best for the people and what’s best for the state of Kansas,” Highland said. “Does that mean it’s going to be exactly what I want? Absolutely not. And will it be exactly what someone else wants? No. We will have to compromise. But we’re not to that stage yet.

“We do not know how much money is needed. Once we get that information, then we will sit down and look at a plan not only for the short term, but for the long term for our state.”

Hawk followed with a referral to recent comments by Riley County Commission chairman Ron Wells, who aired his frustrations with the state Thursday concerning the substantial decline in funds the state is statutorily-required to transfer to cities and counties.

“For our county commissioners, I want you to know I do support the demand transfer(s),” Hawk said. “But before we can do the demand transfer that sends the money back that we agreed to send back to our counties to reduce our property taxes, we have to have a structural budget fix.

“We have to get the state’s house in order.”

The concealed carry of firearms on college campuses was also brought up to lawmakers. Starting July 1, public universities in the state must allow anyone 21 or older to have concealed firearms on campus in buildings that don’t have security measures, including metal detectors.

“I didn’t vote for that bill when it first came through, particularly in light of the fact we have removed all training for concealed carry — it’s not appropriate to allow concealed carry in our university buildings,” Phillips said.

Carlin said college campuses are for learning and that pressures students face in school mixed with the concealed carry of firearms is a dangerous mix. Swanson said Gen. Richard Myers, the president of Kansas State University, is against the measure and added that if concealed carry isn’t allowed on Fort Riley, it shouldn’t be allowed in classrooms.

“They’re not allowed to carry concealed guns on post — why’s that?” she said. “Gen. Myers is opposed to carrying guns on campus and also I believe our police department is opposed to it, so those would be my guiding principals there.”

Highland, who is on the Federal and State Affairs Committee where gun laws are discussed, said concealed carry on campus is a difficult issue.

“It’s very emotional for people,” he said. “And I can guarantee you of the 600 emails I received in one day (about it) they were half and half. Those that are for implementing a law that would restrict, and then those who were adamantly for allowing this.”

When it came to funding for public education, lawmakers said much of what happens next depends on what the state Supreme Court will rule on the ongoing lawsuit against Topeka in terms of financial adequacy.

Begrudgingly, Phillips said another year of block grant funding may be in the cards.

“I feel that I would rather extend the block grants for one year, as opposed to being pressured to make a bad decision on a bad bill,” he said. “If we need a little bit more time to write the correct bill or a better bill, I say let’s do that and not put ourselves boxed into a corner where we have to vote on what I think could be bad legislation.”

Lawmakers also voiced support for an increase in the state gas tax to help pay for road improvements, but all admitted it would be a tough sell in the statehouse.

Carlin also voiced support for greater internet access in the state, especially for rural communities.

Still, the state’s budget hole was a dark cloud in the room, even though all expressed their optimism about the new blood elected to the legislature in November. The continued budget deficits blocked out the bright shining sun the governor has often described when speaking about the Sunflower State’s finances.

“This is a tough, tough year,” Swanson said. “We have some huge decisions to make that have an impact on every Kansas citizen. In terms of the career politician mentality — I was retired for seven years before I got this job. I was a happy grandma.

“If I don’t get re-elected, I’ll be a happy grandma again. I’m going to make the votes I think need to get made to get our state turned around.”

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Seeds for 2018 Farm Bill sown at Kansas State University

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, spoke about trade agreements and the importance of Kansas agriculture during a press briefing on Thursday afternoon. U.S. Sen. Deb Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member, provided input on the bipartisan effort. (Staff photo by Andrew Shores)

The first cornerstone of the 2018 Farm Bill was laid in McCain Auditorium on Thursday afternoon. In a time of slumping commodity prices and trade uncertainty, members of the Senate Committee of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry turned to Kansas producers on advice for next years’ update.

U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Deb Stabenow (D-MI) chose Kansas State University as the site for the first field hearing. Later this spring, the chairman and ranking member will pay a visit to Michigan State University for another round of panel discussions from producers.

In a media briefing before the 2 p.m. hearing, there was an air of uncertainty in Roberts’ voice. The last update to the farm bill occurred in 2014 under much better circumstances.

“Times are tough today in farm country,” said Roberts. “We’re in a rough patch — the credit situation is tightening… prices are at historic lows.”

Roberts was referring to the 2016 Kansas wheat harvest, where farmers harvested a record crop and were met with historically bad prices. While the economy may not be as bad as it was in 1933, when the farm bill was passed as part of the New Deal, trade uncertainty is also on the minds of many in the agriculture industry.

“It takes a robust, and aggressive, and transparent trade policy — and quickly. I know the President wants strong bilateral trade agreements. It’s time.”

Roberts indicated the senate ag committee will also be staving off budget cuts. Crop insurance was recently cut $6 billion, and Roberts said threats have been made for an additional $2 billion cut. However, on the other side of the farm bill, there is a silver lining. Stabenow said policy from the nutrition portion of the farm bill has saved nearly $80 billion over the last four years. Unfortunately, said Stabenow, that money cannot be transferred across the bill to be used for insurance purposes.

A small protest was also organized on the Anderson lawn by the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice. Protesters carried signs advocating for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which accounts for roughly 75% of the farm bill and cost nearly $89 billion in 2016. President Trump has indicated he would like to scale back SNAP and other nutrition programs.

Opening remarks were also provided by K-State President Richard Myers, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey, and U.S. congressman Roger Marshall. The meeting was held in Kansas’ first congressional district, which is the most lucrative congressional district in the nation in terms of wheat and sorghum. The delegation of leaders stressed the importance of Kansas – and Kansas State University – in feeding a growing population and maintaining the safety of the food supply. As noted by Myers, the farm bill hearing came roughly a month after a Blue Ribbon Panel on Biodefense, where Manhattan was dubbed the “Silicon Valley of biodefense and ag research.”

More than 20 panellists took the stage from all facets of Kansas agriculture. Producers of wheat, sorghum, pork, beef, sunflowers, cotton, and everything in between were able to share their experiences in the industry and also provide insight as to how the farm bill could better serve the producers it was made to protect. Producers voiced concerns on issues regarding EPA regulations and the Waters of the U.S. law, and also expressed concern at the current state of trade agreements within the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A second farm bill hearing will be held in Lansing, Michigan, later this spring on the campus of Michigan State University.

 

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Wells advocates counties to sue the state for lost funds

Riley County Commissioners Ron Wells, left, Marvin Rodriguez and Ben Wilson. (Staff photo by Brady Bauman)

Riley County commissioners past and present haven’t held back their disdain for Topeka. But Thursday morning, commission chairman Ron Wells went further than that during discussion concerning steps the board approved to further explore plans to replace the county’s aged emergency radio system.

Commissioners learned a new system could come with a $9.9 million price tag. The decades-old system county emergency personnel and police officers use fails in many spots throughout the county.

“Instead of trying to withhold funds (from the state),” Wells said. “Go ahead and file a suit against the state of Kansas to quit taking the money that belongs to us.

“That would go a long ways to paying for some of this.”

Wells, a Republican, said the state continues to fail in distributing funds to counties and cities that it is statutorily-required to do. In past meetings, Wells has referenced an article published in the Kansas Government Journal from December 2016 that broke down those declines from Topeka. The Kansas Government Journal is a monthly publication produced by The League of Kansas Municipalities and has been in print since 1914.

According to the article, cities and counties in Kansas have lost at least $2.2 billion in those transfers since 1997 as a result of the legislature’s decision to not fund them. Examples of the transfers include the Local Ad Valorem Property Tax Reduction Fund, the County City Revenue Sharing fund and the Special City-County Highway Fund.

In 1997, cities and counties lost $1.7 million in LAVTRF funds when the state doled out $46.9 million in aid to local governments instead of the $48.6 million required by state statute. The state met its requirement in 1999 and 2000, but by 2003, the state was short $36 million of its statutory requirement. It was also the last year cities and counties received any money out of the fund. For 2016, the state was required by statute to allot $96.5 million out of the fund created for the sole purpose of keeping local property taxes low for cities and counties.

In the County City Revenue Sharing fund, where it is supposed to transfer 2.823 percent of state sales and use taxes to cities and counties, allocations stopped in 2004. Cities and counties across the state were due for $75 million in 2016.

In the Special City-County Highway Fund, the state stopped those payments in 2009. At least $22 million was due to local governments for 2016, but that number is an estimate, according to the publication, citing that the Kansas Department of Transportation quit calculating this number and that it “represents a conservative estimate of the amount that should have been transferred.”

Wells has estimated that the state owes Riley County at least $30 million from 2002 through 2014.

“Now is the time to start pushing back,” Wells said. “So I’m going to start getting a little more vocal and talk to the other counties — see how many I can get on board — but I think that with the Kansas Association of Counties, if we would file suit against the state, because they’re trying to work their budget, they may as well give us back the money that belongs to us.”

Commissioners Ben Wilson and Marvin Rodriguez, also Republicans, shared Wells’ sentiments, but were silent when it came to comments about a suit.

“Good luck,” said county clerk Rich Vargo.

Wells said his frustrations stem from the blame he says he receives as a commissioner when it comes to the county’s mill levy, which increased .767 mills from 2016’s budget.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

“I use the word stolen, because that’s what it is and you call it sweeping,” Wells said of the depleted state funds, “but right now, I’m getting to the point — what are they going to do, fire me? But I’m going to talk to the other counties and start pushing back.

“It’s time we stand up for ourselves.”

 

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Tuttle Creek Dam maintenance projects updated

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced major construction to Tuttle Creek Dam. (Photo courtesy Army Corps of Engineers)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced the status of three maintenance projects scheduled to begin in the near future at Tuttle Creek Dam. These three maintenance projects include Kansas State Highway 13 Spillway Bridge Deck Replacement, Service Gates 3 & 4 Rehabilitation and Stilling Basin Rehabilitation projects.
Spillway Bridge Deck Replacement Project: The Tuttle Creek Spillway Bridge carries highway K-13 traffic across the emergency spillway and dam of Tuttle Creek Lake. The bridge has a deteriorated concrete deck which will be demolished and replaced. The design of the deck replacement was completed by the Corps, including coordination with The Kansas Department of Transportation as the detour for K-13 in 2016. The deck replacement construction will close K- 13 highway and is estimated to take 6-12 months to complete. This project is scheduled to start in the spring of 2017. The Manhattan community will be impacted by the bridge closure since it serves as a major entry and exit point for the city by commuters from the north, primarily western Pottawatomie and Marshall Counties, Kansas. A marked detour during the construction period will be installed as part of the project.
Service Gates 3 & 4 Rehabilitation Project: All routine water releases from Tuttle Creek Dam are conveyed through the control tower near the west end of the dam. This project will repair and rehabilitate two of the four gates used for routine releases, as well as paint embedded steel liners in the vicinity of the gates. The project limits are confined primarily to the control tower and stilling basin, with minimal traffic and access impacts to the public during construction. Construction activities of this project are expected to take 18-20 months and are scheduled to start in the summer of 2017.
Stilling Basin Rehabilitation Project: The water released from the service gates flows into the Stilling Basin below Tuttle Creek Dam and on to the Big Blue River. The Stilling Basin work includes extensive concrete removal and replacement and excavations landward of the training walls. The project will add the installation of additional anchoring to structurally strengthen the Stilling Basin wall system and will address permanent repairs to the sink hole that developed in this area in the summer of 2015. This work is expected to take approximately 24 months to complete and is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2017. The entire Stilling Basin area will be closed to all public use for the duration of the work. This work will also close the west entrance to the Riverpond State Park. Visitors wishing to use Shelters #3 and #4 in Outlet Park will have to access that area through the state park from the east. The project will also impact normal traffic flow associated with the annual Country Stampede event beginning in the summer of 2018 and until the work is complete. A marked detour during the construction period will be installed as part of the project, primarily for users of the park areas below the dam.

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Tuttle Creek Dam maintenance projects updated

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced major construction to Tuttle Creek Dam. (Photo courtesy Army Corps of Engineers)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced the status of three maintenance projects scheduled to begin in the near future at Tuttle Creek Dam. These three maintenance projects include Kansas State Highway 13 Spillway Bridge Deck Replacement, Service Gates 3 & 4 Rehabilitation and Stilling Basin Rehabilitation projects.
Spillway Bridge Deck Replacement Project: The Tuttle Creek Spillway Bridge carries highway K-13 traffic across the emergency spillway and dam of Tuttle Creek Lake. The bridge has a deteriorated concrete deck which will be demolished and replaced. The design of the deck replacement was completed by the Corps, including coordination with The Kansas Department of Transportation as the detour for K-13 in 2016. The deck replacement construction will close K- 13 highway and is estimated to take 6-12 months to complete. This project is scheduled to start in the spring of 2017. The Manhattan community will be impacted by the bridge closure since it serves as a major entry and exit point for the city by commuters from the north, primarily western Pottawatomie and Marshall Counties, Kansas. A marked detour during the construction period will be installed as part of the project.
Service Gates 3 & 4 Rehabilitation Project: All routine water releases from Tuttle Creek Dam are conveyed through the control tower near the west end of the dam. This project will repair and rehabilitate two of the four gates used for routine releases, as well as paint embedded steel liners in the vicinity of the gates. The project limits are confined primarily to the control tower and stilling basin, with minimal traffic and access impacts to the public during construction. Construction activities of this project are expected to take 18-20 months and are scheduled to start in the summer of 2017.
Stilling Basin Rehabilitation Project: The water released from the service gates flows into the Stilling Basin below Tuttle Creek Dam and on to the Big Blue River. The Stilling Basin work includes extensive concrete removal and replacement and excavations landward of the training walls. The project will add the installation of additional anchoring to structurally strengthen the Stilling Basin wall system and will address permanent repairs to the sink hole that developed in this area in the summer of 2015. This work is expected to take approximately 24 months to complete and is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2017. The entire Stilling Basin area will be closed to all public use for the duration of the work. This work will also close the west entrance to the Riverpond State Park. Visitors wishing to use Shelters #3 and #4 in Outlet Park will have to access that area through the state park from the east. The project will also impact normal traffic flow associated with the annual Country Stampede event beginning in the summer of 2018 and until the work is complete. A marked detour during the construction period will be installed as part of the project, primarily for users of the park areas below the dam.

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RCPD activity report 2/23/17


As KMAN earlier reported, a missing Wamego woman has been found. The Wamego Police Department told KMAN that Becky Walton, 37, was located late Wednesday morning and is safe.

However, Riley County Police indicate Walton was taken into custody in the 1600 block of Fair Lane Wednesday afternoon on a Pottawatomie County District Court warrant for failure to appear. She was subsequently released with no bond.

Walton had been reported missing Tuesday and was last seen Sunday

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Riley County Police Officers responded to an injury accident at Tuttle Creek Boulevard and South Dam Road Wednesday morning. When officers arrived on the scene at about 7:30 a.m. they found a red 2002 Ford passenger car, driven by Craig Asebedo, 38, of St. George was struck by a white 2005 GMC SUV driven old Westyn Claar, 16, of Manhattan.

Asebedo was transported to Via Christi for treatment. Neither Claar nor his 11 year old passenger who was his sister, reported any injuries. Asebedo was issued a citation for failure to yield at a stop sign.

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Riley County Police filed a report for rape and aggravated criminal sodomy in the southeast section of Manhattan in the early morning hours Thursday. Officers listed a 25 year old female as the victim when she reported she had been raped by a male known to her on Monday (February 20). Due to the nature of the crimes, no additional information will be released.

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A U.S. soldier was arrested in Manhattan yesterday on a military warrant. Jared Lampe, 39, of Manhattan, was arrested in the 1400 block of Poyntz Ave. at approximately 5:35 PM. Lampe was arrested on a deserter/absentee warrant from the Armed Forces detainer. Lampe was given no bond.

Laura Snyder, 43, of Wichita was arrested Wednesday afternoon. Snyder was arrested around 2:30 p.m. on a Harvey County District Court warrant for failure to appear. Snyder was given no bond and is still confined.

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K-State confirms 3rd case of mumps

Three Kansas State University students have been diagnosed with mumps since January.

The following is an excerpt from K-State Today:

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is using the term outbreak to describe the situation since all three cases have occurred in the Manhattan area and are within 21 days of each other. The university is directly notifying anyone who may have been in close contact with the students, all of whom live off campus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms for the mumps include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, and swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides. It is spread from respiratory droplets, which are transmitted by sneezing and coughing.

Students with symptoms — even if they have received two measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccinations — should call Lafene Health Center during regular hours at 785-532-6544 and ask for a nurse before they visit the health center.

The university’s Lafene Health Center is working with the Riley County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to provide information to the Manhattan campus and surrounding community about the symptoms of mumps, how it is transmitted and how to prevent the spread of this infection.

The university will continue to use K-State Today, social media and the K-State website as needed to inform students, faculty, staff, family members and the university community about the situation.

As always, Kansas State University’s primary concern is the health and safety of the university community.

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K-State confirms 3rd case of mumps

Three Kansas State University students have been diagnosed with mumps since January.

The following is an excerpt from K-State Today:

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is using the term outbreak to describe the situation since all three cases have occurred in the Manhattan area and are within 21 days of each other. The university is directly notifying anyone who may have been in close contact with the students, all of whom live off campus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms for the mumps include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, and swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides. It is spread from respiratory droplets, which are transmitted by sneezing and coughing.

Students with symptoms — even if they have received two measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccinations — should call Lafene Health Center during regular hours at 785-532-6544 and ask for a nurse before they visit the health center.

The university’s Lafene Health Center is working with the Riley County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to provide information to the Manhattan campus and surrounding community about the symptoms of mumps, how it is transmitted and how to prevent the spread of this infection.

The university will continue to use K-State Today, social media and the K-State website as needed to inform students, faculty, staff, family members and the university community about the situation.

As always, Kansas State University’s primary concern is the health and safety of the university community.

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RCPD Activity Report 2/22/17

Officers with the Riley County Police Department filed a report for theft in the 600 block of Tuttle Creek Blvd. yesterday afternoon. Officers listed Hobby Lobby as the victim when 2 suspects took a large amount of jewelry from the store without paying for it. The total loss associated with this case is approximately $1,225.00. The items were recovered and returned to Hobby Lobby.

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Rental ordinance approved

Many citizens of Manhattan came out both in support and against an ordinance on rental property registration at Tuesday’s city commission meeting. Rental property owner Richard Hill, among others, spoke out against the ordinance which he says would impose regulation on rental property owners, requiring them to register each rental property they own. Hill pointed to disarray with landlords and distrust with the city.Austin Fanistil, asked why the ordinance is being proposed in the first place.
 After almost 2 hours of public comment from citizens both in support and against the ordinance, commissioner Mike Dodson said “We’ve had a lot of information and a lot of discussion trying to balance the interests across the entire community. I think we’re pretty darn close.”
City officials indicate the ordinance is meant to ensure rental properties meet code so that students and other residents in the community live in safe and healthy environments. The sentiment expressed by Dodson seemed to be reiterated by other commissioners which ultimately resulted in a unanimous approval of the first reading of the ordinance.

Commissioner Wynn Butler also said this is the closest compromise the city has come to on the issue.

After listening to public comments, Mayor Usha Reddi had this to say said this isn’t the first time they’ve discussed it as the matter has come up for several years but she described the current proposed ordinance “as about as simplified as it can be.”

While commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, many stated the ordinance needs better clarification before it is implemented.

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