Questions asked, not much resolved

Gale Rose
Pratt Tribune
Pratt County residents listen as county department heads for EMS, Fire and Rescue and Emergency Management describe conditions at their facilities during a public meeting Monday on a proposed $7 million Public Safety Center.

Emotions were high as area citizens aired their concerns about a proposed $7 million county Public Safety Building during a special public meeting June 22 with Pratt County commissioners. About 150 attended the meeting at the Pratt Municipal Building with many wearing masks for safety from possible disease spread.

The proposed facility will be located at East U.S. 54 and west of NE 20th Street on 82 acres purchased earlier this year by the Pratt County Commission. The project is to be funded by $1.5 million in annual payments from NextEra Energy wind farms.

Department heads for EMS, Fire and Rescue, Emergency Management presented photos of their current facilities demonstrating a lack of space for vehicles and equipment. Director of Emergency Services Scott Harris said his ambulances had to share bays and had to move around each other to get in and out. There was very tight space between vehicles, walls and storage areas for both EMS and Fire and Rescue.

County Fire and Rescue has no building of its own and has been storing vehicles and equipment in the Township 12 Fire station on Country Club Road as well as three other locations.

According to Pratt County Commissioner Glenna Borho, speaking on behalf of County Fire and Rescue Chief Bill Hampton who was present but declined to present his divisions needs, there is not enough room for equipment, it is difficult to move vehicles in and out and they have no place to hold meetings. County Emergency Manager Tim Branscom, Hampton and county IT person Mike Tibbets share a small office space on South Main. Branscom, who attends 120 meetings a year, said anytime he has to have a meeting, he has to make arrangements to go somewhere else because the county has no space. He also has to pack everything up and move it to the meeting site, Branscom said.

Branscom's storage space and parking lot space are very limited and can't be accessed easily.

"There's just no room in there," Branscom said.

Borho said that the county has ignored infrastructure for 40 years with very few repairs.

“It's time to use the wind farm money for a public safety building,” she said.

Kelly McMurphy of Landmark Architects said the building would not be fancy and would have room to expand.

During the public comment session, Teresa Miller asked about capturing the runoff from washing trucks. Kelly McMurphy of Landmark Architects said they were aware of that issue and it had been addressed in the plans.

The cost of the project was a repeated concern raised by those in attendance.

Borho said she didn't know where Dwight Adams, spokesperson against the county project, got the $10 million cost for the project when the estimate is $7 million. He has listed that cost on signs around town encouraging people to stop the building project. Borho's email is on the signs for a county contact number. Her name was on the sign because she was the only commissioner available. She said she had only received about 20 calls from the sign and before that, there had been very little interest in the project.

Jesse Blasi wanted to know how the county could spend money on this building when they can't maintain county roads. Borho said the county allocates $4 million to roads and bridges every year.

Dwane DeWeese repeated the request he has made at several county commission meetings to use the wind farm money to reduce mil levy and to help the local schools and the college. Borho said the commissioners were working on a project and the money wasn't available at this time. Wind farm revenue will continue to come in after the safety building is paid off so those funds could be used to fill DeWeese's request later.

Karen Detwiler wanted to know what would happen to the fire station on Country Club Road if the county moves out. Borho said the building is the property of Township 12 and will remain so after the county leaves.

Stephanie Schaffer wanted to know why the land was purchased before it was surveyed to see if it would work. Borho said the county didn't own the property and couldn't have it surveyed.

Terry Richardson said no one believed the cost of the project would stop at $7 million. He had built a building and didn't give a lot of money. He thought the new facility could be built for half the cost and asked if local contractors had been contacted. He suggested that add-ons be done to the current facility or find an existing building. He wanted to put the project on the back burner.

Commissioner Joe Reynolds responded adamantly and said the county was going to build it and wondered why people were complaining so much. This was not tax money but it was Pratt County money. He said he wondered why people were so against the facility when an audience member kept pressing him on why do the project.

“Where would Pratt be if the county commissioners had listened to nay-sayers on the wind farms and the Pratt Regional Medical Center building project?” Reynolds said.