Butler County commissioners voted Tuesday not to participate in a regional planning effort funded by the federal government, making it the second of five counties served by the grant to decline to take part.
In a 3-2 vote, commissioners voted not to send representation or make in-kind contributions to the grant’s leadership team, which is charged with overseeing planning processes for five counties in south-central Kansas.
Commissioner Bruce Harris, who voted against participating, said the goals of the $1.5 million grant stretch beyond the scope of the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) of South Central Kansas, a joint venture between counties that focuses on economic development. The grant’s leadership team — made up of representatives from private business and the nonprofit sectors, local governments and citizens — will also consider environment, transportation and natural resources for a five-county region, according to information from REAP.
The grant will help those five counties — Sedgwick, Butler, Reno, Harvey and Sumner — take a joint approach to planning.
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“I see that as beyond economic development, and I don’t think REAP ought to be involved in that,” Harris said. He also said the grant “sets the stage for dissention” among REAP because the grant serves only some of the group’s nine counties.
Commissioner Dan Woydziak, who voted in favor, said the move leaves Butler County without a voice in future regional planning supported by the grant, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development and is not contingent on unanimous participation.
“The planning document will come forward and now we have to no say in it” even though decisions made by the team will affect Butler County residents, Woydziak said.
Commissioners Jeff Masterson and Peggy Palmer also voted against participating, while Mike Wheeler was in favor. They could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The sustainable communities planning grant has drawn criticism from those who liken it to United Nation’s Agenda 21, a non-binding agreement encouraging people — among other things — to move to high-rise apartments and favor bicycles over cars. Other opponents say the grant is a waste of federal funds.
Butler joins Sumner County, which declined to participate in July. The other three counties served under the grant — Sedgwick, Harvey and Reno — have agreed to participate.
Commissioners in Reno County, the latest county to join, supported the measure 2-1 on Aug. 7, and committed $16,105 in in-kind contributions to the project, county administrator Gary Meagher said Tuesday.
Most of the county seats – including Wichita – have also signed agreements to participate on the leadership team.
REAP chairman and Sedgwick County commissioner Dave Unruh called Butler County Commission’s vote disappointing but said the leadership committee plans to press on and seek the county’s input “if it is appropriate in any conversation.”
“Butler County is still part of the south-central Kansas region, and we are hopeful they will reconsider and participate with us,” he said.
The consortium leadership team is expected to gather in September for its first meeting, Unruh said. Harvey County administrator John Waltner was selected as its chair, he said.