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Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2007

Townships like how rural roads are maintained

April 5, 2007

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Township trustees and board members like the way they maintain their rural roads just fine, thank you.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it. The roads are good," Willow Springs Township board member Jerry Smith told Douglas County commissioners Wednesday night.

More than 30 people - most from the county's nine townships - showed up at the commission meeting to take part in a discussion about alternative systems of maintaining county secondary roads. Townships generally are responsible for maintaining secondary - or gravel - roads. The county generally maintains paved roads.

Commissioners Bob Johnson and Charles Jones said they think other, more uniform, methods of maintaining all county roads should be examined. They said they don't plan to make any decisions soon to change road maintenance.

"I think we owe it to the taxpayers to make sure we are spending their money efficiently," Jones said. "I think we have to ask the tough questions. Can we provide better services?"

Although both Johnson and Jones said they are willing to listen to township arguments for maintaining the current maintenance system, both indicated they favored a different methods.

"We are urbanizing," Jones said. "I'm not sure the township method still works as far as providing the types of roads we need today."

Chris Lesser, Kanwaka Township fire chief, disagreed.

"I have the concern about whether I'd have the same level of service," he said.

Lesser noted that road employees in his township provide services other than just maintaining roads. They also assist the fire department in many ways, such as driving trucks to a fire.

Township residents have easier access to township leaders about road problems, said Ernie Butell, of Wakarusa Township.

"You have closer contact with everybody," he said.

Butell also wondered what would happen to township road employees if the county took over the road maintenance.

Township leaders also pointed to Franklin and Jefferson counties, where the roads are maintained by county road departments.

"You can tell within a mile after going into Franklin County there is a difference in the road," Smith said.

Commissioner Jere McElhaney sided with the townships.

"I've always been a strong believer that a smaller unit of government is more responsive (and) can do things better," McElhaney said. "I think a smaller unit of government is more efficient."

A total of 65 Kansas counties use the unit road system method. All county taxpayers finance that system. Before Douglas County could switch to this system, commissioners would have to pass a resolution, which countywide voters would have to approve.

Another option is the "rural highway system," under which a county handles road maintenance. But only taxpayers in unincorporated areas finance it. Moving to that system requires an election just in unincorporated areas. Only Leavenworth County has this system.

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