Friday, Dec. 28, 2012
2012 Top 10 News Stories
Each year has it’s ups and downs.
But in Cass County, 2012 also brought a few surprises and changes that will hopefully help set the footings for continued growth.
Here is a list of the top 10 news stories of 2012:
1. Tate Stevens wins big in X Factor competition
Christmas came early for at least one Cass County resident.
Raymore resident and Belton street worker Stephen Eatinger, 37, whose stage name is Tate Stevens, was crowned winner of Fox’s “The X Factor” music reality show Dec. 20.
“Thank you! Thank you Thank you! Thank god! I can’t thank you enough,” was the first Tweet Stevens sent out after he was named the winner, followed with the hashtag #TateNation.
More than 35 million votes were cast by viewers voting for Stevens and fellow competitors 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar and teen girl group Fifth Harmony following during the contestant’s performances the night before.
Belton Freshman Center has hosted watch parties for viewers during each of the live shows throughout the season, but when word spread that Stevens was a final contestant on the show, hundreds of community members packed into the school’s gymnasium for a celebration as “The X Factor” crew filmed shots of fans, friends and even Belton’s mayor, Jimmy Odom, encouraging Stevens Dec. 19.
During his appearance on national television, Odom revealed to Stevens of a plan to paint the new country star’s name onto the city’s water tower.
Stevens won $5 million as a result of winning.
2. County prepares for transition, deals with nepotism accusations
Cass County Commission’s is about to undergo another transition as newly-elected commissioners prepare to be sworn into office before the new year.
Voters made their picks for three new commissioners, Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox, and Associate Commissioners Jimmy Odom and Luke Scavuzzo, during the General Election Nov. 6.
The new commissioners will join a body that in the past two years has seen its fair share of turnover and fiscal turmoil, and with lots of work ahead of them in getting problems in the county’s broadband and bio-gas projects reconciled.
Cox, 37, will serve the two years remaining of a four-year term left vacant by Republican Herschel Young who was booted from office because a past felony conviction that was brought to light just moments after he took office in 2010.
The Missouri Supreme Court later affirmed the ouster of Young.
Also in 2012, Cass County Auditor Ron Johnson accused to two county office holders of nepotism.
The first person accused was Cass County Clerk Janet Burlingame, but she’ll be able to keep her job as long as the voters keep electing her.
A judge denied a petition by the state to remove Burlingame from office for alleged violation of state nepotism rules in November.
The case stemmed from a July report by Cass County Auditor Ron Johnson that Burlingame’s husband was paid $5,577 and her son $1,670 to transport voting equipment for elections going back to 2003.
Cass County Collector Pam Shipley was also cleared of nepotism allegations from the county prosecuting office, after Johnson made the allegation in September.
Johnson claimed Shipley promoted a staff member, a first cousin, after Shipley’s chief deputy retired in January.
Shipley denied the claims, stating she divided the duties between four people in her office instead of naming a new chief deputy.
Since her highest paid employee had retired, Shipley further said there was extra money for salaries and gave all of her employees a pay raise.
3. Broadband still in question
Another year has come and gone, and the future of Cass County’s broadband project remains in the minds of many with big question mark.
The issue was a huge topic of discussion during the November’s General Election when voters would choose a new Cass County Commission, who will eventually decide it’s fate – whether they will put the brakes on the project or will try to turn the key to make it a profitable endeavor.
The latest result of the unfinished broadband project is that Universal Asset Management filed suit in the Cass County Circuit Court against Cass County and Auditor Ron Johnson in November, alleging that UAM has not been paid for approximately $200,000 of work performed and the County’s decision to terminate a contract with UAM for the implementation of broadband services, according to UAM owner Gary Lee.
Lee said, after his election, Johnson set about “breaking” the contract with UAM, which the County ultimately terminated in November 2011 because the Cass County Commissioners determined Johnson was not likely to ever certify further payments under the contract.
UAM is also seeking damages for false statements made by Johnson, and accusations that he shredded official documents related to the UAM contract.
The case is still pending.
4. Congressional redistricting
The process, which takes place every 10 years following the census, is an attempt to redraw legislative and congressional district lines to create districts that are almost equal in population, became official in 2012.
In Missouri, congressional redistricting is the responsibility of the General Assembly, and was completed at the end of the 2010 session. As a result, Cass County became united in U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler’s Fourth District, which now runs northeast to Randolph and Audrain counties, southeast to Pulaski and a portion of Webster County and southwest to Barton County.
This year, after the Senate redistricting commission came up with an original plan that divided Cass County into three senatorial districts, the appellate panel redrew the district map with a number of changes – including consolidating Cass County into a single district, the new 31st.
For the first time in two decades, Belton and Raymore will be separated, and the Harrisonville area experienced some changes in representation.
The newly created 56th District includes all of Belton, Loch Lloyd, Martin City, Richards-Gebaur and the new Honeywell plant, Cleveland, Freeman, West Line, Everett, Main City, Drexel and the northwest corner of Bates County.
Meanwhile, the newly formed 55th District takes in the outskirts of Harrisonville, Garden City, Peculiar, Raymore south of M-58 Highway, Lake Winnebago, Greenwood and part of Lee’s Summit.
The new 33rd District takes in Harrisonville proper, East Lynne, Gunn City, Strasburg, Pleasant Hill, Lone Jack, Lake Lotawana and parts of Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove.
The 36th District will cover Grandview, parts of south Kansas City and Raymore north of M-58 Highway, and the southeastern portions of rural Cass County, which includes Archie and Creighton, will be served by the new 57th District.
5. Interstate 49 unveiled in Missouri
It’s been a work in progress for many years, but on Dec. 12, the Missouri Department of Transportation finally turned the signs on the former U.S. 71 Highway to display the Interstate 49 designation.
Nationwide, longterm plans call for I-49 to run from Kansas City to New Orleans, where it will connect with other interstates to provide a freeway link from the Gulf Coast ports to the Canadian border in North Dakota via Interstate 29.
Officials believe the interstate will open the doors for new business opportunities within Cass County.
6. Belton Regional Medical Hospital takes on new name, expansion
The growth associated with the $39.1 million hospital expansion project at I-49 and M-58 Highway in Belton has resulted in not just a facelift, but an entirely new identity for the nearly 30-year-old Research Belton Hospital in 2012.
On April 1, the facility became Belton Regional Medical Hospital, an identity Chief Executive Officer Todd Krass believes better describes the facility’s mission.
“Although our name will change, our commitment to providing high quality health care to the residents of northern Cass and southern Jackson counties remains the same,” he said.
In October 2010, HCA Midwest, the hospital’s parent company, announced funding for a $39.1 million expansion and renovation of the hospital.
Construction began in late summer 2011, and phase 1 and 2 of the project was completed in 2012.
In June, a new 45,000 square foot medical office building was completed and the hospital’s main lobby was remodeled.
The medical office building is three stories high and is connected to the hospital with a covered walkway.
The second phase of the project, completed in the fall, included a remodel of a new emergency department and lobby. Emergency department treatment rooms increased from nine to 15 and surgical services will increase from two small operating rooms and three larger surgery suites.
In addition to the construction project, in February of this year, the hospital was designated as a Level III Trauma Center.
7. MCC comes to Cass County
The Metropolitan Community College began offering courses in Cass County last January after a collaborative effort was formed between the college, county officials and the Belton School District.
The Kansas City-area two-year college, which has five other campuses, has been offering classes at the Belton High School Freshman Center, 801 West North Ave., to provide access to higher education to residents of Cass County and the opportunity to earn an Associate of Arts degree.
About 100 students are currently enrolled in classes offered during the evenings.
8. KCP&L discovers they were overpaying Cass County
It was discovered in May that Cass County has been getting money each year that belonged to Lee’s Summit.
In a routine field audit of Kansas City Power and Light – formerly Aquila – the Department of Revenue determined that the electric company had been paying Cass County Lee’s Summit’s portion of sales tax returns for several years.
“We don’t know how long that’s been happening,” said Conrad Lamb, Lee’s Summit’s finance director, who said the city was not aware that they were supposed to be getting the funds.
Nonetheless, Cass County still owes Lee’s Summit some back payments – although the statute of limitations on those payments is just three years.
Now, Lee’s Summit is owed approximately $909,000 from Cass County.
Presiding Commissioner Terry Wilson said the repayment issues are still an ongoing legal conversation the County is having to determine the outcome of the issue.
9. Peculiar bridge closure causes frustration for drivers, business owners
The closure of the bridge over I-49 connecting Routes C and J in Peculiar in July was a major headache for both drivers and business owners as traffic going across the bridge was haulted for a month.
The bridge project began July 5 and was on pace to meet an Aug. 10 deadline before a truck pulling a trailer and track hoe slammed into a steel bridge girder on July 16.
Despite the interruption, the bridge opened ahead of schedule, in early August.
In 2008, the City of Peculiar developed a master plan for the city. More than 40 public meetings were held and one idea was the addition of a new interchange at 211th Street, north of the existing interchange in Peculiar
The estimated cost of building a second interchange is $16 million.
The city has received $8.1 million from a MoDOT 50/50 cost share funding project and voters approved an $8 million, 20-year property tax bond in April 2009.
The city is planning to take out a $1 million portion of the bond next year to further complete additional design studies and to receive the right-of-way acquisition, but is looking for additional federal funding to reduce taxpayer contributions.
Construction is set to begin in 2014.X
10. Harrisonville Police Department Building woes
The City of Harrisonville is still at the drawing board with their plans in helping the police department find a new home.
City Administrator Keith Moody said it is now his hope that the police department will be in their new space before next winter.
The project went out to bid, but hit a snag in August 2011 after the bid for architectural work awarded to Jack Cotton, and his company Cotton Custom Designs, for $26,500 had been withdrawn.
During the Aug. 15, 2011 meeting, alderman voted to re-bid the three work elements, although no time frame for collecting the information and presenting it to the board was given.
Nearly 16 months later, during a Nov. 8 special BOA meeting, Moody discussed the original costs, revised cost estimates, the bid or actual costs, and the potential or overrun for each budgeted item within the current floor plan, with building, as well as presenting the idea of reducing the size of the building to 11,000 square feet, from the 12,600 square feet originally planned.
The plans will have to be revised by an architectural service, and put out back to bid.
In addition to lengthy time that it has taken for the project to get completed, the city has also been criticized by claims that it is borrowing money out of the utility fund to build the police station, but Moody denied those rumors, and stated that the city has $1.7 million in general fund reserves to pay for the new police station.
Moody indicated that the project would need to be put out for bid this winter, around the latter part of December or early January, in order for work on the project to begin in the spring of 2013.