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Pawnee Rock holds hearings on tornado damaged homes
Praise Ranch one of properties in question
new vlc Pawnee Rock 1
Praise Ranch Inc., a registered non-profit located inside the former Pawnee Rock High School, received a devastating blow from the May 16 tornado that passed through parts of Barton County. It was one of seven properties for which ordinance hearings were held at the Pawnee Rock City Council meeting Monday night. - photo by VERONICA COONS Great Bend Tribune

PAWNEE ROCK — The aftermath of the May 16 tornado that passed through the southwestern Barton County town of Pawnee Rock left seven properties more than 50 percent destroyed.
Some of those structures were uninsured, and owners found themselves in a precarious position — responsible for either repairing or demolishing the properties, and in most cases without the resources to do either one. With local assistance wearing thin, and no disaster declaration issued, this put the Pawnee Rock City Council, the mayor and city staff in a delicate position.
Still, at Monday night’s city council meeting, they proceeded to conduct seven public hearings concerning the properties deemed unsafe.
A lengthy explanation provided by Mayor Linda McCowan and City Clerk Cathy Grover detailed why the city had to move swiftly. In the 1980s, the city adopted an ordinance agreeing to adhere to standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This was required for the city to be allowed to apply for federal grants and loans.
It is also a requirement for residents who live in a floodplain to take part in the National Flood Insurance Program. This, McCowan said, prompted the city to make every effort to follow the rules set down by FEMA. Even the hearings, heavy on protocol, were scripted.
“This has been cumbersome and sad at the same time,” she said, while also commending Grover and other city workers for their efforts gathering and organizing the extensive paperwork required by FEMA following the event.
The council was provided with two draft ordinances per property. The hearings were to determine if owners planned to make repairs and bring the properties back to FEMA standards, or if they planned to demolish them.
To bring them up to standards, the following are required: replace damaged roof, replace destroyed walls, repair or replace windows, fix structural integrity, and fix sewer, water, electrical and gas systems. Repairs must be completed by Feb. 15, 2018. At that time, McCowan said, an engineer affiliated with the League of Municipalities will perform the inspections to certify the standards have been met.
Owners of the following structures indicated to the city council, either in person or in advance of the hearing, they would move forward with repairs: 631 Santa Fe Ave., 630 Bismark Ave., 632 Pawnee Ave., 633 Bismark Ave.
Those opting to tear their properties down were notified they must begin work no later than Sept. 15, and it must be completed within 90 days, or by Jan. 15, 2018. The owner of the structure at 624 Bismark Ave. opted to demolish.
There were two properties without representation, 632 Santa Fe. Ave. and 700 Pawnee Ave.
Praise Ranch Inc. is the owner on record for 700 Pawnee Ave., the former Pawnee Rock High School. According to the website for the non-profit organization, most of the roof and several windows and ceilings on the residence portion experienced significant damage and the roofs to the gymnasium, workshop, offices and ministry and main entry were destroyed.
The website goes on to explain the organization is, “a faith based compassion ministry reaching out to children, orphans, widows, seniors and the poor. Praise Ranch is a rescue and a temporary shelter and a place of safety and God’s love.”
Members claim to have rescued 52 children ranging in ages from just 3 days old to 13 years of age, both male and female.
They also claim to have provided respite care to a woman with brain cancer until her death.
According to McCowan, recent exchanges between Praise Ranch and the city haven’t been productive, and the organization has expressed doubt that it is subject to the city’s ordinances. According to the Barton County Appraiser property data, it is located within the city limits. 
McCowan followed up with the Department of Commerce. One option is for the organization to hire a Certified Surveyor to determine if the property is perhaps not in the floodplain.
If it turns out it is not, they can provide FEMA with evidence and ask that it be removed. If it is indeed in the floodplain, they will have to decide if they will repair the structure or tear it down.
On its website, the organization is requesting donations and provides a mailing address where they can be sent.

CORRECTION (Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017) --  the Tribune was in error when it reported Pawnee Rock Mayor Linda McCowan had learned the property owned by the non-profit Praise Ranch Inc. was technically outside the city limits. It has come to our attention, via property data from the Barton County Appraiser, that the property is located within the city limits of Pawnee Rock, and therefore is subject to the ordinances of that city. This updated report reflects this.