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County counselor: Reimbursement for Haysville cleanup violated county policy

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, at 8:18 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 6:43 a.m.

Commissioners violated Sedgwick County policy Wednesday when they approved reimbursing the city of Haysville $73,000 for cleanup after a June 27 storm, the county’s counselor has determined.

What happens next is uncertain, although it appears unlikely that there would be support among a majority of commissioners to reverse the board’s decision. However, one commissioner, the lone vote against cutting Haysville a check, said he plans to talk to county leaders about whether the county should do just that.

“I have been given the impression that we are legally bound to follow our policies and since we didn’t do so, the action yesterday would be illegal,” Commissioner Richard Ranzau said Thursday.

The city of Haysville had asked the county for $100,104.30. William Black, Haysville’s chief administrative officer, said the city incurred hauling expenses as well as staff overtime and fuel costs. Haysville separated storm debris into several piles and plans to burn it.

Ranzau voted against giving Haysville the money, saying the county’s policy is to help local governments with the disposal, not the pickup and hauling, of storm debris.

The county’s policy says the county will reimburse cities for tipping fees at permitted disposal facilities.

“The Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners may also consider costs associated with other methods of debris disposal, where it will serve the best interests of the governments and result in the greatest possible economic efficiency,” the policy says.

Commissioners debated the policy during their meeting. Board chairman Jim Skelton asked the county’s legal staff why the matter was on the commission’s agenda if it didn’t comply with the county’s policy.

“This has created an embarrassing situation for us,” said Skelton, who added that he wanted to help Haysville but wanted to do so in a way that followed the county’s policy.

County counselor Rich Euson said Thursday that after reviewing the policy more closely, he determined the reimbursement to Haysville did not meet the policy.

Skelton said he would not support reversing the decision “because of the needs of the people. What we did yesterday was the right thing to do, but we need to have better oversight” of county policies, he said.

Skelton said he has asked to meet with Euson to determine how agenda items are reviewed by legal staff.

“Proper legal review is necessary for every single agenda item,” he said.

The county may want to revisit its policy on reimbursement for storm debris costs, Skelton said.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he had voted Wednesday thinking that an amendment that Commissioner Dave Unruh had made reducing the reimbursement to $73,000 – essentially requiring a $2.50 per person “deductible” for Haysville residents – made the board in compliance with the policy.

“It’s unfortunate that we got into an area where there was a lack of clarity in terms of what was and what was not permissible,” Peterjohn said.

Unruh said Thursday that the county definitely needs to rethink the policy.

“We need to come up with a policy that’s clear,” he said. “But the action itself I think is consistent with the idea that we want to be able to help communities in our county who suffer severe storm damage. I think they did suffer significant storm damage, and we have a fund that is for that particular use, and so I think it’s appropriate.”

Commissioner Tim Norton, whose district includes Haysville, said he was more concerned about helping “a community affected by a pretty dramatic event” than “just following a policy.”

He did say that it might be prudent to “extend” the policy.

Asked if he thought the commissioners should reverse their decision, County Manager William Buchanan said “absolutely not. The commissioners had all the facts before them. Rich has interpreted the policy. We interpret the policy the other way.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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