After much discussion, including plenty on the topic at previous commission meetings, an amendment to the 40-acre rule was brought before the Harvey County Commission on Monday for a final decision.

The amendment would take out all the stipulations within the agricultural zoning by-laws, as well as change one item in the subdivision regulations, to allow a one-time split of a 40-acre tract for landowners in the unincorporated portions of the county.

With this amendment, Planning and Zoning Director Gina Bell noted there are a number of stipulations that remain. Specifically, the split portion of the land can be no smaller than five acres without access to rural water and three acres with access to rural water.

Given the trend the department was seeing, with mortgage companies forcing rural homeowners to split off the tracts for their houses (creating non-conforming properties) anyways, department staff and the planning and zoning commission saw this amendment as a way to streamline the process.

"We're trying to make this as easy as we can," Bell said.

Bell was quick to point out that the requirement of having 40 acres to build a brand new home in the unincorporated areas remains in tact, but if one house already exists on the property a separate tract can be split off for additional developmental purposes — with Bell noting this is becoming a common occurrence for parents wanting to move closer to their children (or vice-versa).

Throughout the process of drafting this amendment, Bell noted many voices have been heard on the issues. Local banks, hospitals and realtors have been represented — as has the public — and the general consensus, one voted upon unanimously by the planning and zoning commission, is to move forward with the amendment.

Part of the difficulty with the current iteration of the 40-acre rule, Bell noted, was how it was tied to various stipulations based on agricultural zoning regulations. Given the gray area that exists when it comes to defining ag or farm land, that was another reason the department and others looked to get this amendment passed.

"Everybody has their own way to classify agriculture," Bell said.

"I think what our group was looking to do was to make this simpler for the general public to understand what it is we're trying to do," said Newton realtor Gary Hill.

Hill brought up the different stipulations that exist in neighboring Reno County depending on in what half of the county residents are living.

Certain questions the commissioners had could not be clearly answered, like what this amendment could potentially do to property taxes in the unincorporated areas of Harvey County. County appraiser Craig Clough noted would depend on trends in the unincorporated areas.

Also questioned was whether the smallest tract to be split should be set at a uniform five acres, but with prime building season coming up — and a number of people interested in developing in the unincorporated areas — Bell recommended leaving the current wording of the amendment as is, though she was amenable to bringing the rule back up for review in the near future.

With the minimal change that has come over the past 30 years, the commission was for that as well, approving Resolution 2018-7 to amend the Harvey County Unified Development Code, with a consensus to have staff review the implemented changes within a year.

"If we need to change it, change it. Let's not do it and forget it," said commissioner Ron Krehbiel.

"I think it's time to move forward," said commissioner Chip Westfall.

Having been approved by the commission, the amendment will officially go into effect after it is published.

In other business, the county commission:

Gave Solid Waste Superintendent Rollin Schmidt direction to get more information from Kranz Motors regarding a bid for a pickup for the department, after there were concerns raised about whether it would meet specifications.
Approved with the proceeding of plans for the rehabilitation of Taxiway C at the Newton City/County Airport. Airport Manager Brian Palmer said the estimated cost for the county's portion of the project will be about $14,000.
Heard numerous legislative updates on a variety of bills, ranging from asset forfeiture changes to a revised 911 bill as presented by the 911 coordinating council.
Was informed that lead abatement of the law enforcement center's gun range will begin on Tuesday and be completed in one and a half to two weeks.
Recognized the work the Road and Bridge crews did in treating the county roads during winter storm conditions last week, noting especially how well they were maintained when compared with the roads in some neighboring counties.
Learned from Health Department Director Lynnette Redington that Harvey County was one of the five finalists chosen for a United Healthcare Grant (to help start a summer food program in one of the county communities).
Was informed that the storm spotter workshop scheduled for last Thursday was rescheduled to take place on April 12.
Received a forfeiture report from the sheriff's office, outlining the total revenue ($36,024) and expenditures ($38,607.14) of the forfeiture fund in 2017.
Approved the interlocal agreement with the Harvey County Drug Task Force on behalf of the county.
Heard a year-end financial report that noted Harvey County has improved its financial position, giving the commission plenty to consider as it gets ready to begin the 2019 budget process. Revenues came in about $14 million ($14,008,174), while expenditures totaled $13,500,927, leaving $5,178,013 in the ending fund balance — numbers that will continue to be discussed as County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber noted there are a number of unbudgeted capital improvement plans coming up that need to be addressed (i.e. the law enforcement center remodel, Little Arkansas River bank restoration project, Camp Hawk renovations, etc.).