County news

The price of Dickinson County’s new jail will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s because the price was locked in months ago, the money was bonded and the county already has the money for the project in the bank. Plus, the most expensive portions of the new jail have already been completed or are nearing completion.

However, the second phase of the project — renovating and remodeling the existing courthouse — may be influenced by the economic situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak, but construction officials and county officers are hoping those effects may turn out to be in the county’s favor.

Those comments were made by Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman during Thursday’s county commission meeting responding to social media comments from people saying the effects of COVID-19 will cause the price of the jail project to skyrocket.

With talk of hardships people are going through, property taxes being due and some people not paying their taxes, along with lower sales taxes being collected, the talk on social media is that the cost of the jail will “go through the roof,” Homman recounted.

“I want to remind everybody that when the jail project was bid six or eight months ago, prices were locked in. We bonded that money and we have all the money in the bank to complete that. It has nothing to do with property taxes and what they’re doing now — luckily,” Homman said.

“Had we still been thinking about the jail or getting ready to do it, that would have been a different story. However, it’s (construction) underway and we’ve already spent two-thirds of the money to do it already,” he added. “We’ll be done before we see the big effects.”

Phase 2 may be impacted

On the flip side, phase 2 may be affected by COVID-19, not because of tax collections, but because it has not yet been bid. 

Like phase 1, the county already has the money to pay for that portion but if bids come in too high the county may need to find other funds.

Yet, there’s a possibility that when phase 2 is bid, those prices may come in lower,  Homman said.

He reminded commissioners that initially phase 1 and phase 2 were put out for bid together, but bids for phase 2 came in “really high” so the commission rejected all phase 2 bids, opting to rebid closer to the time phase 2 would begin.

“At the time, the contractors were telling our construction manager that the reason they bid high was because they didn’t know what was going to happen nine months down the road as far as prices and commodities,” Homman explained. “Given what’s happened over the last few months, that was probably wise on their part. They bid high to protect themselves.”

The call for phase 2 bids is expected to go out in June.

During the construction meeting held every other week with Goldberg Group Architects and construction manager Loyd Builders, Homman said their representatives believe prices may be lower due to the pandemic.

“There’s a number of projects out there these people would normally work on that have been canceled. We’ve gone from an environment six months ago where everyone was swamped and busy and the ones that did bid had to use a subcontractor or someone else to do that job,” he related. “Now we’re in an environment where a lot of those contractors are hungry because they’re looking for work.

“It might work in our favor so the bidding would be much more competitive,” he added.

Other

• The commission approved a resolution extending the “state of local disaster” declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county officially declared the disaster on March 26 for a period of 60 days.

“It was due to expire next week,” Homman said. “We want to keep that open for any potential possible reimbursement purposes for FEMA. If we don’t have a declared disaster, we can’t be eligible for any assistance should the need arise.”

• Homman told commissioners that the Dickinson County reopen plan from the COVID-19 closure was amended twice last week to coincide with Gov. Laura Kelly’s state reopen plan.

“To say that’s a fluid document is an understatement,” Homman said.

In a related comment, Homman reported Dickinson County had its third positive case of COVID-19 last week from the southern part of the county. 

A later report of a fourth case turned out to be a resident of Marion County, incorrectly attributed to Dickinson County by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

• Homman said Health Department Director John Hultgren and a member of his staff traveled to Missouri last week to pick up a rehabbed ambulance. 

Rather than buying new ambulances when one needs to be replaced, the county has been saving money by purchasing new chassis (since that’s the portion of the vehicle that wears out first), removing the ambulance box off the old, and rehabbing it with new electrical and other systems and putting it on the new chassis. 

The “new” ambulance will be inspected, certified, stocked and have radio equipment installed before being put into service probably by later this week. Like the rehabbed ambulance the county received earlier this year, the newest one is blue and gold, rather than the blue and white used in the past. 

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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