County to ask about reducing acres needed for rural homes

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The Marion County Commission indicated Monday it will confer with Jim Kaup, Topeka attorney who acts as consultant for the county on planning and solid waste matters, about putting in changes it wants in the county plan to allow smaller plots for more rural housing in the county.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said in visiting with citizens around the county, he has only met one or two people who thought current zoning regulations that might require up to 40 acres to build a house in the country were OK.

He said everybody else wants the requirement for every place in the county taken down to five acres.

Commission Chairman Bob Hein said, “That is what I’m experiencing, too. Requiring 40 acres is just too much, but a lot of people would go for five. I’d like to see it.”

Commissioner Dan Holub said he would take the requirement in some cases down even further to two or three acres, especially in cases of old farmsteads without lived-in homes. He said many farmers would sell an abandoned farmstead of two or three acres, but they don’t want to lose acreage from their fields to bring it up to five acres.

Holub said they ought to be able to sell as small of a plot as can be allowed for safe water and sewage development.

Holub asked Planning and Zoning Director David Brazil if he could pre-qualify home sites for prospective buyers for water and sewage development.

Brazil said he prefers to tell prospective buyers what they will need in the locations they might buy, and then come in to specifically qualify what they want to build.

Brazil said “my hands are tied” to do anything more than what is allowed in black and white under county zoning rules.

Holub replied, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”

Holub added that he thought any road in the county should be opened to small acreage development, even if it’s one the county has quit gravelling. He said many new homeowners would pay for part of the gravel with the county providing the rest, plus the trucking and labor.

Holub said, “Our county is struggling now. We’ve got to bring in more jobs and more people. We have to get out, and get going. If the development gets to be too much for what we want to be, we can shut it down. We can be big enough to go back to more restrictions.”

Brazil cautioned the commissioners that allowing the reduced acreages might not accomplish all they want it to.

He said at meetings for professionals there have been scenarios where added housing costs counties more than it brought in.

Dallke characterized changing the rules as adding one more spark that might set off needed development.

Holub said he also is concerned about the number of acres being taken out of agricultural production in the county by land buyers who only want land for hunting birds.

Brazil advised the commissioners to put changes they want in writing so the Planning and Zoning Commission has a clear mandate to follow.

Holub said he is disturbed by “misinformation” put out by the State of Kansas at a recent county meeting that apparently was funded by environmental groups which showed Marion County as a heavy industrial area while some neighboring counties were shown as predominantly farm land.

Brazil, who also is director of the county transfer station, said he has been conferring with Acting Road and Bridge Supervisor Jim Herzet about arranging for employees of both departments to wear county uniform shirts.

Emergency Medical Services Director Darryl Thiesen reported that back-ambulance billing has moved into January of this year with $147,433 collected in 2005. Weekly receipts this year have totalled anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000.

The pace of billing has accelerated with one additional employee, he said.

Thiesen said there were 91 ambulance calls in April, five from Florence, 39 from Hillsboro, 36 from Marion, nine from Peabody and two from Tampa.

They included 13 transfers, seven cardiac, 25 medical emergencies, seven stand-by, seven vehicle accidents and 10 falls.

First-responder calls included five from Goessel, three from Lincolnville, one from Durham, three from Burns and one from Marion.

Herzet told the commissioners that rising oil prices have pushed the cost of oil for a county road from $4,700 a mile to $5,500 a mile.

The commissioners told Herzet to proceed in spending $62,000 for CNK road-surfacing material.

After a 15-minute executive session for personnel with Director of Communications and Emergency Management Michele Abbott-Becker, the commissioners accepted the resignation of Jennie Cramer in dispatch, authorized moving a part-time employee to full-time and hiring another part-time employee.

Holub asked Dale Snelling, park director at Marion County Lake, about putting in more camping sites with electricity and water at Pier Point, and perhaps more developments on the south side of the lake.

Snelling said investing in improvements at rates of $15,000 to $20,000 would pay back the investment quickly.

He added that if the commissioners decide to develop more sites, they also will need to consider where to stop before the lake becomes too crowded.

He cited the swimming beach as an example, saying it can have as many as 500 swimmers on a Fourth of July weekend, but the commissioners might want to question whether to encourage 500 more. He said boating on the water surface already is at capacity.

Snelling said fishing at the lake started out good this year with the water rising to 64 degrees, which encouraged fish movement for spawning. But after several frosts, the water temperature dropped to 55 degrees, he said. Now it has returned to 62 degrees, but it remains to be seen what the temperature interruption will do to fishing, he said.

The commissioners approved a bid of $1,537 for an IBM computer printer plus $355 for a three-year service contract, from Integrated Technologies of Wichita.

Great Plains Computers of Marion offered a competitive bid of $1,757 for the printer, and CDW bid $1,697.

The commissioners acknowledged notice from the Kansas Development Finance Authority that it has let a $36,700 bond, which has the option of being extended up to $250,000, to finance a beginning farmer, Justin Schroeder, four miles south of Goessel, to acquire 31 acres plus improvements and equipment in the NW1/4, 34-21-1.

The commissioners had the right to veto the financing.

Holub met with the advisory committee for economic development to clarify qualifications for a county-wide economic officer.

He said the group decided to call the person an economic coordinator instead of director to clarify what the person will be expected to do.

They specified that the person will spend most time out of the office. “We want them beating the bushes” at local, state and national levels.

The group clarified responsibility on having the coordinator report to the county commission, and favored experience and skill over educational level.

The commissioners approved a bid of $549 from Sunflower Office Supplies of Newton for a fax machine in the county attorney office over other bids up to $749.

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