• Last modified 482 days ago (April 25, 2018)


Feds talk jobs, crime, radios, and more

Washington official gets low-down from locals on county stop

Staff writer

Local officials took the rare opportunity of a visit from a Washington official to lay out numerous challenges they would like to help addressing.

Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, stopped at the courthouse in Marion en route to a rural opportunities conference in Newton.

What brought her to Marion was that the county earlier used a USDA rural development grant to purchase an 800 MHz radio system for the sheriff’s office and EMS department, and one of the things Hazlett wanted to know was what the radio system is doing for the county.

While fire chiefs have expressed concerns about coverage areas, Sheriff Robert Craft said the system provides good coverage for the county.

She then asked about crime in the county and what issues the county faces.

Craft said the county has issues with people struggling with addiction and also finding a place for people with mental illness.

“Jail is not the place for them,” Craft said.

Marion city administrator Roger Holter added that transportation is a related issue with people with mental health issues. There are no facilities close to the county where they can be taken.

Hazlett asked what type of people Craft sees most often when they are dealing with addiction and he said people in their late 20s and 30s seem to be most common among them. He noted they often have job struggles, with mostly low-paying jobs available to them.

Holter said job availability is an issue of concern in the county.

“The further ahead on the curve we can get for kids coming out of school, the better it will get,” Holter said.

Hazlett asked about broadband availability in the county, and Holter said rural areas of the county have poor access.

Hazlett said the agency has gotten some new funding for broadband availability.

When Hazlett asked about medical services, Heitschmidt said although hospitals have a tax basis to support them, it can be difficult to expand services.

Holter said the population is aging.

“The average age in our county is 64 years old,” Holter said. “The last time I looked, it was 63 years.”

Before the USDA representatives headed to the conference in Newton, they toured the dispatch center to see the infrastructure of the new radio system and talk to dispatchers.

Among those attending the meeting were Tom Finger and Chelsea Morris, loan specialists for the USDA regional office in Newton, and Diana Mata, loan technician; Josh Clevenger and Luke Steele, Emergency Medical Service employees; Marion fire chief Mike Regnier, mayor Todd Heitschmidt, economic development director Randy Collett; Lynne Hinrichsen, USDA Rural Development state director; and Katie Sawyer, district director for Congressman Roger Marshall.

Last modified April 25, 2018