Yet again, the severe weather of the past week was a key topic of discussion among the Harvey County Commission on Tuesday, with an additional round of rainfall creating a number of concerns across the region.
"It's a little wet in my neck of the woods," said Commissioner Ron Krehbiel.
Over the course of the month so far, Harvey County Emergency Management director Gary Denny reported that rainfall accumulations have tripled — and almost quadrupled, in some cases — from the monthly average of 4.92 inches. Accumulations have reached 16.48 inches in Newton, 15.66 inches in Halstead, 15.06 inches in Sedgwick, 17.59 inches in Burrton, 15.81 inches in Hesston and 15.04 inches in Walton.
Heavy rainfall has caused several issues with road closures over the last couple of weeks, but it was noted that the weather over the weekend also led to a number of power outages at county buildings — including the courthouse, detention center and Road and Bridge Department. There were issues with generator functions in the case of the latter two, but those have already been or are in the process of being repaired.
Otherwise, for Road and Bridge, superintendent Jim Meier said the rainfall levels have been the biggest situation to watch. While it has delayed work for the department, he said the flooding has not caused any damage too severe to county roads — though staff will continue to monitor the situation.
"I don't see anything repair-wise that really frightens me; we'll get on top of this," Meier said. "We were virtually on top of the repairs before this last wave hit. Outside of removing debris rather than just pushing it off the road, we were pretty much wrapped up."
Debris along bridges is the one thing in particular that Meier pointed at as troublesome in ascertaining the damage to those structures, which is something the department will keep an eye on once that can be cleared.
With the additional storms, the deadline to apply for federal aid has been extended — as the 15 counties in the original disaster declaration have now grown to 49 counties across the state. No end date has been assigned yet, and Denny said that information will be passed on to stakeholders.
Currently, the county has 16 applicants signed up in the hopes of receiving federal aid, but with the word being put out to assess damages (material expenses, equipment expenses, etc.) once again, he projects that to grow by the end of the week.
The storm threat has also not cleared, as severe weather is expected through the rest of the week. Taking that into consideration, the shelters that the emergency management and health departments helped set up in the county — in Burrton, Halstead and Sedgwick — will remain in place.
"Right now, we're just going to keep it on hold and bring them in possibly next week, hopefully," said Health Department director Lynnette Redington.
Given the persistent threat and newly extended deadline for aid, the county will continue to monitor the situation, with the commission and administration recognizing the work already done by staff to handle the issues that have arisen and keep the public informed.
"I appreciate everyone who works for the county, whatever roles they may have played," said commission chairman Chip Westfall.
"Lots of county departments and staff have been working diligently throughout the last week to try to get this information out to the public and to our emergency responders," said County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber, "to make sure that they have the best information possible as they're out in the county."
In other business, the county commission:
• Discussed the potential of moving the county commission meeting from Mondays to Tuesdays, with no opposition voiced by commissioners to the idea of that change.
• Heard a report on sales tax collections for the month of May, with numbers continuing to improve in 2019 compared to 2018.
• Was informed of the impending retirement of Harvey/Marion County Community Developmental Disability Organization Executive Director Elizabeth Schmidt, as well as the current and ongoing search for her successor.
• Received the official submission of Register of Deeds Margaret Hermstein's letter of resignation — and a request that any money spent on retirement recognition instead go to county parks (specifically Camp Hawk or West Park).
• Learned that the new maternal/child health care coordinator will be starting with the Health Department next week.
• Approved a bid request for the Road and Bridge Department for a sealing contract to address portions of West Dutch Avenue and East First Street.
• Approved a bid request from the Solid Waste Department for a live-floor trailer to haul municipal solid waste from the county landfill to Hutchinson, with a steel trailer being sought out for a potential extended lifespan.
• Reappointed Jack Bender to serve a three-year term on the Parks Advisory board, waiving second reading.
• Approved a consulting agreement with McCully & Associates for the 2020 valuation year at an increased cost of about $3,000.
• Received a funding request of $10,000 from KIPCOR to help support its Dispute Resolution Triage Program (used in 120-130 divorce cases annually), which the commission noted it would address with the district court during the upcoming annual budget hearings to see what avenues for funding are available.
• Approved an agreement for Safehope's annual emergency solutions grants, as well as a letter in support of its "Create the Hope" campaign to raise money for proposed building improvements, with commission chairman Westfall to sign.