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New commissioners hold first meeting
Newbees, veteran discuss state training
Newly elected Barton County commissioners Tricia Schlessiger, left, and Donna Zimmerman converse prior to the start of their first commission meeting Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOFF Great Bend Tribune

The newly minted Barton County Commission met for the first time with three of the five members taking their seats in the commission’s Courthouse chamber for their first full meeting since being elected last November and their orientation training last week in Topeka.

They were joined in a discussion of that new commissioner training, sponsored by the Kansas Association of Counties, by veteran District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld. Esfeld attended the in-person sessions to augment what she first learned when she participated  virtually in 2020.

“After being here for two years, I felt I had more questions,” she said.

The new commissioners included Duane Reif, District 1; Tricia Schlessiger, District 4; and Donna Zimmerman, District 5.

“It was very good. It was a long day and a half,” Esfeld said of the training in Topeka. “It was very beneficial.”

Among the takeaways for her were: The discussion of job descriptions for county commissioners; an in-depth talk on the county Home Rule Act, legislation that outlines the powers of local government; guidance on how to run a meeting, beyond the Roberts Rules of Order; the use of executive sessions; balancing one’s personal life with the duties of commissioner; and medical marijuana.

However, “if I took any really powerful thing that I will remember forever, it was the definition of decorum,” Esfeld said. “No one should speak unless they have a floor, respect everyone, and people should be able to argue without being argumentative. So I thought that was very good.”

They also delved into issues expected to arise during this legislative session. These include the Home Rule Act, property valuations, and property tax reductions, particularly the revival of the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund (LAVTR).

Funded through the sales of alcohol and cigarettes, the LAVTR is a program created in 1997 to share state sales tax dollars with local governments to lower property taxes, Esfeld said. However, it has not been funded since 2003, and since then, Kansas counties have been shorted $2 billion.

The other attendees also talked about what they learned.

“The key takeaway I had was just how important it is to work with elected officials. It’s really so important just to work together,” Reif said. He also learned what was expected of him as a commissioner.

“There was lots and lots of information and as a new commissioner, there’s a lot of it I didn’t understand and take in, but I felt like it was very beneficial.”

“One of the things that was really interesting to me was they talked about your county culture, and how culture starts at the top and requires accountability,” Schlessiger said. “And you should focus on a culture of transparency, which is kind of what I think our taxpayers and constituents are interested in, that we’re being transparent and everything is on the up and up.”

Another hot topic was mental health, she said. “That’s going to be something that they’re pushing more to the forefront and there’s going to be more grant options in the mental health area.”

One of the quotes that stuck with Zimmerman was: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

“And so I think it’s really good to be involved and to be at the table and to have a say,” she said.

The county pays $500 plus a percentage based on its valuation to belong to the KAC. As a lobbying organization, commissioners agreed the membership helps with this involvement.

Newly elected Barton County Commissioner Duane Reif, left, visits with Commissioner Barb Esfeld Wednesday morning as the County Commission meeting sets to start. - photo by BY DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

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

• Approved the bulk mailing of valuation notices.

The Appraiser’s Office invited requests for proposals for the mass mailing of 2023 real estate valuation notices. Work involves the creation of valuation notices, mailing labels and envelopes, County Appraiser Wendy Prosser said.

The County Appraiser’s Office is statutorily obligated to notify owners of their valuations on or before March 1 of each year.

• Approved an addition to the Barton County Employee Handbook regarding the interaction with minors.

Beginning in 2019, the Office of Justice Programs started requiring in advance for certain individuals who may interact with participating minors certain “determination of suitability,” Operations Director Matt Patzner said. Generally, those programs funded through the Department of Justice and/or the Office on Violence Against Women would require initial and re-examination of employees for sex offender, criminal history and child abuse and neglect registrations.

• Approved an occupancy agreement for the county building at 1806 12th St. for  the Central Kansas Partnership, Rise Up HEART (Health Equity Action Recovery Team) program.

As a means of community support, the program is housed in the 1213 Baker office building, Operations Director Matt Patzner said. The program will pay the county a $400 per month rental fee for use of the office space, internet and parking.

• Appointed Richard Lacey and Richard Ward to the Fire District 1 Board of Trustees representing North and South Homestead townships respectively.

According to the 2018 resolution establishing the district, the members of the board shall consist of not more than one appointee from each participating township and not more than one from each participating city. The city of Susank and North Homestead and South Homestead townships remain open. All positions expire Dec. 31, 2024.

• Approved a revision of the authorized position listing, reclassifying one regular part-time position for the Operations/Facilities Department to full-time.

• Held a discussion of the  Kansas Association of Counties New Commission Orientation training last week in Topeka.

• During the study session, commissioners attended the bid opening in the County Clerk’s Office for the Barton County Courthouse Improvement Project, which includes the new HVAC system. Bids were accepted through 11 a.m. Wednesday, and the opening took place at that time.

The commission returned to its chamber to discuss the bids.