Commission candidates talk about issues
With the Nov. 7 election coming up, two candidates for the Leavenworth County Commission's 1st District seat want to be in the voters' spotlight.
J.C. Tellefson, a rural Leavenworth Republican, and Ed Sass, an Easton Democrat, hope voters will elect them to replace Commissioner Don Navinsky, who is retiring.
Tellefson, a lifetime Kansas resident, served 21 years in the military. Since 1995 he's worked as a stockbroker and financial counselor. In recent years he worked for the Veterans Administration where he located jobs for veterans. He's on a leave of absence to campaign. Tellefson, who is 53, and his wife, Cheryl, have two grown children.
Sass, who is 60, also is a lifelong Kansan. He's lived in Lowemont, near Easton, all his life. He and his wife, Patricia, also have two grown children.
Sass, who is the county's noxious weed director, has been a county employee for 20 years and before that a state employee for 25 years.
In recent interviews, the candidates gave their views on three issues -- economic development, whether the county needs to hire a county administrator and the possible construction of a turnpike interchange south of Tonganoxie.
Sass said it's important for government to be supportive of economic development and to provide infrastructure to bolster economic development -- such as roads, water and sewer.
Tellefson said he supports agriculture. He noted agricultural property is taxed at 30 percent of its production value. But he said, when the owners of agricultural property decide to sell their land for commercial ventures, the public benefits from the increases in property taxes.
"It benefits the current landowner that sell them to whoever needs them, it benefits the new landowner who's going to do a commercial property," Tellefson said. "It also benefits the school districts, the library district. Instead of taxing the homeowner at 11 percent, you're taxing commercial property at 25 percent."
And, Tellefson said, when it comes to development, it's important for those in government to be proactive in learning what citizens want.
"Then it's up to government to get out of the way and not be an impediment," Tellefson said.
"I continue to believe that a county administrator -- someone to help us in our day-to-day work as a board of county commissioners," Tellefson said. "That would be a very good thing."
Tellefson said a couple of rules should go along with the hiring of a county administrator:
"That no additional staff be required and that the salary of the county administrator would come from the current budget, there should be no increase in the budget to do this."
Sass noted that county voters twice have rejected hiring a county administrator.
"I think the reasons it didn't pass was that there was no talk of how it was going to be paid for or what he was going to do," Sass said.
Sass said it stands to reason that a county administrator would not have authority over elected officials.
"He'd have no more authority over than the county commissioners do," Sass said.
Kansas Turnpike Authority officials said they would build a turnpike interchange at County Road 1. But their offer hinges on $14 million in improvements first being made to a six-mile stretch of County Road 1. The county has agreed to contribute $8 million from the county's one-cent sales tax, KTA officials tentatively offered to fund $2 million, the county has applied for $1 million in federal funding and the city of Tonganoxie has talked about its contribution level. Tonganoxie city officials haven't determined their level of participation, but at one point said up to $2.8 million was possible.
Sass and Tellefson both attended Monday night's Tonganoxie City Council meeting in which details were provided from an economic impact study on how the turnpike interchange would affect Tonganoxie.
Sass said he thought a committee, including Tonganoxie residents who are concerned about the changes the interchange would bring, and city officials, should be formed.
"And let's see what we have to do to make this a viable project for the community," Sass said. "A community that doesn't grow is pretty much a stagnant community."
Tellefson said he supports the idea of the county using the one-cent sales tax to improve County Road 1.
"I would very much like to see what Tonganoxie is going to do," Tellefson said. "I certainly don't know enough to actually vote on anything today."
But, Tellefson, added, the county would benefit in tax revenue from development of rural land near the proposed turnpike interchange.
"You kind of assume this means we're going to be able to get to Lawrence and Bonner Springs easier," Tellefson said. "But you when you read the study you realize it isn't about speed, it's for economic development."
Tellefson said the proposed turnpike interchange is an "extraordinarily vital opportunity."
At Monday's city council meeting, council members also discussed a petition presented by Tonganoxie residents who want to hold a vote to decide whether the city will help fund improvements to County Road 1.
"I also think that the people should be able to express their opinion," Tellefson said. "I think they have once -- the entire county voted on this and it passed by 69 percent -- but if they want to have another vote, I'm not afraid of the vote."