City Prepares for New Development

The city of Fort Scott looks forward to new changes and developments as businesses and organizations express interest in both downtown buildings and other property around town.

Downtown 2

During the Fort Scott City Commission meeting Tuesday evening, city staff gave reports of some of those interested parties and their plans for buildings such as Memorial Hall, the old La Hacienda structure downtown, the former Spoiled Brat building and a newly annexed piece of property south of El Charro.

In April of 2016, the commission had agreed to work with Last Farmhouse Films, Inc., as they considered renovating Memorial Hall and leasing it in order to promote arts in Fort Scott. Since that time, the group decided to look into purchasing the building outright because of the funding renovating alone would require.

The commission approved giving City Manager Dave Martin the authority to begin preliminary negotiations concerning the sale of Memorial Hall.

Director of Economic Development Rachel Pruitt also presented a project proposal for housing and retail that will go into the Union building in downtown Fort Scott, which formerly housed La Hacienda but in recent years has been vacant.

The Flint Hills Holding Group, which recently completed the apartments in the old Western Insurance building, is now interested in using the Union building, located at 18, 20 and 22 South Main Street, to house the Fort Scott Lofts, which will include 27, one- and two-bedroom units that will not be restricted to a specific age as they are in the Western Senior Living Center. The first floor will also have space for retail, a lobby and a fitness center.

“If we don’t do it, we’re going to lose these buildings,” Martin pointed out.

The structure is expected to bring in 40 residents downtown and 10 new jobs.

The project will cost at least $5.5 million, and the Flint Hills Holding Group requested a seven percent investment from the city, totaling about $400,000. The city’s commitment for funding will increase the chances for the project to be awarded housing tax credits from the state.

The city agreed to give their funding commitment to the project. The amount of money is already available in the economic development fund.

“It looks like a fantastic project,” commissioner Jim Adams said.

The commission also took steps to participate in the preservation of another downtown building, formerly the Spoiled Brat at 124 Wall Street, which has been a hazard for years because of an unsound wall.

Martin said the Horner family has shown interest in preserving the building for a business and second floor living space. Repairing the wall alone will likely cost at least $80,000. If the project becomes more expensive and extensive then originally believed, the potential owners requested that the city commit $30,000, the sum the city would have to pay to tear down the building if nothing is done to repair it.

“We will work very closely with them to make sure what they are doing is right,” Martin said, saying it will not be accomplished overnight as they seek grants and recruit contractors and others to help preserve the building.

The commission unanimously agreed to sign the property preservation agreement, expressing their financial commitment.

The commission also approved the voluntary annexation of about two acres of property located south of El Charro on the east side of Highway 69. Pruitt said a national retailer is interested in using that property for development, but wanted it to be part of the city before they invested.

The commissioners expressed their excitement at the potential projects that may be coming to Fort Scott in the near future. At a Chamber of Commerce event, Martin said they are trying to do the right thing for the city and its residents in each of these projects.

Dunn to Transition from County to City

During Tuesday night’s Fort Scott City Commission meeting, City Manager Dave Martin introduced Rhonda Dunn as the city’s new manager of codes enforcement beginning March 1.

Rhonda Dunn

Shortly after being sworn in January 9, after being reelected as Bourbon County’s Treasurer, Dunn announced that she will begin working with the city of Fort Scott, as the city continues its effort to enforce local codes in order to improve the community’s environment.

“We all drive around in our town and think how it used to be and how it once was,” Dunn said of her decision. “And I figured, you can’t just talk about that, you have to do something about it. I see this as an opportunity for me to help with that.”

Dunn said she will miss being involved in the county, but believes she left a good mark and is leaving the job in good hands with the staff she worked with. Before resigning entirely from the county, Dunn said she will also help train the staff and her replacement.

“It was a really hard decision for me,” Dunn said of her departure from the county. “Because I absolutely love working for the county.”

But Dunn said she is looking forward to improving the community as well as assisting the city in finding ways to utilize surplus property that is currently unused. She added she was ready for a change and the opportunity to hold a position that has room for upward movement, whereas that was unavailable as county treasurer.

“I’m very, very excited, I can’t wait to get to the city,” Dunn said, adding she looks forward to helping the infrastructure of the city move forward by encouraging people to improve their property and the city, not just through penalties but through rewards. “There’s so much going on in Fort Scott and so many good things happening, I feel like there’s a piece here that I can contribute to.”

Martin mentioned at a recent Chamber of Commerce event that the city had been lenient on codes enforcement for more than a decade, leading to areas of town becoming run down or in need of attention due to codes violations. But in recent years, Martin and other staff began to focus on that growing need in the city.

“Our business as the city is not to fine people,” Martin said. “We don’t want to fine people to take care of their property, we want compliance.”

Martin pointed out that some people do not have the means to take care of their homes and properties, and the city wants to connect them with churches or other organizations able to provide assistance. Martin said it is the homeowners that do not care to keep up their property that need stricter enforcement.

Martin said the city believes Dunn is just that person to make sure the codes are properly enforced, saying she “has a vision, can work with HPA [Historic Preservation Association] on buildings, can work with homeowners.”

“She has a heart for Fort Scott and loves the town,” Martin said. “We’re excited and I think she will do a great job.”

Bourbon County leaders and staff said Dunn will be missed. Public works director Jim Harris said he believes Dunn was largely responsible for the excellent management of the road and bridge department’s budget in the past year.

“Road and bridge really appreciates her expertise,” Harris said, saying Dunn met with them monthly and sometimes weekly.

County Commissioner Lynne Oharah expressed appreciation for her help when he needed specific information about finances and the county’s cash flow.

“She’s been a big asset,” Oharah said.

While her job with the city will be her main focus, Dunn will still remain available to assist the county on a part-time basis for the near future. She said she and the city will do all they can to make sure the transition is smooth and that there will be no need for a special election.

Once Dunn does submit her resignation to the governor and the county commissioners, the Bourbon County Republican Party precinct leaders will have 21 days to recommend her replacement, who would then need to be approved by the governor. The new county treasurer would be up for reelection in the next general election in 2018. The annual salary for the treasurer is more than $37,000, while Dunn had received another $10,000 annually for motor vehicle pay. The annual salary for the codes manager ranges from $47,500 to $52,150.

County Removes Vicious Dogs Policy

After about a year of discussions on the topic, and with a case making its way through the court, the Bourbon County Commission decided Tuesday to just do away with the vicious dogs policy that had been written in 1987.

County Commission

The commissioners, along with members of the Sheriff’s Office and county attorney Justin Meeks, determined that even updating the policy to better define a vicious dog would not solve the problem since the county does not have the employees to enforce it.

“If you don’t enforce a policy, why have it?” Meeks asked.

Under the previous policy, it was left to the sheriff’s deputies to answer calls concerning vicious dogs, but that department does not have the manpower or the equipment to respond to such calls or handle the animals, even if they are able to catch them.

Undersheriff Ben Cole said even having a deputy focus full-time on vicious dog calls would not be sufficient, and would also be expensive due to the deputy’s wages, a kennel and other equipment and mileage from traveling through the county. He added it is up to the county to prioritize what they want to accomplish and devote county funds to.

By dissolving the policy, circumstances involving vicious dogs become a civil issue. Pit bulls are also no longer banned in the county, though Meeks pointed out some homeowners’ insurance policies have their own restrictions on owning such dogs.

Dancing with our Stars Seeks Funds for Charities

The Fort Scott Rotary Club is hosting the Seventh Annual Dancing With Our Stars event this Saturday, February 11, with participating dancers using the opportunity not just to compete, but to raise funds for local and national charity organizations as well as the Rotary.

Dancing with our Stars 2016
Dancing with our Stars 2016

The event will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ellis Family Fine Arts Center at Fort Scott Community College. Tickets are still available at $10 apiece, or $15 for VIP seats located front and center.

The theme for this year’s event is Battle for the Fort, with dance teams representing area businesses including La Hacienda, Citizen’s Bank, FSCC, Fort Scott Manor, Friends of the Fort, Landmark Bank, McDonald’s, FirstSource, Medicalodges Fort Scott and Cobalt Medplans. Each team includes two to eight employees of those businesses.

Each team also represents a charitable organization. Teams raised money for those charities in advance and further funds are raised the night of the event as attendees vote for their favorite dancers with their dollars.

The McDonald’s team for example is raising money for Ronald McDonald’s Children’s Charity by hosting a fundraiser Tuesday, February 7, 5-7 p.m. Fort Scott Medicalodges is holding a Chicken & Noodles fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association Friday, February 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at their location, with meals costing $5 each.

Other charities include Court Appointed Special Advocate, Lee’s Paws & Claws Animal Shelter, Care Portal, the Sharing Bucket, the Beacon, Friends of the Fort, Elks Club Youth Activities and United Way.

The winning team will take home a trophy and a cash prize for their charity of choice.

“We are so glad to have all of these businesses represented in this ‘Battle for the Fort’ theme this year,” said 2017 DWOS chair Janet Braun in a press release on the event. “There are 53 dancers total who are helping raise money for Rotary and for area charities.”

Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce.

Courthouse Enjoys Fowl Visitor

In the past month, the Bourbon County Courthouse has had an unexpected, feathered visitor on its lawn and even inside the lobby.

The rooster and hen as seen in December, 2016.
The rooster and hen as seen in December, 2016.

Around the holidays, Christopher Petty of the Kansas State Southwind Extension Office and other county employees and courthouse visitors noticed a rooster and hen lingering around the courthouse property. While the hen has not been seen of late, Petty said the rooster is still seen frequently.

“The rooster, he seems to stick around,” Petty said, saying they believe it is owned by one of the residents of the homes to the west of the courthouse. “He wanders around the courthouse quite a bit.”

While the rooster occasionally makes visitors nervous when they see it walking along the sidewalk, Petty said the bird has been calm instead of aggressive as many roosters are. When the rooster found its way inside the courthouse one day, Petty said a commissioner was able to pick it up and take it back outside without any trouble.

“He’s pretty tame,” Petty said, adding that he is also likely tough, as it seems to thrive in an urban environment.

Until the courthouse rooster decides to spend his time elsewhere, visitors to the courthouse may be able to spot him wandering around the parking lot, lawn and sidewalks of the county property.


Area Trash Service plans to add Recycling

The Bourbon County Commission decided Tuesday to donate the county’s three recycling trailers to 4-State Sanitation, who plans to use those trailers to provide recycling services to the county.

Photo Credit: Wrap it Up Vehicle Wraps
Photo Credit: Wrap it Up Vehicle Wraps

The Southeast Kansas trash collection provider, whose headquarters is based in Fort Scott, first requested the trailers January 10. Initially the commissioners considered lending the trailers immediately or donating them to the company, but then decided to put the trailers to bid to give other businesses an opportunity as well.

The commission received only one bid, from 4-State, who said their plan is to provide free recycling to Bourbon County residents two days a week, collecting items such as cardboard, plastic and aluminum.

The bid listed 4-State’s goal to work in conjunction with Souteast Kansas Recycling to provide a “cleaner environment and community.”

“We need recycling,” public works director Jim Harris said, who also said it would benefit the county to have the trailers, owned by the county since about 1996, off their insurance.

The county provided recycling service in the past, but Harris said they lost money in the endeavor, as they would often travel to areas of the county that would not have any items to pick up, costing the county time and  fuel without receiving any benefit. Commissioner Jeff Fischer said many residents of Fort Scott had gotten in the habit of recycling, but are now losing that good habit.

The commission voted unanimously to give the trailers to 4-State Sanitation, requesting that in return, the trailers be used specifically for Bourbon County recycling, as was stated in their request for bids.