July 17th, 2019

4 26 18 joint meetingCity, County agree to combine plans


• Leader & Times


EDITOR’S NOTE — This is Part 1 of a two-part story on the joint city and county meeting Thursday. This part will review the discussion about a combined comprehensive development plan. Part 2 will print Sunday and share the discussion about creating a new economic development corporation. 

While the Liberal City and Seward County commissioners may have been sitting across from each other during Thursday’s joint meeting, they were on the same side during the discussion of a comprehensive development plan.

If each develop their own plan, the cost could range anywhere from $75,000 to as much as $200,000 each, and it would involve each entity researching and hiring a consultant group to  come to Liberal and Seward County to review similar data and double up on existing research.

Instead of each group working on individual plans, the two agreed to work on a combined plan, and instead of hiring a firm, they also agreed to hire a person to lead the project locally.

The new spirit of cooperation started quickly.

“Whether it’s the city or the county, we all want the same thing,” Seward County Commissioner CJ Wettstein said. “If we work together the best we can, we can make it work. With us and the City of Kismet, we can create a single plan, and then we all know we are working on the same goal.”

City Commissioner Jack Carlile pointed out that there were existing plans already, and that it might be easier to simply update the current plan.

The group discussed that updating would be good, but that there was also an opportunity to be more involved if each group had designated staff working on the project and with a full time coordinator rather than someone trying to dedicate one day a week to a process that usually takes a year to complete.

Seward County Commissioner Ada Linenbroker also wanted the school district, college and hospital to be involved.

And Wettstein actually wanted a plan that would be used.

“We did this back in 1996,” he said. “If we are more involved and getting everyone’s thoughts for the next five years, 10 years, and if we are coming up with our ideas, we will know more about the new plan than we know about the existing plan.”

Seward County Administrator April Warden added having a local full-time coordinator working on the project would get better results than bringing in a consultant.

“I always felt we were limited,” Warden said. “They didn’t seem to really understand what we could really accomplish. I don’t think we were ever challenged to reach our full potential.”

Liberal Vice Mayor Taylor Harden believed if the two groups worked together, they could create a tool that could last well into the future.

“This would be a guideline for the commissions that come after we’re all gone,” he said. “It would keep us all away from the political nonsense.”

Seward County Chairman Nathan McCaffrey added that the first step would be to draw up the needed documents and then start the proces of identifying a coordinator.

“We need someone in charge of the project,” he said. “We have to start by putting someone at the top of the pyramid.”

Linenbroker also added the community would also need to be involved and provide input to the coordinator.

“The plan could be really good if we involve the community,” Linenbroker said.

Liberal Interim City Manager Cal Burke asked if the coordinator would be a regular employee or a 1099 independent contractor. The groups opted to begin the process of writing a contract for the new position. There was no final determination of the shared cost, but discussion ranged from $80,000 to $100,000 for a one-year commitment to complete the project, which would be split equally between the city and county, greatly reducing the cost of each doing their own plan and creating a stronger synergy between the two groups.

The city and county commissions agreed to have Burke and Warden start working on an interlocal agreement along with legal counsel and to start developing the contract for the one-year position of comprehensive project coordinator.

Liberal resident Ivanhoe Love, Jr., responded to the discussion and the process when public comments were solicited during the meeting.

“It does my heart good to see you all working together like this,” Love said. “My hats off to all of you for your cooperation.”

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