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County officials find conference valuable
Sessions offer info on transportation, hemp and taxes
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Three Barton County commissioners and other county officials attended the Kansas Association of Counties annual conference in Wichita last Tuesday. In their report during the County Commission meeting Monday morning, attendees said it was the most valuable KAC gathering they’ve experienced.

“I enjoyed the sessions,” said Commissioner Kenny Schremmer. He felt he garnered more information than he had in the past few years.

Those who went took turns going over their key takeaways from the convention. KAC represents the majority of the counties from all across the state. 

Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said she like what she heard from Kansas Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz, who addressed changes in the Kansas Department of Transportation’s approach to improvement projects. There is a move to phase out the 10-year Transportation Works for Kansas (T-Works) program to a new approach known as Forward Kansas, which would be continually funded and updated every two years.

This, Schartz said, would allow the list of projects to remain more fresh and relevant. 

She also heard about Kansas Counts, an initiative of the Kansas League of Municipalities. This provides materials for local governments and communities to promote the census.  

“We need to make sure we are accurately counted,” she said. Rural areas stand to lose a great deal if their populations are not fairly represented.

Another session she attended was presented by Douglas County on its efforts to keep the mentally ill out of jails. This was of interest since Barton County in October approved being involve in the Stepping Up initiative aimed at the very same issue.

Douglas County helped pilot Stepping Up and has seen great success in the past three years, she said. That county now has a separate facility to care for those with mental illnesses to keep them from being incarcerated.

This may not be on Barton County’s horizon, but “it bodes well for us,” Schartz said.

Commissioner Jim Dailey sat in on a meeting about the grant money available from the United States Department of Agriculture. “They have millions of dollars,” he said.

“We are looking for creative ways we can receive money,” he said. The county should look at tapping into more these funds.

For Schremmer, he saw potential in the program on industrial hemp production. “Some people are buying into that,” he said, noting a farmer in the Galatia area is involved.

“It can be very expensive,” he said. And, it can be very labor-intensive at first, and it is more attractive to larger farm operations.

County Appraiser Barb Esfeld said there is legislation in the works that would allow counties to turn valuations in every two years rather than annually. While this would work for Barton County, it would be challenging for larger counties where valuations can fluctuate more, she said.

These swings in property values can cause headaches for taxpayers if they have to wait two years to know what they have to pay. There is an option that would send estimates to taxpayers annually.

motor grader pic
Pictured is a Barton County Road and Bridge Department motor grader at work. The County Commission Monday morning approved the replacement of one of the department’s five graders. - photo by Tribune file photo

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Commissioners presented a report on their attendance of the Kansas Association of Counties annual meeting last Tuesday in Wichita.  

• Approved the replacement of a motor grader for the Barton County Road and Bridge Department. 

The department utilizes five motor graders for various jobs to include ditch clean-out, snow removal and asphalt overlay. It was suggested that a 2002 John Deere 770CH be replaced. 

Bids were solicited from Foley Equipment and Murphy Tractor. Included is a trade in option of a 1983 120G Caterpillar motor grader that is currently operated at the Barton County Landfill. County Works Director Darren Williams and County Administrator Phil Hathcock provided the details. The commission accepted was the Foley Tractor bid for $165,000, including the trade.

• Heard an informational update on departmental activities from County Administrator Phil Hathcock.