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County Commissioner Jim Howell plans to get input from townships on a potential county policy that would create a framework to provide road maintenance assistance in extreme cases.

Following some back and forth in previous meetings, Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell readdressed his intent with the township road policy being considered by the board of commissioners recently.

The policy an extension of state statute K.S.A 68-124 is meant to install framework for the county to provide temporary maintenance assistance (to be reimbursed) for townships in extreme cases where stretches of road are not being upheld to a “condition of travel” for a two-wheel drive automobiles.

“I think that this ought to be an overarching policy that would be available for any situation that would develop,” Howell said.

Based on feedback from fellow commissioners on July 1, however, Howell raised concerns over some perceived desire to focus the policy to address issues that had been brought up by county residents of Rockford Township.

Given that Howell has been the primary commissioner pushing for the road policy, he brought forth the idea of sending out a personal cover letter with the draft policy suggested to townships for feedback.

“We don’t want to offend our townships. We want to make sure they understand we appreciate them,” Howell said. “My intent was to soften this a little bit and explain why this consideration is happening right now.”

As noted through previous comments, there were concerns over access to townships by public safety officials due to road conditions, among others. While the hope is that the issues can be solved without the county policy, Howell stated the possibility that outside factors could prevent that.

Howell also made some adjustments to the draft policy brought back to the commission on July 15, noting there was a lengthening of the process in the initial draft revisions that made it “really difficult” to address the problems township residents may experience.

County staff had proposed taking action to send out a draft policy to townships for feedback, though County Counselor Mike Pepoon said there is no rule limiting individual commissioners from communicating with townships. Therefore, there would not have to be any official action from the commission for Howell to send out a letter with the draft policy.

Regarding a blanket policy, commissioner David Dennis still saw the road concern as a one-township issue, given that the commission had heard solely from members of Rockford Township about safety conditions.

“My concern has always been Sedgwick County is 150 years old. We’re going to celebrate our 150th anniversary this year … but we haven’t needed something like this for 150 years for all of the townships,” Dennis said. “We really have one problem and that’s what I’d like to address is the one problem.”

Dennis, therefore, recommended adopting a policy as a pilot in Rockford Township to be changed/amended in the future for other townships if needed.

The state statue (68-124) has been in place for 100 years, Howell pointed out, so the policy already exists. Given the “unresolved, persistent” issues out there, Howell said the policy would create a relationship between the county and townships to handle road concerns in extreme situations.

“I don’t see what’s wrong with us passing the steps,” Howell said “If my colleagues want to focus on a specific problem in a specific township, then I think we’re missing the point.”

With no official county action taken, it was clarified that Howell would be allowed to send out a letter and draft policy to townships which he noted he intends to do and solicit feedback from townships.

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