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County backs plan promoting healthy lifestyles
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 In other business Monday morning, the Barton County Commission:

• Heard the 2015 annual report on the Barton County Noxious Weed Department presented by Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips. The Kansas Department of Agriculture, Weed and Pesticide Division, requires that each county’s Noxious Weed Department submit an annual report of their activities for the previous year. 

For the most part, the department is self funded through chemical sales and labor charges. 

• Heard an update from County Engineer Barry McManaman on the Cow Creek Flood Mapping project that is now underway. The Working Group representing Barton County met with the Division of Water Resources officials and other interested persons on Feb. 23. Topics included accomplishments to date and future plans, McManaman said.

This is a serious matter, McManaman said. There are property owners who could find themselves in a flood plane and now be required to carry flood insurance.

There will be opportunities announced for pubic input, and in Barton County, those will occur from the late summer through the end of 2016.

• Approved being a part of the Kansas Legislative Policy Group Oil and Gas Valuation Policy Committee. Its purpose is to provide KLPG member counties with a process to review and identify oil and gas valuation protest cases, filed for appeal with the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals, in which the issues are not supported by the Oil and Gas Guide and/or existing case law. 

The Committee will review cases which contain certain legal issues that could negatively impact KLPG member counties and are suitable for support and submit that recommendation to the KLPG Executive Committee. By being involved, the commission will be able to nominate members to the committee.

• Approved an amended resolution transferring and carrying over 2015 unexpended funds to the capital improvement and equipment replacement funds and rescinding a resolution adopted Feb. 29. During last week’s agenda meeting, the commission approved the transfers. After the resolution’s adoption, it was discovered that the money available for transfer for Road and Bridge did not include all 2015 accruals. As a result, the funds available for transfer have changed, resulting in the need for corrective action, County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said.

 Noting the health of residents is a critical issue, the Barton County Commission Monday morning backed a plan promoting improved walking and bicycling opportunities in the county.

Commissioners strongly supported the 147-page Barton County Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan presented by Be Well Barton County, a coalition promoting active transportation issues. 

“It’s important for use to take a leadership role,” said Commissioner Jennifer Schartz. The plan features chapters for the larger communities in the county and the county as a whole, the latter of which was endorsed Monday.

“This is a very important step for our community,” said Janel Rose, Barton County health educator and coalition member. “It is all about connectivity (within and between communities) and safety.”

The Golden Belt Community Foundation received a Healthy Communities Initiative grant from the Kansas Health Foundation almost four years ago. Be Well Barton County was formed and operates under Central Kansas Partnership. 

Then, in 2015, Be Well Barton County contracted with RDG Consultants of Omaha, Neb., to develop a county-wide bicycle and pedestrian master plan. Through a survey and series of community workshops and community meetings (in Claflin, Ellinwood, Great Bend and Hoisington), concerns and data were collected. 

“The end result is an adaptable plan that includes both county and community networks encouraging active transportation,” Rose said. “This is a living, breathing document.”

That plan is now complete, creating a cohesive vision that may be used by local governments as a tool for planning and development, Rose said. 

She provided information about the health impact of active transportation and the general goals of the plan. “The plan reflects that connectivity and safety are paramount in fostering an environment that is both traveler and resident friendly.” 

It may seem like common sense, but “access to physical activity opportunities has strong evidence for improving overall disease prevention and fitness levels for people of all ages,” Rose said. Active transportation helps everything from disease prevention to healthier bodies to better cognitive function in the elderly, and to encouraging children to walk or bike to school. 

County health ranking for Barton County fell from ranking 64 in 2012 to 68 in 2014 and then to 86 in 2015 among Kansas counties, Rose said. “We need to improve overall health of our community or we will continue to fall in health ranking compared to other counties who are addressing needs of their residents.” 

Rose said the plan addresses both short and long term goals. An initial phase, attainable within a five-year period, proposes color-coated routes identified by number. Most of the system uses existing streets, roads and paths with additional signage, and way-finding displays. 

Later phases include trail segments and trail heads. The plan also speaks to pedestrian needs such as crosswalks, crossing signals, and curb ramps. 

The plan is being presented to the Ellinwood City Council tonight and to the Great Bend City Council later in the month. Dates for presentations in Claflin and Hoisington have yet to be announced.