Planning and Zoning staff came before the Harvey County Commission on Monday needing a decision to be made. In a time of re-certification with the Community Ratings System, a voluntary program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the county has participated in since 2012, the county needed to take action to either continue the program (with more full-time staffing) or bring it to an end.

The program, when requirements are met, allows flood insurance discounts to policy holders in participating counties. For Harvey County, there are currently 80 active policies, with the CRS program generating an average discount of $32 per policy (a five percent savings, based on the county's current rating in the CRS).

For Harvey County, Planning and Zoning Director Gina Bell noted the maximum attainable discount for policy holders would be 15 percent. However, given that the county's submission for re-certification was not approved — with FEMA requesting more information from the county in order to move forward — staff and commissioners were left questioning if it was worth continuing the program for a relatively minor savings ($2,543 in total) across the county.

Staff questioned the feasibility of continuing with the program, as requirements have incrementally increased over the years. While Bell noted all the work that was initially required to be part of the CRS program fell under the department's normal purview, it has expanded beyond that in recent years.

"Every point of the Community Ratings System has become a lot more detailed," said Planning and Zoning secretary Karen Jacobs. "All of my time, so far, has been working on CRS stuff."

Logging information, in particular, is something Jacobs said takes exponentially more time now — as CRS requirements outline a need to log the date of inquiries, map of inquiring parties' land, how it pertains to CRS, etc., in multiple places. Additionally, there are a number of public outreach requirements (sending out annual letters to policy holders, posting on the department website, making literature available at several locations, etc.) that have been folded into the program.

Jacobs handles all of the certification needs with the Community Ratings System, which Bell noted frees her up to address floodplain violations and other critical tasks. Given the department's normal needs and the amount of work that CRS has put on Jacobs' plate (logging 415 hours working on CRS business since August, according to Bell), which was reported to cost at least three times the amount of the total discount offered through the program, Bell recommended not continuing with the program outright — as it is not a requirement of the county.

"Community ratings is over and above what we regularly have to do to stay in the national flood insurance program, which is fine; we understand the national flood insurance program. That's good, and I don't ever want anybody to think that it's not good; that part's good. This is additional," Bell said of the CRS. "That would be my priority, to make sure I've got time to take care of the violations. Without the help in the office to do that, it just snowballs."

Questions of the commission centered on getting a sense of how much participation there was around the state. Bell said there were likely less than 10 counties in Kansas participating in the Community Ratings System, with none of the surrounding counties being active at all.

Seeing the additional work it would take for the county to recoup the maximum discount through the CRS, and the costs that would come from approving full-time staff just to get in compliance with all the program requirements, the commission saw more than enough reason to agree with Bell and officially end the county's participation in the Community Ratings System.

"We're not getting our buck back for what we're doing and the time we're spending," said commissioner Chip Westfall.

"If we're spending $10 to save our taxpayers a dollar," said commissioner Randy Hague, "I don't know that we need to be continuing that."

In other business, the county commission:

Appointed Randy Hague as commission chairperson and Chip Westfall as vice-chairperson for 2018, retaining the same committee appointments as the previous year — with the exception of the chair automatically taking roles on the KLP and Local Emergency Planning committees.
Received information on the Kansas County Commissioners Association Conference that will be held in Wichita this May.
Was notified that dues with the Kansas Association of Counties went up slightly in 2018.
Heard an update on the joint law enforcement center improvement plan, with an agreement being signed this past week with WMD Architects. County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber also noted a proposal has been received for lead abatement of the gun range, with an expected cost of $5,400 (and the county accountable for half of that) — though it was noted there would be additional costs to clean up a couple of adjacent rooms.
Approved letters to be sent out to Workforce Area I and Workforce Area IV requesting a meeting to discuss cooperative, shared services between the two for Harvey County.
Was notified of the annual Harvey County Township meeting, which has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Community Room of the Harvey County Courthouse.
Learned that the Emergency Management Department will lead a discussion at the Newton Chamber of Commerce's next "Hot Topic" luncheon regarding active shooter situations.
Approved bids for a total of eight 2018 Ford Police Interceptors from Midway Motors for the Harvey County Sheriff's Office and Communications, subject to staff review. The total net bid for all eight vehicles (after trade-ins) was $132,417.