ERIE – The director of the Chanute Regional Development Authority met with Neosho County Commissioners Thursday to discuss a comprehensive economic development plan for the county.

CRDA director Matt Godinez said now is an excellent time for a comprehensive plan. He said asking a third party to develop a plan would cost $15,000 to $20,000.

“We have a lot of strengths in Neosho County that we need to highlight and I’d like to do that,” Godinez said. “We’ve got to call ourselves out on what we could be better at.”

He gave commissioners a written report from the Environmental Protection Agency that is a framework for small cities and towns to create an economic development strategy.

Wind energy was also a topic discussed by Godinez. During construction of the Neosho Ridge Wind project, the county has placed a moratorium on further wind-powered electrical generation development. Commissioners are in the process of developing an advisory committee on wind development.

Commissioner Gail Klaassen said they wanted to know what to do in the future about wind farms, but when other industry comes in, they also need to deal with that.

Godinez recommended the committee have seven members, composed of representatives from cities and at-large members. He said every city should have a representative.

“I want everyone to have a voice,” Godinez said.

Commissioners also discussed having committee members who represent townships rather than commission districts.


Ambulance service

The commission also met with the Chief Executive Officer of Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center to discuss ambulances.

Hospital CEO Dennis Franks said the titles to the five ambulances are on file at the courthouse, and the hospital would like to take over ownership. The ambulance service is now funded partly by a sales tax, which is scheduled to pay more than $300,000 on two months’ collections.

The hospital has five ambulances, including one that is being overhauled. The county purchased the ambulances, but the medical boxes can be removed and placed on a new chassis when the old chassis is traded in.

Two of the ambulances are stationed at Erie. Thayer and St. Paul each have their own ambulances.

Commissioners said taxpayers should get something back on their investment.

Franks also discussed the status on Medicaid expansion in the Kansas Legislature. He said it could create 69 jobs and generate $1.7 million in Neosho County alone, with 400 people who would qualify for benefits.


Road and Bridge

The commission met with county resident Kurt Jansen about heavy construction traffic on Jackson Road and a low water bridge on Irving. He is concerned about the gravel a half-mile north of 10th Road on Jackson and damage to the bridge on Irving between 70th and 60th.

In addition to construction traffic from the Neosho Ridge project, Evergy is constructing a substation to handle the electricity generated. Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown said the two locations are part of the approved construction haul route.

He said there was wear and tear to the bridge before, but heavy trucks have made it worse. The bridge is scheduled for replacement by Neosho Ridge developer Apex Clean Energy when the project is done.

Commissioners got an update on the Neosho Ridge project from Apex representative Chris Weatherford. He said foundations for the 139 windmills are 80 percent done, but work has slowed due to weather and illness. He expects the pace to pick up in April when more components arrive.

The commission and Apex are negotiating an addition to the road use agreement, which would include a fine for vehicles that go off the approved routes. Weatherford urged a fine of $500, because the project employs small sub-contractors who could not afford a large fine.

Commissioners Paul Westhoff and David Orr both said $500 is not enough, and Orr compared it to the fine for running a stop sign. Weatherford this is the first time an agreement has implemented fines.


Other business

• Commissioners also discussed how to handle employee pay during the two days the courthouse closed because of illness. The county has a policy for emergency closings, but it does not mention illness-related closures. Commissioners voted to pay for the two days without employees using paid time off benefits.

• New Human Resources Director Jim Mahar proposed revisions to the employee handbook. He said it needs to be 20 to 30 pages but currently is more than 100. 

“The handbook is ominous,” he said.

• Commissioners appointed a trustee and treasurer for Chetopa Township and vacated part of 145th road from Rooks Road to a private road. 

• The commission approved the hiring of a part-time health department employee and two road and bridge employees and an offer to a third.

• Commissioners also discussed how to handle the claim of a woman whose car windshield was damaged by a rock while she followed a county truck.

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