County leaning toward smaller home acreages

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Support for allowing five-acre rural residential sites and perhaps some smaller sites continued to build as the Marion County Commission continued its study of the new county plan Monday.

But the support wasn’t without a kicker now and then.

Commission Chairman Howard Collett said rural residents on small acreages ought to have an attachment to their deeds saying they shouldn’t expect the road they live on to ever be improved beyond what it is already.

Collett, who has favored allowing the residential small acreages on any all-weather road including gravel instead of only hard surface, said given the state and county financial burdens, the county should specify a current level of maintenance only, and perhaps even a right to return some blacktops to gravel.

Commissioner Leroy Wetta said the disclaimer could even specify “minimal average” roads.

Wetta also supported the cities’ hopes that new construction within their three-mile influence zones be according to code.

Wetta said, with a nod to representatives from Marion and Hillsboro who attended, even agricultural building should be by code “because you wouldn’t want a 5,000-head feedlot built in that area.”

David Brazil, county zoning and planning director, agreed with Wetta as long as the cities’ influence on agriculture was only in the influence zones.

Collett also reiterated the plan should also allow for housing sites from the five acres on down to city lot size if public water and sewage were provided.

Commissioner Bob Hein asked Brazil if the state minimum size for sewage lagoon and water development wasn’t at three acres, and suggested the county might consider changing the five acres to three acres.

Brazil said that on some sites three acres is adequate, but he preferred the five acres on most because more size usually is needed with the location of wells, lagoons and buildings to keep everything sanitary.

When it came to keying development to soil type to protect the areas of highest food production value, Hein said some land classes in Marion County aren’t paying much in taxes, and may be more productive in housing.

Wetta said the commission should be concerned with protecting only the Nos. 1 and 2 classes of soils, and perhaps only No. 1.

Brazil said he wanted to encourage the commission to keep a “simple and balanced approach” in the county plan, and asked if the commissioners might want to involve a professional consultant.

Instead, the commissioners asked Brazil to continue keeping a list of changes they want to take to the Marion County Planning Board.

Steve Garrett, Hillsboro city administrator, who was at the meeting with Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke and Marion Development Director Susan Cooper, asked if small-acreage residents created any problem for agriculture in Marion County now.

Garrett suggested that since farmers probably originally sold the land, they must be aware of the situations created.

Brazil said the only problem area is in the southwest portion of the county, where inheritance subdivided farms, and sales into small acreages further subdivided it, making some small odd sizes that are difficult to work around.

Garrett noted that even in that area, the development was driven by natural circumstances and economics. He suggested the county might create problems by “artificially protecting” the land for agriculture or “artificially” making areas for development.

Collett said much of the real problem has been that the region grew from pioneer days with taxes resting on the agricultural base. But now, with farmers struggling to make a living, some of that has to change.

“If importing commuters’ salaries into the countryside is the way to bring more income to the county, we need to look at change so as not to be too restrictive on building sites,” Collett said.

“I agree,” Hein said.

Wetta said as long as development could be kept orderly, so that areas didn’t grow up to look “like dogpatch,” they would expect Marion County to attract a growing number of commuters to work centers like Wichita.

Brazil said the proposals from the commissioners would alleviate demand for small acreages by opening the market.

Marion County has done “an unbelievable job” in keeping up its bridge building program with only two deficient bridges in the county-and that’s better than any other county in Kansas, according to Milton Lowmaster of Cook, Flat & Strobel in a report to the commission.

Lowmaster said the Kansas Department of Transportation is encouraging counties to accelerate five-year bridge building plans to take advantage of $38 million in federal funds available to the state and counties that is not available to the state to use in other budget areas.

The commissioners voted to rescind speed limits on newly hard-surfaced roads to Tampa and Roxbury to allow a return to standard 55 mph limits.

The commissioners approved a proposal from County Health Administrator Jan Moffitt that Marion County join Sedgwick, Harper, Sumner, Cowley, Reno, Harvey and Butler counties in a designated regional area centered on Wichita to provide health coverage in case of terrorism attacks.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has approved the region, Moffitt said, with the first $32,000 in budget held in Butler County, but subject to approval from all counties before spending.

Moffitt said she has spent $9,000 from the first $16,000 in anti-bioterrorism federal funds received, and must spend the rest by Aug. 30 in order to receive the next $16,000.

She will be consulting with emergency, communications and medical leaders on needs Marion County has to meet threats.

County Clerk Carol Maggard showed commissioners the draft of a generic letter, developed with help from Jim Kaup, attorney for solid waste matters, to send residential and commercial property owners who wish to appeal their solid waste assessments.

Commissioners discussed various ways, such as paying off bonds early, to save the county money considering the likelihood that the state will continue in the future to fail to provide former funding levels to the county.

Dianna Carter, county appraiser, said a recent state study on Marion County valuations had given good ratios of 98.4 on residential and 105 on commercial, meaning the county is doing a good job in accurately determining values.

Bill Smithhart, noxious weed director, presented bids for herbicides, and the commissioners passed up one low bid to award instead to a bidder from within county.

Markley Service was awarded the first low bid of $11,286 for 12 110-gallon shuttles of 2-4-D Roadside.

Ag Services was awarded low bid on all remaining herbicides although in one case its $10,400 bid for 200 gallons of Bavil was outbid at $9,400 by Alenza of Carmargo, Ill.

The other low bids by Ag Services were $13,125 for 1,500 gallons of 2-4-D Amine, $8,475 for 750 gallons of 2-4-D LV, $11,662.50 for 150 gallons of Tordon 22K in 4×1 gallons and $11,475 for 150 gallons of Tordon 22K in 2×2.5 gallons.

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