OSWEGO — With a bill looming in the Kansas Legislature that could financially impact Labette County, county commissioners Wednesday voted to rescind rather than renew a resolution passed in November requiring masks to be worn in buildings unless social distancing is possible or if barriers were in place between people.
The commission had originally passed the resolution at the request of Labette Health CEO Brian Williams, as intensive care unit beds were being filled to capacity throughout Kansas and neighboring states because of COVID-19.
While not wanting to establish a mask mandate, the resolution was passed to show commissioners were encouraging proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus. The county resolution stated all businesses and organizations must require employees, customers, visitors and members of the public to wear masks, while spelling out who was exempt. In addition, the resolution came with no penalties for noncompliance, as there would be no enforcement of the order.
Regardless of intent to enforce the resolution or not, Senate Bill 149 would open up the county to having to reimburse a portion of taxes to commercial businesses impacted by any county mandates that shut them down or limited their capacity based on masks and social distancing requirements, Labette County Counselor Brian Johnson said.
SB149 states, “the owner of any building listed and assessed for property taxation purposes as real property that maintains a business on the property that was shut down or limited in any capacity from conducting operations by the county government may make application to the board of county commissioners of the county in which such property is located for the reimbursement of the property taxes levied upon such property during the shutdown or capacity limitation.
“The county treasurer would be required to reimburse all property owners that file a valid application from the county general fund. If the business was shut down they would be reimbursed 1/12 of their total property taxes for each month they were shut down. For capacity limitations, the reimbursement would be 1/12 of the total taxes multiplied by the percentage of the capacity limitation and then multiplied by the number of months of the limitation,” the fiscal note states.
If passed as written, the bill would apply to tax year 2020 and future tax years, but Johnson told commissioners he did not believe they would make the bill retroactive but effective from the date approved forward.
Johnson said the Legislature is scheduled to act on the bill Friday. According to the state’s website, the bill was in the Senate for a hearing March 11. The House is adjourned until April 6.
While rescinding the county’s resolution, Commissioner Cole Proehl said he wanted to ensure it was stated that the county was still encouraging people to do what they deem proper to protect themselves and their customers.
The commissioners questioned what this would mean if the governor issued another state mask mandate. Johnson said because of the changes to the Kansas Legislature, the governor can propose a mask mandate, but the Legislature would have to ratify it or a subcommittee. If they did choose to do that, then there would be an issue.
SB149 provides no state reimbursement to counties having to reimburse businesses.
Another concern Johnson raised, despite the bill stating specifically it was addressing action taken “by the county government,” he said if Parsons leaves in place its mask mandate and the county is wide open that the county would still have to pay that amount back to reimburse those businesses.
“It’s a mess,” Johnson said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, the commission:
— Approved extending the county’s disaster declaration because of the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, making it eligible for federal and state disaster relief funding.
— Appointed Jackie Addis as the new Montana Township clerk. There was some question raised by Proehl as to if Commissioner Lonie Addis signing the approval was a conflict of interest, given the person is his sister-in-law. Addis said there is no conflict of interest, as he is not close to his sister-in-law, so there could be no question of bias. The recommendation came from someone living in the district and the board was required to have all positions filled to be compliant to approve an easement.
— Heard a request from Sheriff Darren Eichinger that the jail needed a new cook stove at a cost of about $14,000. He has been repairing it to keep it operational and thinks he can nurse it along to the end of the year. He wanted to inform the commission so it could anticipate the expense and budget for it in the next fiscal year.
— Heard that Proehl is continuing to pursue a 90-10 matching grant for the county to cover the cost of replacing the Pumpkin Creek steel truss bridge on 8000 Road west of Angola.
— Approved 911 Director Brandi Grassl attending the APCO international conference in San Antonio in August.
— Approved getting rid of surplus property consisting of old computers.