Prior to 2001, Seward County operated its government entity without the aid of a county administrator.
That year, Ed Young was brought on board to handle those duties, and after he resigned in 2005, the second administrator, Mary Bloomer, was hired that same year.
Bloomer resigned as administrator earlier this year, and that resignation will officially take effect May 10, and while many county commissioners have argued that an administrator is necessary to run a county government, one board member continues to make a case for the other side.
When the commission voted 4-1 earlier this year to bid out the position of administrator, C.J. Wettstein was the lone vote against doing so, and having served on the commission on and off since 1989, he has seen how the local entity is run both with and without an administrator.
He believes the former would work better than the latter, noting before the implementation of an administrator, commissioners each had a portfolio of boards and departments to work with, something he said could still work well today.
“If the county commissioners would just do their job, we really don’t need a county administrator,” he said. How the commissioners would operate without a consensus was unclear, however.
Wettstein noted several instances of significant projects accomplished by the county prior to bringing on an administrator, including replacement of the county’s fire trucks.
“In 1989, fire chief Bob Hadsell came to the commission with a plan to replace the old Army fire trucks and upgrade them,” he said. “We started with a plan that Bob brought to us to start replacing the fire trucks. We replaced them with two and a half ton fire trucks. They were great fire trucks. Army trucks ran about 30 miles per hour on a good tail wind. These trucks would run to the fire at 70 mph. They’d haul a lot of water.”
Other projects include the completion of a multi-million dollar remodel and tower addition to Southwest Medical Center and refinancing of housing bonds in the county that yielded more than $900,000 to the county’s building fund.
“That was the start of the building fund that allowed Seward County to build the $4 million county administration building three years ago and be able to pay cash for the building,” Wettstein said.
Also on the list of accomplishments prior to 2000, in 1990, the county moved its health department first to East Third Street and later to its current location at Second and Lincoln.
“We bought the building and remodeled it for about $125,000,” Wettstein said.
A somewhat more significant project was accomplished in 1995 when the county upgraded its jail facilities. This came, Wettstein said, after the commission had stalled for some time.
“We kept putting it off, and in 1995, we took a half percent sales tax issue to the taxpayers,” he said. “They voted to go with it. That was a $7 million project. It was voted in by the people. We were planning on sunsetting the sales tax issue in 65 months. We ended up getting enough money in 56 months, so we were able to sunset it about 9 months sooner than planned.”
The last project Wettstein mentioned came also in 1989 when the county took over what was then a private landfill.
“The state came in and said we had to have a Subtitle D landfill,” he said. “We took the Subtitle D landfill and developed it. Now, Mike Tabor’s worked with us from the very beginning. We’ve got a landfill out there that’s won national awards. Right now, we not only handle trash, we handle compost, we handle mulch.”
At a commission meeting, however, Young informed the board about actual cost saving measures and the possibility of additional mill levy increases if the county administrator program was not implemented.
Some of those include:
o Restructuring the Activity Center director and human resources positions, saving the county $70,000; and
o A landfill composting project which saved the county $25,000 per year.
Bloomer said she has provided many good things for the county in her time as administrator, including some building projects.
“I have provided construction oversight for several county building/facility upgrade projects since my arrival,” she said.
Included in the list of buildings or facilities are the county attorney’s office, a remodel of the former register of deeds office for district court, current remodel of the courthouse for the county attorney and JCAPS, remodel of the south end of the courthouse for Cimarron Basin Community Corrections and electrical upgrades in the courthouse and at the fairgrounds.
“Construction oversight has value, but there was no cost to the county since the service was provided in-house,” Bloomer said.
Bloomer said the county had budgeted $250,000 for change orders for the Administration Building, but through daily and careful oversight of the project, change orders totaled only $21,687 – a net savings to the budget of $228,313.
Research from the Kansas Association of Counties shows only 20 of the 105 counties in the state currently have an administrator. Wettstein said he questions if the remaining 85 are operating in the dark or how they operate at all.
The KAC data likewise showed that six counties in the state have a greater population than Seward’s, yet do not have an administrator, and only two have a smaller population that Seward’s and have a person occupying the position.
In his four years as administrator, Young’s salary remained steady at nearly $74,000 a year, while Bloomer’s has risen from $55,000 in 2005 to her current pay of just less than $98,000.
Bloomer said another benefit she has brought to the county has been the bidding of its general insurance package.
“We have bid the insurance package twice since I have been administrator,” she said. “As a result of the two times the package has been bid out, we have received a reduction in premium.”
The first bid netted a decrease in premium of $68,698. The premiums did increase nearly $1,000 the second year, but Bloomer said that was due to the Administrative Building being included in the county’s property package.
“This past year, because I asked for a complete review of values assigned to county property and accurate accounting of property, we had a decrease in premium of $13,091 for our 2011 insurance year,” she said.
As with construction oversight, Bloomer said bidding the insurance package in-house resulted in no additional cost to the county.
“A general estimate for those services is $9,000 each time, for a total savings to the county of $18,000 by bidding in-house,” she said.
Bloomer said additional savings through meticulous review of the county’s insurance package and items yielded the county a refund of $144,000.
Still, although Wettstein knows he has four commissioners who disagree with him, he stands by his belief that while not many positions could be cut in the county, the administrator could.
“The county commissioners could spend a little bit more time and do their job, and all of the employees would probably have to kick in a little bit more time,” he said. “I just feel that good projects have happened without a county administrator. I think they could continue. I’m not for sure that a county administrator, especially in the tight times that we have now, actually justifies the extra pay.”