Members of the Great Bend City Council and the Barton County Commission crowded in the cramped first floor Barton County Courthouse conference room for their third joint session Thursday evening.
During what has become an annual event, the elected representatives and other city and county officials shared thoughts and concerns, and brainstormed ideas. They also teased one another while noting the value of this new-found spirit of cooperation between the two entities
“This is just an informal meeting,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3. “We just want to come to a consensus so we can go back and put these items on our formal agendas.”
“I just appreciate being able to get together,” said District 5 Commissioner Donna Zimmerman.
“I want to thank you guys for inviting us,” said Great Bend Mayor Cody Schmidt.
Here is a recap of the night’s discussions:
• A city-county partnership with Great Bend’s citywide clean-up.
The first-such citywide effort took place over a week last September and “I think was very successful,” Schmidt said. “I think its something we should go back to. We’re just hoping to expand it a little.”
Excluding the city’s labor costs, the drive cost Great Bend $19,809.23 in container rental fees and other expenses. But, among all the trash, it brought in 79 tons of old tires.
In 2022, the county offered the city discount on County Landfill tipping fees totaling $5,000. In lieu of this, county officials said they’d be willing to offer a monetary contribution.
There was agreement that this should be an annual event, at least for a few years. Both bodies said there was enough interests to be placed on their individual agendas.
“I think its a worthwhile concept,” Hutchinson said.
• Economic development.
“We’re willing to match up to $250,000 again this year,” Hutchinson said. Both entities pledged that amount to Great Bend Economic Development Inc. last year.
“There are a lot of good, worthwhile projects going right now,” he said, noting that these things can take years to come to fruition. Due to confidentiality reasons, he couldn’t elaborate on what these were.
“We’re both (city and county) going to be bombarded by some really good news soon,” Schmidt said. With that in mind, he asked commissioners how firm the $250,000 was and if that could be increased if needed.
While open to the idea, “it depends on the project,” said District 4 Commissioner Tricia Schlessiger. “It would be on a case-by-case basis.”
Attending the meeting virtually was the recently hired new Great Bend City Administrator Brandon Anderson.
“It’s going to take all of us together to capture what’s going on out there,” he said. Communication is the key and he is impressed with the city’s and county’s working relationship.
“We’re all on the same team pushing together,” he said.
Hutchinson also brought up the county’s Facade Improvement Grant Program which awarded over $117,000 to 63 projects across the county and the countywide Neighborhood Revitalization Plan under which there were 68 applications for a total permit value of over $21 million.
• The 2024 budget.
The county held its first round of budget meeting with departments and agencies this past Wednesday and have another set for next Wednesday, County Administrator Matt Patzner said. “We are encouraging everyone to stay flat and at or below the revenue-neutral rate.”
The city holds its budget session the evening of July 10, Interim City Administrator Logan Burns said. Although they don’t have the final valuation numbers yet, “it’s looking pretty good.”
Both governing bodies are eying a meeting for all the county’s entities that receive property tax dollars sometime during the second full week of July. This would include the county, cities, Barton Community College, school districts and others.
There was a similar meeting last year that met with limited attendance, but was still productive, Hutchinson said. They hope to expand on that this year.
• Great Bend Police Chief Steve Haulmark’s Operation Clean Sweep.
For a while now under his own initiative, Haulmark has coordinated a weekly cleanup on Saturdays. He, volunteers and those getting community service hours have scoured the city and Arkansas River banks for trash which he hauls to the landfill in his personal trailer.
“I think this guy is being effective,” Hutchinson said. “We need to support him.”
The consensus was that both the city and county could each offer $5,000. That would give the program a $10,000 budget.
There was talk of seeing if Sheriff Brian Bellendir might want to participate.
• Landscaping in front of the Barton County Courthouse.
This idea was proposed by Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs, a newly minted Master Gardener. She said the building is a unique situation in that the city owns the ground around it and the county owns the building and just a small footprint around it.
“The city has cleaned up a lot out there,” she said, but she noted the area is still pretty bleak. But, “we are not landscapers.”
They received a low bid of $20,000 from Kyle’s Lawn and Tree Care of Great Bend. The Great Bend Beautification Committee (a part of the city) can kick in $10,000 and Biggs wondered if the city and county would each contribute $5,000.
The local Master Gardener program would then maintain the area, she said.
“We just want it to look nice,” Biggs said. There is a lot of traffic in and out of the Courthouse, as well traffic going by on Main Street, so this would improve curb appeal.
With the county’s efforts on facade improvements, “it would be bad for us not to participate,” Zimmerman said.
Both bodies were on board with the idea. Work will be timed with the upcoming Courthouse HVAC replacement and probably won’t happen until later this year or next spring.
• The stretch of Second Street west of McKinley.
This sand street appears to be within the Great Bend city limits, but falls just outside them. However, it passes by the north end of the Great Bend Sports Complex, which is in the city.
County residents have complained about people parking along the street during ball tournaments at the complex, Hutchinson said.
So, the city and the county will pitch in to purchase white-and-orange barricades to ward off those wishing to park there. The cost would likely be under $1,000 and the Great Bend Recreation Commission might also help.