As the COVID-19 crisis slowly begins to subside, it is time to refocus on other issues facing county government. These issues include adoption of the comprehensive land use plan, County Road 1, road maintenance, Fire District No. 1 issues, property taxes and the 2021 fiscal year budget.
First, the crisis within the walls of some of our local detention centers and prisons must be noted. Specific concerns center on the Lansing Correctional Facility (LCF) where hundreds of inmates have tested positive for the virus. Several staff members and inmates have died and our hearts and prayers go out to the families of all of those folks. We hope that the leadership of the state of Kansas will focus attention within the walls of LCF. While community spread has remained stable or declined, the explosion of cases at LCF is extremely troubling. The county is monitoring the situation through the local health department but the responsibility for the inmates and staff is completely a function of state government.
That being said, I want to refocus on some local issues that have been put on hold due to concerns related to the virus.
The adoption of the new Comprehensive Land Use Plan has been awaiting finalization. The final draft is scheduled to come before the Commission for review and then will go before the Planning Commission for a public hearing. The Planning Commission will make modifications and final recommendations for approval by the Commission. The adoption of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan will be the culmination of more than a year of public hearings, reviews and public meetings and will establish the pattern for future zoning and land use decisions in Leavenworth County.
County Road 1
This important issue engaged the community through a series of public hearings including two town hall meetings and a mailing to every landowner. The proposed re-zoning of County Road 1 will likely be presented to the County Commission this summer or early fall.
Discussion will center on whether to adopt the full zoning proposal, modify the plan to concentrate re-zoning near the industrial park or retain the current land use plan and re-zone parcel by parcel. After conducting the town hall meetings with citizens and a survey of constituents it appears the public in District 5 support a modified plan or no re-zoning at all.
The Ollsen Engineering Firm has been engaged to conduct an extensive review on road maintenance to determine the actual costs of maintaining more than 400 miles of roads within the county. This information will assist in assessing the actual need for resources for our roads during the upcoming budget process.
Fire District 1
A dispute between the city of Lansing and High Prairie and Delaware townships, all members of Leavenworth County Fire District 1, has resulted in litigation costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. Lansing would like to have their own fire department and is attempting to pull out of the fire district. The dispute is centered around the oversight and management of the equipment. We hope there can be a negotiated settlement agreeable to all parties. It is possible that the Board of Leavenworth County Commissioners takes authority and control, which is an option that no one wants to see come to pass.
A decision will have to be made on the appropriate level of county property taxation to be maintained. The concerns of taxpayers about valuations and the need to maintain adequate services and balanced budget during this time of crisis will impact whether there can be tax relief this year. Relief is certainly needed from all levels of government – state, county, city and school districts. Many senior citizens on fixed incomes have contacted me with concern that in the long-term high property taxes could drive them out of their homes. I will advocate for tax relief as we go forward but I want everyone to know this has suddenly become a difficult budget year with the coronavirus crisis reducing revenue to the county.
Each county department will present a report to the Commission that will include initial budget recommendations. The Commission will then move forward in the process of developing a county budget with final adoption in August. The question of tax rates, project funding, road maintenance levels, department level spending, special project funding and outside agencies will be decided during this process.
If there are any residents who need help accessing any of the various government programs or unemployment benefits, feel free to reach out to me and I can help you with making applications, filing for benefits or determining which office to contact. My job is to help you interface with government. My number is 913-775-2772. My email is email@example.com
Leavenworth County Commissioner Mike Stieben represents District 5.