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County road plan is a must

Consultant urges commission to look at options

Staff writer

Road problems could be solved with better trained township motor-grader operators which means better maintained graveled roads.

Tom Brown of Savant Services of McPherson, made a list of suggestions Monday to Marion County Commission that included fewer hard surface roads but better rock roads.

The commission recently held public meetings in six locations throughout the county to obtain input from constituents regarding the county’s strategic plan.

At those meetings, the common themes were roads and bridges.

Brown said roads have been the number one issue for the past 10 years that he has been assisting the county with the plan.

A multi-year plan was proposed in previous plans, Brown said, but had not been followed.

The most critical aspect of road maintenance is culvert and ditch work, Brown said.

“If water is in the roadway and we don’t have the right drainage, it costs us the most,” he said. “It will save us from doing more road work in the future if we stay on top of ditch and culvert work.”

Brown asked the number of road grader operators. The commission responded there are 14 sections but are short two employees. Brown asked if the county could be aligned into 12 maintenance districts instead of 14.

Input from constituents, operators, and road and bridge personnel also is an important step in determining a road plan.

“There has to be an equal load of work and cover as much (roads) as we can,” Brown said.

He didn’t recommend giving the task of road maintenance to township boards.

“We need to make what we have now work better,” Brown said.

He cited that $5 million per year is available for county roads. The question that needs to be answered, Brown said, is how can we make the $5 million work the best for the county?

Employees should be trained on a regular basis to maintain ditches and culverts. Work needs to be inspected and performances assessed to make sure employees are using their training.

“If we can stay on top of it for a couple of years, we can break old habits and establish new ones,” Brown said. “We need to have the best ditches and culvert program in Kansas.”

The commission already had considered changing the classifications of some county roads and Brown echoed that change.

Brown said there are too many paved roads to maintain.

“It’s an unpopular decision to go from a paved road to rock,” he said.

Sunflower and Indigo roads should be maintained but Brown suggested the commission consider rocking Nighthawk and Kanza roads. Other suggestions also were made.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said he had reservations about changing the classification of Nighthawk Road since that is road that is used for out-of-county people to go to Marion Reservoir and Marion County Lake.

Brown suggested the commission designate the “untouchable” roads that will continue being paved i.e., chipped and sealed. The other roads should be top-notch graveled roads.

“People would rather have a good graveled road rather than a terrible paved road,” Brown said. “You have $5 million and 40 employees in the road and bridge department. Maybe you need more employees in that department.”

Decisions need to be made, Brown said, to bring the county’s revenues in line with expenses.

A plan should be developed within six months and implemented, Brown said.

He also noted that the county hadn’t spent the allotment of funds for road improvements.

Commissioner Dan Holub said the weather had been a factor in slowing down repairs.

Brown suggested more cross-training so when the weather is good, there would be more workers available to do the road work.

Water quality

Marion Reservoir and Marion County Lake are the two largest county assets, Brown said, and should be protected every way possible.

The county needs to determine the easiest and a fail-safe way to keep zebra mussels from invading the county lake and look at issues regarding water quality at the reservoir.

Economic development

Competitiveness is the county’s largest obstacle when it comes to economic development.

“We have to break down the competitiveness,” Brown said, saying that whenever a new business comes to a town within the county, the entire county benefits.

He said he had good reviews on Marion County Economic Development Director Theresa Huffman regarding her work with the communities. Those collaborative efforts needed to continue.

The commission was told that a written goal was needed from Huffman regarding agri-tourism.

Brown also suggested that Huffman coordinate a county calendar of events. If two major events are planned for the same day, as is the case for Labor Day weekend, there should be some collaboration between the event sponsors in scheduling and selling joint tickets so people would be encouraged to attend both events.

Web sites and signs should be coordinated to promote the county overall.

Business expansion

It is much easier to help existing businesses expand than to try to successfully bring in new businesses.

Health care

The county should establish a standard of training for emergency medical technicians and first responders.

Brown said he heard a complaint regarding the response territories. The county may want to review that issue.

He noted that Peabody will lose its doctor at the end of August. Maybe one of the hospitals could provide a doctor once a week in the smaller communities.

Communications cooperation

Marion County Commission should meet monthly with city council members and/or mayors to keep the lines of communication open.

Other information

One topic that was not mentioned, Brown said, was new technology. He noted that the county appraiser soon will be forced to purchase and adapt to a new computer software program. How will that be purchased and maintained?

“There’s no other way to increase county revenue other than to increase the mill levy,” Brown said, which may require the commission to consider user fees to offset costs.

Wind power also is being considered in other counties but not Marion County.

“Morris and McPherson counties are on the radar for wind power. Why isn’t Marion County?” Brown asked. “Do we want to be?”

Holub said the county had zoned an area for wind turbines and there was an individual in the county interested in pursuing it.

“It doesn’t affect the county in the beginning but could provide less expensive power,” Brown said. “We need to be on the radar.”

Another issue that was not included in the preliminary plan was the county jail. Brown suggested a cost-benefit analysis be presented to voters, showing the difference between paying for the construction of a new jail and the costs associated with remodeling the current jail.

“We need to make people a part of the solution,” Brown said.

At a previous meeting, the commission had reviewed the differences in costs between a new facility and renovations to the current jail.

The final draft of the strategic plan will be reviewed at Monday’s commission meeting.

The plan then will be sent to Hillsboro City Council for review and approval. The state requires cities with a population of 2,000 or more to sign off on the county plan.

The plan needs to be sent to the state by the end of September.

Last modified Aug. 20, 2008

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