Increase regionalism

Many of the challenges facing cities and counties in this region are shared. So it makes sense, as a new planning report recommends, to work together on common goals, seeking to maximize the region’s resources and potential.

The South Central Kansas Prosperity Plan, which was released last week, was initiated by the Regional Economic Area Partnership, an association of 24 local governments from nine area counties. The project involved extensive interviews and surveys of area residents, business owners, government leaders and other stakeholders. It identified challenges facing this region, what cities and counties are doing to address those challenges, and how the region could be more effective through increased cooperation and planning.

Some of the challenges include:

▪  Aging infrastructure, including bridges, roads and water and wastewater systems.

▪  Modest projected job growth.

▪  Older housing stock.

▪  Lack of diverse transportation choices.

▪  Lower public health outcomes.

Many of these challenges transcend city and county boundaries and political jurisdictions. Approaching them from a coordinated, regional perspective could increase the region’s economic competitiveness and enhance the quality of life for all residents. Conversely, the report noted, “the lack of regional planning limits the ability of local governments to pool resources and knowledge, capture efficiencies in service delivery, and develop connected, coordinated systems of infrastructure that better meet the needs of residents and businesses.”

The REAP board of directors is meeting Friday to discuss possible strategies and a work plan for priority issues, such as transportation, water and economic development. It wants to align its planning with work already being done by others, such as Wichita State University’s innovation campus and efforts to expand exports.

For regional planning to succeed, however, it requires buy-in from local governments – which is far from assured. Two current members of the Sedgwick County Commission opposed the federal grant that helped pay for the planning project, claiming that it would come with too many strings and was part of a United Nations agenda to restrict our freedoms. Tuesday’s election shifted the ideological balance of the County Commission, which might undermine support for REAP.

But increased regionalism – while still honoring local decision-making and identity – can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of limited local resources. It’s also critical to our economic survival.

David Adkins, executive director for the Council of State Governments and a former Kansas state senator, told The Eagle editorial board that “regionalism is king right now,” in part because of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. And he warned that if south-central Kansas doesn’t get better at working together, “other regions will surpass us.”

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee