County travels a bumpy road during a year of challenges

South Cottonwood River erosion threatened the stability of the road and bridge along 190th Street west of Marion during 2016. County commissioners closed the comprised area indefinitely starting Sept. 1.
South Cottonwood River erosion threatened the stability of the road and bridge along 190th Street west of Marion during 2016. County commissioners closed the comprised area indefinitely starting Sept. 1.
Marion County leaders traveled a difficult road during 2016 mostly because of… difficult roads.

County commissioners were frequently dealing with maintenance complaints on unpaved rural roads, then were forced to close 190th Street, a key travel artery between Marion and Hills­boro, because it was be undermined by river erosion.

Economic development took on a new face during the year. Marion City Council appointed Randy Collett as the city’s director. Then the county initiated the Econo­mic Development Commit­­tee comprised largely of local business volunteers to provide new vision county-wide.

Commissioners approved a $425,000 project to put new windows in the historic courthouse, but were frustrated by inadequate funding to address county roads and other issues, thanks to state legislators.

January

A look at Road and Bridge Department needs revealed that many are critical to the well-being of a rural county but difficult to finance.

Joel Hayes, 76, long-time resident of Florence, volunteered his time to clear tree limbs and other litter that got stuck under the Fifth Street Bridge in Flo­rence.

February

Marion City Council introduced Randy Collett as its new economic development director during its Feb. 15 meeting. Roger Holter, city administrator, said Collett was unanimously recommended for the position by a group of individuals with Marion Eco­nomic Development Inc.

More than 50 people attended a public meeting on the economic future of the county held at the Marion Community Center and moderated by commissioner Randy Dallke. Nearly every town in the county was represented. Discussions ranged from attracting more young people and promoting entrepreneurs, to consolidating jobs, agri-tourism and more.

A forecast released by the Center for Economic Devel­op­­ment and Business Research at Wichita State University projected that Marion County will lose two-thirds of its population by 2064 if current trends continue.

Tonya Richards, county director of planning, zoning and environmental health, resigned her post after a 10-minute executive session for personnel.

March

Marion County volunteer firefighters had their hands full March 6 fight­ing grass fires near Hillsboro and Florence. More than 1,200 acres burned near Florence.

Commis­sioner Dan Holub said the county took possession of the abandoned high school building in Florence March 1 after no one put in a minimum bid of $3,000 to buy it.

Emergency Medical Ser­vices Interim Director Ed Debesis was named EMS director by commis­sioners following a 15-minute executive session.

Kansas Attorney Gen­eral Derek Schmidt came to Pea­body to deliver a simple message: Be wary of any uninvited money-related solicitations that come to you via phone, email, postal service or personal contact. About 26 seniors listened to his message on scams at the Pea­body Township Library,

County commissioner gave final approval for Trade Wind Energy, headquartered in Lenexa, to install about a half-dozen temporary test turbines in the Tampa area. The project will measure whether wind speeds justify installing a larger wind turbine farm to generate electricity.

Firefighters from Marion County were among the multitude of emergency responders from around the state and beyond who responded to wildfires that consumed nearly 500,000 acres in Kansas and Okla­homa.

April

Centre High School sophomore Jacob Bittle, 15, celebrated what relatively few other Boy Scouts have been able to achieve: the rank of Eagle Scout.

County commissioners took the lead by putting together a task force, and requested volunteers to serve on a committee researching economic development.

Two-way traffic was allowed for motorists using North Third Street, between Main Street and Santa Fe in Marion, effective April 6 following approval at the March 28 council meeting.

County fire chiefs asked county commissioners to enforce rules that could include up to a month in jail and a $500 fine for ranchers who purposely light native-grass fires that get away in the wind. The request came after about 70 fires were called in to departments during the first seven days of April.

The Goessel Community Foundation awarded five community grants totaling $2,150 to five applicants during the April 15 five-year Celebration & Recognition event hosted by the foundation board.

The city of Marion heard it will receive $715,904 in state funding to enhance its downtown area on Main Street, from First to Fifth streets. City Administrator Roger Holter said the total project cost is $894,880 with Marion paying 20 percent of it ($178,976).

The Goessel City Council discussed finding a buyer for the Harvest Meadow housing addition. One lot has sold and has a house. The city recently gained possession of the remaining empty lots since the previous owner had not paid taxes on them. The city paid for the infrastructure in the development. “We still owe $300,000,” Mayor Dave Schrag told the council.

May

Emma Tajchman of Marion was announced as the new county planning and zoning director at the May 9 commission meeting.

The Marion City Council passed an ordinance that will allow residents to have up to 20 female chickens or hens on a residential property, but no roosters will be allowed.

Terry Eberhard was the lead spokesman for a group of Peabody-area men asking county commissioners for more sand and less gravel on their roads. Eberhard said traffic is moving slower with rough gravel.

Marion Reservoir Corps of Engineers park rangers Scott Dodson and Wes Hen­sen were presented with a Life Saving Award May 18 by representatives from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The actions of the park rangers and game wardens on May 25, 2015, resulted in safely retrieving a disabled vessel occupied by a family in tornadic conditions.

June

The 20th annual Chinga­wassa Days at Central Park in Marion was considered a success by organizers. Jenna Brunner, a committee members, said the event “hit another home run.” Brun­ner estimated 1,500 people attended the three-day event June 3-5, including vendors, volunteers and buttons sold.

County commissioners began organizing the new county economic development committee under the temporary chairmanship of Chris Hernan­dez. The commissioners told Hernandez that although they would like the number of members on the committee reduced to five or six from the 15 who have volunteered, they expect that to happen by withdrawal of participants when they learn the scope and intention of the group.

EMS Director Ed Debesis was given permission by commissioners May 31 to hire two full-time paid medical technicians for the currently all-volunteer ambu­lance service.

The Marion County Fair Board announced it will be making several changes to this year’s schedule, from adding new events, moving some events to different days and having the fair at the very end of July.

County commissioners wanted to save money by closing old, damaged bridges on dirt roads. Affected landowners would be invited to a commission meeting to be determined. Commis­sioners decided to close a deteriorated bridge at 170th and Goldenrod.

Seven members were named by commissioners to serve as voting participants on the new economic development committee that will attempt to define and attract new businesses to the county. Committee members selected were Chris Hernan­dez, Craig Dodd, Roger Hol­ter, Russell Groves, Tammy Ensey, Jim Hefley and Jared Jost.

County commissioners decided June 30 to pay for weatherization and restoration of the historic courthouse windows from the special county building account of the general fund rather than seek financing. The estimated cost of the project was estimated between $600,000 to more than $800,000.

July

With varying reports of 6 to 8 inches of rain falling upon Marion County July 1-3, Emergency Management Director Randy Frank said flood damage to property was limited. “We had some minor flooding throughout the county,” he said. “Some of the roadways were blocked off for a period of time, but they’ve all been opened up again.”

Gerken Environmental of Springfield, Mo., was tentatively awarded the bid to restore the historically approved county courthouse windows at $425,000 plus other expenses that might arise.

County commissioners were told by an engineer that erosion is leaving a washout hole under the west end of the South Cottonwood River bridge on 190th east of Night­hawk. The engineer said the county may need to build a new bridge and contiguous highway.

Commissioners were told federal funding may be available to help rebuild the road east of Old Mill Road on 190th by the Cottonwood River. Matt Meyer­hoff, supervisory district conservationist for the U.S. Depart­ment of Agricul­ture said the county likely will be eligible for 75 percent funding on the project with most of the county’s 25 percent share provided by road and bridge labor and equipment.

August

Cooler weather provided a respite from the usual heat during Goessel’s 2016 Country Thresh­ing Days. Despite a light rain that fell Saturday morning, Bren­don Nafziger, of the board of The WHEAT Co., said attendance was around 950 paid attendees, not including 150 exhibitors and an estimated 200 to 300 children who got in for free.

Two county commission incumbents who won the primary election will face competition this fall. Dan Holub and Randy Dallke both won the Republican primary for their respective districts. In District 2, Dianne No­vak of Tampa and write-in candidate Michael Beneke of Lincolnville will be running against Holub. In District 3, Tom Britain of Florence, and write-in Amy Soyez of Peabody will challenge Dallke.

The Marion County Relay for Life event raised $22,526 for the Ameri­can Cancer Society, according to Debbie Conner, local coordinator. With the theme, “Paint Your World Purple,” the event featured traditional events along with new ceremonies at Marion’s sports stadium.

Florence youth will be able to use what was once the high school home economics building as a church-sanctioned recreation building. County commissioners agreed to put up chain-link fencing, or other fencing barrier, between the building and the collapsing old high school building.

County commissioners approved a 5-mill budget increase for 2017, plus a 2-mill assessed valuation increase. Budget consultant Scott Loyd said the county’s situation is “one of the more challenging” he has seen in 33 years of county budget hearings across the state.

September

After watching an area of 190th Street continue to deteriorate due to river erosion, county commissioners decided Sept. 1 to close the road indefinitely.

Commission chair Randy Dallke asked candidates running for commissioner positions in November to be more considerate and cautious in how they attempt to talk to county department heads. He said some department heads felt they were being put in jeopardy when asked to criticize commissioners for whom they work.

The 95th anniversary open house at the Can­ton Township Carnegie Library not only celebrated something old, but also the anticipation for something new. The library, overlooking Main Street, officially opened Oct. 1, 1921, as the last of 2,059 Carnegie libraries to be built in the United States. The board is planning a $400,000 addition that will increase floor space and provide handicap accessibility.

October

County commissioners were approached by Rickey Roberts, county extension agent, about pursuing a united extension district with Marion and McPherson counties.

Now in its 30th year, the Lincolnville Octoberfest isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon, according to Mayor Barb Kaiser. The 25 entries for the Oct. 1 parade were down slightly, but participation in other events was up, she said. Barb and Lester Kaiser served as grand marshals.

Marion County Park and Lake hosted three events: a chili cook-off, a car show and a corn-hole competition. Lake superintendent Steve Hudson said it was another “awesome turnout” for all three events.

It’s never too late to experience the joy of making music by learning to play a musical instrument. That was the message from Mike Ward and Mike Martin, both of Wichita, who were the featured speakers at the 56th annual meeting of the Sen­ior Citi­zens of Marion County at the Marion Senior Center. Both men began or renewed their musical interests later in life.

County commissioners approved a wellness pilot pro­­­gram for employees that will begin in January and be revisited six months after its implementation. The proposal was developed by Gayla Ratz­laff, coordinator of Depart­ment on Aging, Diedre Serene, administrator of the health department, and Renae Riedy, extension agent. It will include lunch and a guest speaker talking about a specific health issue.

November

A stream of 158 motorcycles and 25 classic cars exited Marion to drop off presents in Hillsboro for county children. The toy run has raised more than $175,000 during its 22-year history.

Organizers of the Marion County Health Fair said taking a different approach was a positive move, even though the number of vendors and attenders was slightly lower than the previous two years. It was held at the Sports Aquatic Center in Marion.

The incumbent county commissioner in District 2, Dan Holub (R), lost to Dianne Novak (I), 715-994, in the Nov. 8 general election.

In the presidential race, Marion County voters favored Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a margin of 3,928 to 1,777.

The Marion City Council voted unanimously to approve a Christmas lighting contest for city residents with the top three winners receiving $500, $300 or $100.

County commissioners voted unanimously to accept a revised economic development charter presented by Chris Hernandez, speaking on behalf of the committee. Commission chair Randy Dallke said the verbiage in the original document “was hard to un­­der­­stand.”

December

Marion County commissioners learned that almost all the restored courthouse windows have a white border and sash instead of a sand-colored look, which was the original agreement.

County commissioners agreed Dec. 12 to purchase the former Straub Inter­national building and grounds for $325,0002. Holub said a storage facility they considered building would have cost the county about $300,000. “For $25,000 more, we got a building we can store equipment in,” Holub said.