Friday, October 29, 2010
Works wants to continue
Editor’s note: A legal clause in a funding agreement between Allen County and the City of Iola disallows Allen County Commissioners from speaking publicly about the local ambulance issue. That topic is therefore not addressed herein.
By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
HUMBOLDT — Twenty years after he was first elected to serve Allen County as a commissioner, Dick Works still has enthusiasm for the job.
Works represents Moran, Elsmore, Savonburg, Humboldt, and their environs as one of three commissioners charged with creating and administering policy for the county’s 13,000 residents.
“None of the issues are simple and they require complex answers,” Works said of managing the county and its $11 million annual budget.
“That budget has been the biggest challenge we’ve had to face over the years,” Works added. “Costs keep going up and the state cuts our share of revenue funds each year.”
Works, who ran unopposed for his last two four-year terms, faces a challenge this year from Don Mann, a Moran contractor.
Works, however, believes he still is the best man for the job.
“When I ran 20 years ago, I only made one promise, and that was to be honest,” Works said. “I have kept that promise and will continue to do so.”
As for county issues, Works said, “When I was elected 20 years ago, the landfill was the No. 1 issue we had to address. We also needed a new jail and a new hospital. We’ve accomplished the first two,” and now are working on the third.
Commissioners looked into replacing the hospital five years ago, Works noted, but at that time, the only funding mechanism available would have been to significantly raise property taxes.
State law has since changed, he noted, allowing the creation of local option taxes such as the quarter-cent proposed sales tax for a new Allen County Hospital.
A big issue this past year, mowing county roads, may be easier addressed in the future, he said.
“We are looking at a chemical growth retardant to spray on roadsides,” Works said. “It doesn’t kill the weeds, but it really, really slows (their growth) down,” he said.
That move, Works noted, could save the county a good deal of money.
“We burn a lot of fuel” between the sheriff’s department and county road crews, he said.
OVER THE years, Works said he has gotten a reputation for being particular about the county’s budget.
“I focus on trying to find ways to be more efficient,” he said.
That expertise is especially important now, Works said, as the other two commissioners, Rob Francis and Gary McIntosh, took office in January of 2009. “The budget is very complex and it takes six to eight years to figure out.”
Works admits the job is stressful, but he still feels passionately about it.
“I’m very emotional about it because I believe all residents of Allen County deserve” equal representation, he said.
Works is the only commissioner who does not live in Iola, he noted.
“I think that’s one of my strong points,” he said. “I stick up for the county. I never forget that the farmers and rural people are who we represent,” he said, while adding that city residents are also county residents.
“Everybody wants to have their voice heard,” he said. And though he typically “keeps a low profile,” he said, “My number is in the book,” should a constituent want to reach him.
Works noted that, as a commissioner, “We have both administrative and policy duties. Most people think we only meet one morning a week, but we spend about two days a week in our administrative duties.
“The job is much more time-consuming than it was 20 years ago,” he said.
County commissioners are required to serve in an oversight capacity on those boards that receive any funding from the county, such as Tri-Valley Developmental Services, Allen County Extension Service and the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, Works noted.
“As a county commissioner, we have to serve on many boards because we give money to many groups,” he said.
The county also funds senior citizens’ centers and senior meals programs in each community, he said.
Other issues dealt with by commissioners include non-elected personnel and “we are often solicited for advice by other elected personnel,” Works said. “I get a lot more phone calls from staff than I do from constituents.”
Beyond being pragmatic about the budget, Works noted, “I’m an optimist. I tend to look at the bright side of things.”
WHEN NOT taking on county duties, Works farms about 1,400 acres of corn and soy beans in the Humboldt area.
“I sit out on a tractor and I have a lot of time to think about county business,” he said. “I find myself thinking about it more than I do about farming.”
Works also is a member of the Humboldt Rotary and leads the singing at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Humboldt.
“It’s part of my heritage,” to serve, Works said. “For more than 150 years, the Works family has been working to make Allen County a better place to live.”
A position on the Allen County Commission pays about $17,000 per year, plus health and retirement benefits, Works said.
“I still feel I can contribute,” he said.