Tapping into the City of Iola’s sewer system could be the most economical solution for infrastructure improvements at the Allen County Regional Airport, but county commissioners still appear reluctant to take that route.
Bruce Boettcher with BG Consultants gave commissioners cost estimates for five sewer options.
Originally, BG engineers assumed the most logical solution was to tap into Iola’s sewer system. It’s closest and has the most capacity for future growth.
But city codes require any entity that wants to use its sewer system to voluntarily annex into the city. The reasoning is because an entity that is using city services should be part of the city and pay taxes like other service users.
But county commissioners don’t want the airport to be annexed.
They asked BG to look at other options.
The result: BG’s original assumption still proves the city is the most economical answer, particularly for future development. If the airport installed two pipes, a 3-inch and an 8-inch, it could help attract a variety of industries. The cost is about $2.4 million.
A more basic, 4-inch force main, would meet immediate needs at a cost of $1.4 million.
Commissioners looked into tapping into a system for the Burris Addition, between Iola and Gas. That would cost $1.6 million. But the Burris system has several issues that would need to be addressed before it could be expanded. Those improvements would come at an additional cost and is work the county likely will need to do sooner or later.
Another option was to tap into the Gas system at a cost of $1.8 million, or LaHarpe for just under $2.3 million.
All of those options would be for the smaller 4-inch force main, and the systems are not designed to handle more capacity for future growth.
Commissioners also asked Boettcher about options to build their own system at the airport. Boettcher said that option was not studied, but it would require at least 50 acres and could be quite expensive.
Commissioners also discussed the matter in a private, executive session.
At one point during the public discussion, Chairman Jerry Daniels expressed disappointment that no one from the city was present. Not long after, City Administrator Matt Rehder and Assistant Administrator Corey Schinstock arrived.
Commissioners then asked if they could go into another executive session to discuss contract negotiations and invited Rehder and Schinstock.
Rehder said he didn’t think it was appropriate for him to meet privately with commissioners in that way, and said he had nothing to add beyond what the city council had discussed on Monday. That proposal must have been discussed in the previous executive session, because it was not revealed publicly.
County Counselor Bob Johnson urged them to wait another week before making a decision.
“You all might be better off taking a step back,” he said.
Boettcher reminded commissioners they were in a bit of a time crunch, as the infrastructure improvements will be paid by a grant worth nearly $4 million. The work must be completed by 2024, so they need to get started soon.
He agreed commissioners could take another week to make the right decision.
A couple of contentious moments highlighted the continued debate over a public transportation program.
Lisse Regehr, CEO of Thrive Allen County, returned to commissioners with a request to allow her organization to keep $7,151 in transportation funds earmarked from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The county set aside about $10,000 in ARPA money to pay its portion of a state grant to run a public transportation program. The grant included a van, which remains on backorder because of supply chain issues. Because of that, there was a delay in the grant’s reimbursement and the county ended up paying more than expected.
Commissioners decided they didn’t want to continue the transportation program, so Thrive agreed to take it over. Doing so required special permission from the state, and Thrive will need to come up with money to meet its match obligations.
That’s where the $7,151 comes in. That’s how much remains in the county’s ARPA transportation fund after paying for expenses so far this year. Regehr wants to use that money as part of Thrive’s match, so they can take over the program.
Commissioner David Lee objected. He wants the county to keep that money to offset what it spent on transportation.
Regehr and commissioners Bruce Symes and Daniels pointed out that if Thrive is not able to take over the transportation program, the county will be obligated to continue it. By ending their participation, the county is breaching the contract as agreed by the terms of the state grant.
“If you keep the grant, you have to run the service,” Regehr said. “We are trying to take that off of you.”
Symes and Daniels also noted the money comes from ARPA, not local taxpayers.
Even so, Lee said he wants to hold on to the money until they know the final cost of the transportation program through August. But that won’t be known until September; Thrive will need the money before that.
In the end, Lee agreed to let Thrive have half of the money now. He will study the matter and commissioners will decide on the other half next week.
At one point during the discussion, Arlyn Briggs, an Anderson County resident who owns property in Allen County, shared his thoughts about the transportation program and government in general.
Daniels advised Briggs to limit his comments and said if Briggs continued, he would ask the sheriff to remove him. Briggs stopped. However, a few minutes later, several deputies arrived. Johnson spoke to them, and they left without incident.
IN OTHER news, commissioners:
• Approved a request from Chelsie Angleton, 911 director, who wants to attend an education program in January if staffing allows. She also told commissioners the Iola dispatch center had been handling 911 calls for Chanute for about a week because of an outage with their service. That led to a discussion on backups. Allen County is the first backup for several other centers; Anderson County is the first backup for Allen.
• Canvassed the votes for the Aug. 2 primary election. Many of the votes were only for the question to amend the Kansas Constitution regarding abortion. The canvass added 13 “yes” votes and 17 “no” votes for an official final tally of 1,859 yes (50.16%) and 1,847 no (49.84%). The measure failed statewide, 59% to 41%.
• Discussed the impact of the closure of U.S. 169 between Humboldt and Chanute. Road and Bridge Director Mark Griffith also said the county’s beleaguered rock crushing machine, which is not able to make as much rock for chip-sealing work, should be back up and running soon.