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One size doesnt fit all
There are challenges, but Barton County looking pretty good
new deh county commission pic web
Barton County commissioners Monday morning gave a report on the Kansas Association of Counties annual meeting in Overland Park last week. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

In other business Monday morning, the Barton County Commission:

• Approved roof repairs to the Barton County Health Department. It was determined that repairs were needed to the roof following this year’s hail storms. Two companies submitted bids and the insurance company recommended Washington Roofing and Insulation. Washington submitted the low bid of $25,162, and the county staff seconded the recommendation, County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said.

The replacement will be covered by insurance, but the county has a $2,500 deductible.

 It was a chance for Barton County officials to see what they have in common with counties from around the state, as well as what sets Barton County apart. County commissioners gave a report Monday morning on the Kansas Association of Counties annual meeting last week in Overland Park.

“I think we found that by being with the other commissioners from the other counties that we all kind of had the same opinion on how things ought to run and how much we’re going to need each other,” Commissioner Kenny Schremmer said, adding the convention was beneficial. Everyone seems concerned about taxes and the inability of counties to convince the Legislature do keep them lower.

But, “we are really fortunate here,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are really struggling. We are in a very good position.”

To this point, Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg said the county is running smoothly, and thanked Operations Director Phil Hathcock and Commission Assistant Diana Watson. “I think we are getting along just fine without a county administrator.”

“I’m impressed with the way we’ve done things,” Commissioner Don Davis said. The foresight into how the county has hired and trained personnel has helped make this possible.

Sure, they learned a lot, but there was more to it, Commissioner Alicia Straub said. “You can visit with other commissioners from other counties.”

There are counties that have a lot in common, Straub said. And there are counties that don’t. “What a different world it is in Johnson County.”

Each county is different, she said. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

One of the key take-aways for Straub was possible regulation of non-public water wells, and the health effects of drinking contaminated water.

“We don’t have a good way to test for those things,” she said. “There are more contaminants in water than people realize.

“It’s something I think we really, really need to pay attention to, Straub said. “I stood up at that meeting and said ‘Kansans want information, they don’t want regulations.’ It’s going to be a very touchy subject in the future.”

She also attended a session on the importance of communicating across generational lines, whether one is a “traditionalist” born before 1943 or a millenial born after 1980. “We talked about the different characteristics with those age groups and how those different people work together in the workplace.” 

There is so much information available in a split second. This may not appeal to all, but is important to those 30 and younger. “You have to use different forms of media to reach those different markets.”

Legislative priorities

Straub was the county’s voting delegate on the KAC’s Legislative Policy Statement which outlines the top issues counties will push for in the upcoming legislative session. 

County commissions may keep taxes low at the local level, but that doesn’t stop taxes from being raised at the state level, Straub said. “(That) takes away local control; it takes away your local voice.”

The 2018 legislative priorities include:

• Constitutional home rule - KAC favors enacting constitutional home rule for counties – a change that will place local leaders in the best position to serve Kansas.

• Property tax lid - KAC supports complete repeal of the tax lid. In the absence of repeal, KAC supports correcting the unworkable procedures in the tax lid to ensure a practical law for local officials.

• Election commissioners - KAC favors legislation that allows counties to oversee the budgets and personnel policies affecting county operations to ensure accountability to local taxpayers and the community.

• Tax valuation and appeals - KAC supports a fair and consistent approach to valuation, and KAC supports taxation that reflects the services furnished and funded by counties. Similarly, KAC favors procedural changes to the tax appeals process that are balanced and sensible for both the taxpayer and the counties.

• Medicaid expansion - KAC supports expansion of the Kansas Medicaid program to extend health care coverage for at-risk Kansans and supports the pursuit of public health.

• Mental health and jails - KAC supports limiting incarceration of the mentally ill in county jails. Furthermore, the KAC supports greater effort for accessible treatment to address mental illness and substance-use disorders.

• State funding - KAC opposes deferring payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and sweeping funds intended for transportation. Kansas needs a structured and balanced state budget. KAC counties also support the Federal Funds Exchange Program and other partnership efforts between Kansas and its counties.

• Broadband access - KAC supports policies that enable the availability of high-speed internet and access to improved economic development, tele-medicine care, and government efficiency.

• Federal taxes - KAC supports the preservation of federal State and Local Tax (SALT) tax deductions and tax exemptions for municipal bonds.