The issue at the center of the Butler County Commission’s discussion about a sustainable communities planning grant was local control.

The issue at the center of the Butler County Commission’s discussion about a sustainable communities planning grant was local control.

“I have large concern over this,” Commissioner Peggy Palmer said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There’s a history in other communities how it starts.”

The grant in question was awarded to the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) of South Central Kansas, and will be used to develop a plan of action for Reno, Harvey, Butler, Sedgwick and Sumner, five of the counties that are part of REAP. Cowley and McPherson counties, which are part of REAP, will not be included in the grant’s planning area because of their smaller size.

“We were awarded the grant in February,” said Paula Downs, REAP’s sustainable communities grant manager. “The idea is the consortium will create a leadership team to develop a regional plan that includes water, transportation, housing and economic development. We will be using local experts to create a local plan.”

According to HUD, the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program “supports metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of: (1) economic competitiveness and revitalization; (2) social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity; (3) energy use and climate change; and (4) public health and environmental impact.”

Now that REAP has been awarded the grant, the planning process will go on.

“The project will go forward whether we have an official participation or not,” said planning and zoning director Rod Compton. “I think it’s important we have a place at the table, so to speak. If we’re not, we really can’t have much of a say or input into the project.”

Although each jurisdiction involved in REAP has its own plan for the future, the plan that will develop as a result of the grant will work to integrate the various plans.

“I think it’s a way to bring all the plans together,” said Downs. “It’s an opportunity for us to look a little more strategically from the outside, how it fits into the region, how they all affect each other. We can look at it more neutrally.”

However, not everyone at the meeting sees this type of integration as a positive development.

Andover resident Marci Leffen voiced her belief the grant program is too closely tied to the United Nation’s Agenda 21, which encourages people to consume less energy and protect the environment.

“What I did not hear is that this is a directive that came from the U.N.,” said Leffen.

“I would disagree with that,” said Commissioner Dan Woydziak.

“I don’t have to disagree with that,” replied Palmer.

“I have great concern when those officials go under the influence of non-elected people,” continued Lefenn, who was referring to the makeup of the consortium, which has more non-elected members than elected members. “The guidelines for REAP, everything I have read, the guidelines come from the U.N.’s Agenda 21. They want you to have all your planning come under that umbrella and be monitored, limited and controlled.”

She is worried the plan REAP will produce as a result of obtaining the grant could result in more government regulations.

“It’s all in the guise of environmental management,” she said. “I have great concern for groups like this.”

Lefenn also said cities around the country have signed on for the grant, but have been dropping out of the program after gathering more information.

“She has legitimate concerns,” said Commissioner Jeff Masterson. “I don’t think we understand the implications of this. I’ve been contacted by some concerned people. I don’t think I can move forward with this.”

“I too have been contacted by a number of people,” said Commissioner Bruce Harris. “I have some concern about this from the standpoint of I don’t know where it’s going. I’m not sure the City of El Dorado would like to have people from REAP investigate their water usage.”

Downs sought to reassure those who expressed concern.

“REAP is not a governing body,” she said. “You are in control of what you do with the plan.”

As part of the plan, the infrastructure will be surveyed to find out what needs to be improved.

“We are just putting together a plan,” said Downs. “There is no more money at the end of this. The plan will be turned over to you and hopefully it will be helpful.”

“I would like your take on the uproar,” Masterson said to Downs. “The story we’re getting from the concerned citizens is completely opposite from what you are saying.”

“I can’t implement or approve,” she said. “All I can do is produce it and say, ‘Here is something you might want.’ It’s for your knowledge. The plan is not binding.”

Downs also reiterated that local government officials are the ones who will control the money.

“I have no implementation money,” she said.

Butler County administrator Will Johnson said county staff members have remained neutral on the issue, and he also said he doesn’t believe the grant has anything to do with Agenda 21.

“Ultimately, nothing can be implemented unless you as a governing body do so,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you it’s good or bad. I’m pretty neutral on that.”

Palmer again expressed concern about federal regulations.

“We do not need the federal government coming in here and telling us what to do,” she said. “These are serious things you’re getting into. It’s very upsetting. I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve had from constituents concerned about this.”

Following the discussion, the commissioners held a vote to determine whether or not Butler County would agree to support the grant’s plan by dedicating staff time to help create the plan.

“Our discussion is not whether the program is going forward,” said Woydziak. “It is. Do you want a seat at the table or not is where we’re at.”

“The problem with your statement is we don’t have a seat at the table anyway,” replied Palmer. “We don’t have a seat. Everything that consortium comes up with can affect Butler County.”

Following the discussion, the commissioners decided not to participate in the planning process by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Harris, Masterson and Palmer were opposed to participation while Commissioners Wheeler and Woydziak were in favor. Sumner County also decided not to participate.

In other business, the commission:

• accepted a $62,641.72 dividend payment from the insurance pool the county is a part of.

• approved a contract between the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Butler County Health Department acting as the fiscal agency for SCMR for public health emergency preparedness grant in the amount of $35,852.

• approved the cities readiness initiative contract for $133,924 between the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Butler County Health Department.

• approved the bid of $249,710.06 to 4PC Integrated Security Intelligence Solutions for the installation and upgrade of the surveillance systems at the Butler County Detention Facility and Judicial Center. The motion passed 4-1 with Palmer opposed.

• approved the purchase of three replacement skid steer loaders on an annual buy back program for the Department of Public Works.

• received and opened bids for highway striping work for the proposed overlay project on SW 70th Street from Andover Road to Santa Fe Lake Road. The project was awarded to RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc., the low bidder, pending approval and clarification by county staff to make sure proper bids were received.