Sedgwick County commissioners debate, approve funding for drainage project design

Sedgwick County commissioners wrestled Wednesday with who should pay to fix drainage problems.

Should homeowners who live in areas where stormwater runoff causes flooding pay for improvements, or should adequate drainage be considered infrastructure similar to a road or bridge?

Commissioners voted 4-1 on Wednesday to amend the county’s capital improvement plans to pay for $145,000 in design work for the first phase of a $2.5 million drainage improvement project southwest of Haysville.

How the rest of the project would be paid for is unknown, especially when the county is struggling with reduced revenue.

Commissioner Jim Skelton was clear that he didn’t think levying a special tax on nearby property owners would be the way to go.

Landowners who live along Meridian between 71st Street South and the Sumner County line, the area of the project, didn’t cause the drainage problems, he argued.

“Water comes from everywhere,” he said.

And Commissioner Tim Norton said he could make an argument that good drainage benefits everyone, just like a road or bridge does. The county doesn’t charge only the user of a road for the road, he said.

If the proposed project would benefit only a few people, then special assessments might be the way to recover costs for the project, Norton said. But he thinks the county will benefit from more development in that area.

A study showed the area southwest of Haysville has “high potential for development,” a staff report to commissioners said.

“The area is extremely flat, and poor drainage negatively impacts the quality of life for existing residents and inhibits further growth in the area,” the report said. “Poor drainage along Meridian is detrimental to the county’s existing and future road infrastructure along Meridian and cross streets that intersect it.”

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn voted against amending the capital improvement plan to include the design work, saying he wasn’t convinced the drainage project was the county’s most important. He noted other capital improvement projects are needed across the county.

He also said he was hesitant because landowners hadn’t asked to form an improvement district.

“Usually people come together” and ask for a district, he said. “We’re saying we as a county are going to jump in and undertake this project.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau asked deputy public works director Jim Weber if landowners had asked for the project.

“We have heard from some landowners. We have heard quite a bit from the city of Haysville itself,” Weber said.

Ranzau said he thought the county should use special assessments to pay for the project. Commissioner Dave Unruh said he thought that was the plan, but he noted that commissioners will make decisions as the project unfolds.