Riley County mill levy projected to remain flat for 2018

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

Riley County commissioners approved a preliminary budget Thursday that will go to publication before a public hearing scheduled for July 10.

The county projects a mill levy of 37.531 — a decrease of 1.393 mils from 2017. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value. While it’s not known if that will hold up after final valuation is complete in November, commissioners are confident the mill levy will remain flat for 2018.

This is also the first year city and county governments across the state have had to formulate their budgets with a tax lid. The tax lid, imposed by the state, forces special elections on budgets if mill levies get too high — often measured against inflation and the consumer price index. It was passed in Topeka as a way to battle rising property tax increases, even though reduced funding from the state to municipalities have put local governments in a position where raising mill levies have been the only option to keep services solvent.

“We were talking to about 10 other counties yesterday, and we are very fortunate,” Riley County Commission Chairman Ron Wells said during Thursday’s budget work session. “Probably a number of them are going to have to go to an election.”

Earlier meetings revealed Riley County is nearly $1 million below the threshold in its budget where an election would be needed.

The commission’s budget has few, if any, substantial cuts to programs and increases the county’s contribution to employee health plans and cost of living increases.

“Our department heads did a great job putting together their budgets,” Commissioner Ben Wilson said.

Tami Robison, the county’s budget and finance officer, said a big reason no increase in the mill levy is expected because the value of the mil is more for 2018.

“The value of the mill is actually a little higher, which generates more tax dollars,” she said. “So if you leave the levy, flat, the mills flat, you’re going to generate more dollars, because the value is greater at this point than last year.”

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RCPD budget approved

The Riley County Police Department has a new budget, with the Riley County Law Board Monday approving the 2018 budget as published. As reported earlier by KMAN, the budget calls for  1.824 percent increase and $20,682,000.70. RCPD Director Brad Schoen was happy with the process involved in this year’s budget planning saying he was fond of the process, describing it as an ala carte method, which he said makes it much simpler for everyone.

The budget includes a .8 percent cost of living increase, step increase, education and shift differential pay, and the contract for a mental health advocate.

Law Board Chair Craig Beardsley also had praise for the process this year, commending the board, RCPD, city, and county for all the work that went into the budget…

Riley County Law Board members Monday said yes to a Memorandum of Understanding involving Pawnee Mental Health and the Riley County Police Department regarding the Riley County Mental Health Co-Responder Project Cooperative. Law Board member Usha Reddi was pleased with certain provisions in the agreement, especially mentioning the training and communication pieces. Reddi added while it’s a cultural shift for RCPD, it should help to make this a successful program. RCPD Director Brad Schoen agreed the provisions help, especially at times when things might not go well…

And the Law Board also heard that online reporting of certain crimes is no longer cost-effective and had been discontinued.  Reddi expressed some concern about the change.. with more than 100 reports still coming in that way yearly–but Schoen explained on-line reporting had been at best a break-even proposition, so they might as well send an officer out to take reports, while also making their software lives less complicated.

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Over 2,000 attend National Festival of Breads Saturday

A table of breads capture the attention of a festival attendee Saturday inside the Manhattan Convention Center. The Little Apple hosted the 5th Biennial National Festival of Breads Saturday. (Staff photos by Brady Bauman)

For those who wanted to be out and about on a blistering-hot Saturday in the Little Apple, the 5th Biennial National Festival of Breads inside the Manhattan Convention Center was the best thing since sliced… well, you know.

Artisan bakers, cooks and bread aficionados filled the convention center Saturday morning and afternoon. Along with baking demonstrations, attendees were also treated to an abundance of free samples. And for those who braved the heat, outdoor barbecue presentations were also available, along with live music entertainment.

For the those in the bread-baking contest circuit, it’s the Super Bowl.

“This is the major bread competition that there is anywhere in this country, so it’s pretty prestigious to be able to come,” said Ronna Farley, one of eight finalists in this year’s competition from Rockville, Maryland.

Farley said her love for baking began in home economics classes and has participated in cooking contests since 2006. This year, she brought her Seeded Corn and Onion Bubble Loaf.

“It’s a fun hobby,” she said. “I’ve always liked cooking and I started entering contests when I was first married in the 1970s, and I didn’t really take it as serious till around the early 2000s, then I started entering regularly. You have the same chance as anybody else. You start with just an idea and try to out-think, or out-do with whatever he ingredient is that particular contest.”

Click to view slideshow.

Farley wasn’t the only cross-country entry for the festival’s contest. There were also bread bakers from Utah, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and other states — and of course, one from Kansas.

Karen Hibbard, the director for the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said over 2,000 people attended the festival.

“Today has truly been an educational opportunity for people passionate about eating — whether it’s barbecue or bread-making,” Hibbard said. “Kudos to the Kansas Wheat Commission and for the partnership they have had with many, many participants to bring people and visitors to Manhattan, and what a unique festival this has been.”

Hibbard said over 800 recipes are tested in order to get down to the eight finalists featured at the festival. She added that 2013 was the first year for the festival in Manhattan. Before that, it was featured in Wichita.

The festival was popular with young families.

Neil Bekemeyer, a wheat-grower who farms in Washington, Kan., but lives in Fairbury, Neb., was with his wife and their child at the festival. He heard about the festival through the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and thought it would be a good family trip.

Savannah Crossman marks Vermont on the map at the National Festival of Breads in Manhattan. Her and her husband, Torrey, are originally from Vermont.

“We had our fill of samples,” he said. “There were a couple aromatic breads that I really liked. The taste lingered, they used different seeds that gave a different savory flavor.”

Torrey Crossman and his wife, Savannah, were at the festival with their young child. Crossman has been stationed at Fort Riley for two months and the couple is originally from Vermont. Savannah is an agronomist working for the New York Corn and Soybean Association and said some of her research has involved bettering the wheat crop in Vermont.

The couple, who are expecting another addition to the family, said they’ve been enjoying Manhattan.

“We’re enjoying it,” Torrey said. “We like Manhattan a lot.”

“It’s been great, there’s always lots of events,” Savannah added.

Savannah did have a rule for her husband going into the convention center Saturday, though.

“I told him he wasn’t allowed to eat any bread, because then he’d think mine sucked,” she joked.

“Fact,” Torrey hopefully joked.

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Kansas Court of Appeals rules on local cases

Ziad Khalili-Alsalaami, KDOC photo

Anthony Nichols, KDOC photo

The Kansas Court of Appeals has ruled on a couple of Riley County cases, with one reversed and remanded and another affirmed.
One involves an aggravated criminal sodomy case from 2012 and the other an attempted murder case.
The appeal from Ziad Khali-Alsalaami, with a conviction of two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, was the case that was reversed. The court of appeals Friday  indicated it was a unanimous ruling , and that the appellant’s attorney, or defense attorney at the time of the trial, committed errors during his representation of Ziad. Six errors were listed in the 34 page opinion including failure to request an interpreter at trial, failure to file a motion to suppress Ziad’s confession, and failure to object during certain portions of the trial.
The case which was affirmed involved a search of Anthony Nichols’ cellphone and admissibility of his statements to police in an attempted murder case. The court’s review of the record reveals no errors and Nichols’ conviction was affirmed. Nichols is serving a 51 year sentence in the case, with Riley County jurors finding Nichols guilty of attempted murder in July of 2015. John Burroughs was found dead in his Manhattan home in September of 2013, with multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound.

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New judge sought for Riley/Clay Counties judicial district

The 21st Judicial District Nominating Commission is seeking candidates to fill a district magistrate judge vacancy residing in Riley County.

The 21st judicial district includes Clay and Riley counties.

Justice Marla J. Luckert, the Kansas Supreme Court departmental justice responsible for the 21st judicial district, said candidates can apply or be recommended, but recommendations must come on a nomination form and include the candidate’s signature.

Kansas law requires that a magistrate judge must be:

  • a high school graduate or its equivalent;
  • a resident of the county at the time of swearing in and at all times while holding office; and
  • either be a lawyer admitted to practice law in Kansas or pass an examination given by the Supreme Court and become certified within 18 months.

Recommendations must be accompanied by a nomination form available from the clerk of the Riley County District Court, the clerk of the Clay County District Court, the clerk of the appellate courts at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka, or on the Kansas judicial branch website at www.kscourts.org  under What’s New.

One original and nine copies of the completed nomination form and supporting letters must be received by noon July 31, 2017, to:

William J. Bahr
Commission Secretary
801 Poyntz Avenue
Manhattan, KS  66502

The nominating commission will convene at 9 a.m. Monday, August 14, 2017, in the Riley County Courthouse, 100 Courthouse Plaza, Manhattan, to interview candidates. Interviews are open to the public. When the interviews conclude, the commission will select one candidate to fill the district magistrate judge position.

The 21st Judicial District Nominating Commission consists of Justice Marla J. Luckert as the nonvoting chair; lawyer members William J. Bahr, James W. Morrison, Derrick L. Roberson, and Richard H. Seaton Jr. of Manhattan; and nonlawyer members Steven L. Hargrave of Randolph, Johanna D. Lyle of Manhattan, and Kyle C. Bauer and Steven C. McMahan of Clay Center.

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Kansas governor signs school funding bill; court review next

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed into law a measure to increase the state’s funding on public schools in response to a court mandate.

Brownback acted Thursday on the bill, which would phase in a $293 million increase in aid to public schools over two years. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the state’s $4 billion a year in education funding was inadequate.

“The legislature missed an opportunity to substantially improve the K-12 funding system,” Brownback said to KMAN in a release Thursday afternoon. “They did, however, direct more dollars into the classroom by limiting bond and interest aid, encouraging responsible financial stewardship at the local level. Additionally, they included a sunset on the school funding system, allowing for a regular and robust discussion about the needs of Kansas students.”

The court is expected to review the new law.

Attorneys for four school districts suing the state have said they’ll challenge the new law because they believe it still falls hundreds of millions of dollars short of adequately funding schools.

But the justices did not set a figure when they told lawmakers to pass a new school funding law by June 30.

The funding formula has received praise from education advocates across the state. On Wednesday, Kansas National Education Association President Mark Farr told KMAN the bill was “a good start,” although he was critical of the voucher mechanism implemented in the new law.

“It takes into account the different needs different schools have across the state,” Farr said. ‘It takes into account the at-risk students. We believe it’s a fair formula.”

At the USD 383 board of education meeting on June 7, director of business Lew Faust questioned whether or not the Governor would sign the bill into law.

By law, the Kansas governor has 10 calendar days to sign the bill into law, veto the bill or allow the bill to become law without his signature. The Governor has now signed 92 bills into law this session and vetoed three.

 

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Harris makes first appearance Thursday; prelim set for July 21

A Manhattan man charged with murder made his first appearance in court Tuesday.

Steven Harris, who faces charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, had his preliminary hearing set for July 21 at 1 p.m. in the Riley County District Courthouse.

Harris is suspected of being the man behind the trigger on the night of May 21 in a shooting at the 2800 block of Nelson’s Landing in Manhattan that left 39-year-old German Gonzalez-Garcia dead at the scene. A second man, Adrian Ortega, was also shot. He was transported in critical condition to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka and survived.

Harris fled the scene with his fiance, Cora Brown, also of Manhattan. They were both found and apprehended in Wichita, after police there noticed a vehicle connected with the couple at a Motel 6 on E. Kellogg.

Brown was charged with possession of methamphetamine.

Harris isn’t new to the criminal system.

According to the Kansas Department of Corrections website, Harris was released from KDOC on May 21, 2015, after serving 14 years for attempted second-degree murder in Franklin County. According to court documents filed Jan. 14, 2008,, Harris was convicted of shooting a man inside a bar in Ottawa, Kan., on Dec. 2, 2000.

He was also convicted for drugs found in his home, which was located within 1,000 feet of an elementary school. Harris was on parole at the time of the offense. Harris plead no contest to his charges.

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Active investigation in Pottawatomie County juvenile case

KMAN has been looking into a report from several sources about an alleged sexual assault occurring in Pottawatomie county outside Wamego early last week.When asked about the alleged incident, Pottawatomie County Sheriff Greg Riat would not comment, confirm or deny the sexual assault allegation. He did say his office is actively investigating an incident involving a juvenile over the age of 14 that occurred outside Wamego on Tuesday, June 6th. He stressed it is an active and ongoing investigation and at the conclusion, information will be forwarded to the Pottawatomie County Attorney’s office.

Pottawatomie County Attorney Sherri Schuck responded ” I concur with the Sheriff’s comments. I am aware of the active investigation and when the investigation is complete, it will be forwarded to my office for review.”

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Former RCPD officer named in rape lawsuit denies ‘frivolous’ allegations

A former Riley County Police Department officer named in civil rape suit denies the allegations.

Aaron Wright, the former officer named in the suit filed in a federal court in Kansas City, Kan., on June 2, blasted the allegations in a statement he emailed to KMAN Monday afternoon. According to the suit, a former K-State student says she was sexually assaulted by Wright after he’d given her a ride home following a birthday party while he was off duty on the night of June 3, 2016.

Wright was fired from the RCPD in December. The suit says Wright was fired from the RCPD for “violating a morals clause that prohibits sexual relations outside of his marriage.”

The woman, named in the suit as “Jane Doe E.F,”  is seeking $75,000 in damages, citing emotional distress, anxiety, special damages in the form of medical and psychological bills, and lost wages.

No criminal charges against Wright have been filed.

Wright’s full statement can be read below:

“In response to the recent article naming me as the defendant in a civil law suit filed in the Kansas City, Kansas Federal Court, I adamantly deny the allegations and believe the suit to be frivolous, libelous and irresponsible by the firm which filed it. I have previously filed a disciplinary complaint against the attorney for his unprofessional conduct prior to the filing of this suit. A thorough and lengthy five-month investigation was conducted by an outside law enforcement agency regarding the allegations brought forth by Doe E. F.

This investigation included a polygraph examination per my request as I knew any claims to be completely false. At the conclusion of the examination, I was informed there was no indication I was being deceitful and, therefore, had passed the polygraph. It is also important to note; the underlying allegations were not even raised by Doe E. F. until three weeks after our consensual meeting. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, I was notified prosecution was not going to be sought due to there being insufficient evidence to support the criminal allegations. Furthermore, during the investigation and according to the written report, there were discrepancies in the information provided by Doe E. F. Allegations listed in this law suit show even more discrepancies in the claims by Doe E. F.

Again, I adamantly deny the allegations against me and, just like with the criminal investigation, I maintain no wrongdoing regarding Doe E. F. and any conversations or interaction we may have had.

At the time of this response, I have not been served with the lawsuit levied against me. To that end, it is disappointing to learn the Manhattan Mercury and KMAN News Radio found it necessary to use my name in their reporting. My family and I have spent the last year healing our relationship and have tried to keep our private lives private. Manhattan is a small enough town that by naming me in these articles, the only thing that has been accomplished is victimizing me and my family with false and grossly inaccurate allegations.

Aaron Wright”

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Fort Riley comments on ‘tragic’ soldier drowning

Harden (Photo courtesy Fort Riley)

Fort Riley has confirmed the death of one its soldiers Tuesday.

As KMAN reported Monday, 23-year-old Xavier Jospeh Harden was found dead Sunday at Milford Lake.

Harden, a food service specialist with Forward Support Company D, 5th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., entered the lake from a boat at about 2:30 p.m. Sunady and did not resurface. His body was recovered at 5:25 p.m.

“This is a tragic loss for the entire ‘Longknife’ family,” said Lt. Col. Dave Maxwell, commander of 5th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. said in a press release from post.  “We are supporting and will continue to support Xavier’s family through this difficult time.”

Harden arrived at Fort Riley in June 2016.

His home of record is Tolleson, Arizona. His awards include the Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

According to the Geary County Sheriff’s Department, Harden was floating at the lake with his wife and 3-year-old child.

Harden’s body was located in about 16-feet of water by a Geary County Sheriff’s Office boat that was equipped with sonar. He was pronounced dead on the scene. An autopsy has been scheduled, and this case is still under investigation.

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