Voices for community tradition, development clash at commission

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Forces of rural traditions and economics versus those of developing community interests popped to the forefront in two Marion County Commissions in the last week.

In the regular Monday meeting, county fair board members and commissioners questioned adding new bleachers and future developments at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro without clear indications from the city that its interests include keeping the fair.

Commissioners were confronted in the Wednesday payday meeting by a group of farmers who said changing zoning rules to encourage small-acreage residential development conflicts with their economic interest.

Thrown into the mix were efforts by commissioners that appear to bring them closer to a public bond issue vote that would finance replacing the county jail with a community correction center that would accept prisoners for pay from other counties.

Fair board concerns

Fair Board members brought in a proposal for the county to buy a used steel framework 246 feet by 10 rows aluminum plank bleachers for the east side of the rodeo arena for $85,000. Member Kurt Spachek suggested that the county could pay the Colorado company, DGJD Inc., through a lease-purchase plan, but added later that the county might want a new agreement with Hillsboro before proceeding with anything.

Fair Board President Chuck McLinden explained that the City of Hillsboro owns the land at the fairgrounds, but the county owns the improvements such as all the buildings and the arena facilities. The Marion County Fair Board is charged with operation of the improvements.

McLinden said the only formalization is a 1972 agreement with the city that was to last 50 years.

“The agreement is very vague about who is in charge of what, and who has the right to do what where,” he said.

The city has been very cooperative with the fair board in the recent past, he said. For instance, city workers have moved and connected power lines.

But then, in the last year, McLinden added, “Hillsboro took steps to build a new aquatic center on land we had used for a majority of our parking for many years.”

McLinden said the city had not advised the Fair Board in advance of the development. He said his information about it had come from reading the Free Press.

McLinden said the fair’s carnival traditionally has been located on a baseball field to the north and east of the buildings. He said last year the city told the board it couldn’t use the field for the carnival, but then, after discussions, relented to allow it there.

He said the city also built a permanent fence to the south of the ball diamond that prohibits fair-going livestock trailers from parking there, and another fence to west that can be taken down if need be for events.

McLinden said even being able to have a carnival in the future is in question. Part of the problem is how it will be placed on the fairgrounds in relationship to the city’s needs, and part of it is that the carnival that has been coming is not coming back for lack of sufficient profit at last year’s event.

McLinden said he contacted a Topeka-based carnival about coming this year, but the manager told him he would require a guaranteed base fee of $15,000, which is triple what the carnival made last year.

McLinden said his research shows that more than half of American carnivals have gone out of business since the 9/11 terrorist attack because of rises in insurance and fuel costs.

Although Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke has desired to continue ongoing discussions about the fair, McLinden said there probably should be a new agreement to clarify the diversity of opinions that could affect the fair’s future.

He noted that the Fair Board has 24 members while the Hillsboro City Council has four councilors, plus the mayor.

Board member JoAnn Knak said most misunderstandings with the city in the past have been minor things that were resolved.

Spachek said the bleacher purchase is so desirable in solving additional seating and handicapped accessibility issues that the Fair Board can’t afford to pass it up. He said the company was only willing to wait until this week with the Commission meeting to guarantee sale to Marion County.

Holub and Commissioner Randy Dallke said they wouldn’t make a decision on the bleachers without Commissioner Bob Hein present. He had to leave the afternoon session of the meeting for a previously made appointment.

Development concerns

Harold and Jennifer Stultz of rural Hillsboro led a group before commissioners Wednesday who voiced concerns with Commission proposals to allow building homes on plots as small as three acres with as many as 16 homes per section throughout the county.

Harold Stultz said many of the 25 farmers and ranchers he contacted throughout the county haven’t been fully aware of the Commission proposals because they are too busy. But, he said, opening as much as 55,000 acres of county lands to this type of development now has their attention and the opposition of 23 of them.

He said only two of those contacted favored the small acreage.

Jennifer Stultz said acreage termed wasteland suitable for development under the proposals area often are desirable buffer zones between farms that provide wildlife cover. Without wildlife cover, she said, Marion County would lose much of the attraction it now has for tourists and hunters.

Harold said that according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for every $1 in additional tax revenue generated from new rural residents, $1.11 in revenue was required to meet their additional services demands.

Plus this, he said farm operations are disrupted by the protests of new neighbors against chemical applications and manure smells.

Mike Meissinger said that the livestock business, in particular beef cattle, has been one of the best economic development factors to bring young farmers and ranchers back to the land. He said it is a leading issue that residential development threatens livestock farming. He said it is in the county’s interest to insure that future farm generations can return to the land to become tax payers.

Richard Meissinger said rural residential areas often become blight areas as new residents find that too many neighbors moving into the area eliminates the reasons they moved there. He said that wildlife and peace are reduced, expenses are high and new residents allow the area to deteriorate.

Chuck DeForest said most farmers and ranchers prefer the former zoning plan requiring 40 acres in most rural areas to build a home.

Richard Meissinger called the commissioners to respect the years of thoughtful work previous commissions have put in on the plan.

The commissioners said that up until the visit of this group, most public commentary to them has run in favor of more rural residential sites and smaller acreage.

Holub said plans developed by the last Commission to preserve the best croplands from development should preserve agriculture.

Dallke said unrestrained development is not a danger for Marion County.

The Stultzes said it would be if the county was opened up despite its distance from larger cities.

Correctional facility

County Clerk Carol Maggard was directed by the commissioners Monday to add Marion County to Kansas House Bill 2793 that, if approved, would allow the county to add a 1 percent sales tax to fund up to $10 million in bonds that could be issued to help finance a correctional facility.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the correctional facility proposal at 7 p.m. March 6 in the Marion County courtroom on the third floor of the courthouse. Consultant Dan Hall said at the Wednesday meeting that a proposed 72-bed facility could cost up to $9 million, more if new facilities for the District Court are added.

Sheriff Lee Becker’s contention that overcrowding of prison leaves the current jail operating on “a shoestring and a prayer” as far as potential liabilities seemed to be supported Monday by a list of complaints from prisoners. Among complaints were having to sleep on the floor because of crowding, inadequate plumbing, no allowance to go outside for exercise, and no reading materials or television to help pass time.

Becker said some complaints can’t be remedied because of inadequate staffing. He said often regular courthouse employees and members of the public don’t like prisoners coming outside because of factors such as intimidation.

District Judge Michael Powers said adequate jail room helps in “work release” sentences where prisoners return at night and on weekends after regular jobs. He said this helps in their rehabilitation, and puts them and their families in better financial positions after time is served.

Hall and Deputy Gary Klose noted that even with new facilities in some area counties, jail populations are expected to grow faster than new construction. County Attorney Susan Robson said she “couldn’t even put a cost figure” on what it could mean for the county if an inmate was hurt because of the inadequate facility.

Hall said a site chosen for a corrections facility would likely have to be a minimum of three acres.

Other business

Maggard reported funds paid out for payday at $1,144,002.68 that included annual expenses ranging from insurance to extension. Sales tax received for January was $49,622.67.

Peggy Blackman, in charge of watershed sediment remediation efforts for Marion Reservoir for USDA, told commissioners Monday that she will upgrade efforts to help agricultural producers slow sedimentation by requesting another $100,000 over the $90,000 she now receives annually from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. She said the county will need to expect to come up with local funds to match Reservoir grants in the future.

Holub asked Blackman to contact Congressman Jerry Moran’s office to keep him abreast of reservoir efforts.

The commissioners approved Noxious Weed Director Rollin Schmidt’s proposal to replace a truck bed with a new one from Hillsboro Industries for $2,452.

They authorized Road and Bridge Director Jim Herzet to seek bids on two “generic” steel bridges to be built this summer at 250th and Indigo and 240th and Clover.

Herzet also will seek pricing for 10,000 tons of patching cold mix and for Kansas Department of Transportation physical exams for employees with commercial driver’s licenses.

Becker is to seek bids on squad cars.

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