February 29th, 2024

5 30 18 joint meeting part 3Seward County Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey updates the other boards about discussions regarding creating a new comprehensive plan that would incorporate the goals and visions of both the county and the City of Liberal. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of stories concerning a joint meeting between USD 480, the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, City of Kismet, City of Liberal, Seward County Community College, Seward County and Southwest Medical Center.

Today’s story centers on a comprehensive plan for some of the entities represented at the meeting. A final story will focus economic development models for the city and county. 

Comprehensive plans are common and usual and somewhat necessary for communities, cities and counties.

The current comprehensive plan for Seward County is now more than two decades old and in the minds of most community leaders in need of an update.

At last week’s multi-board joint meeting, Seward County Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey said discussions had taken place prior to that meeting centering around a comprehensive plan not just for the county, but also the City of Liberal.

Though used in other communities, McCaffrey said comprehensive plans come in under several different names.

“You will find other communities that maybe call it a strategic plan or a land use plan or a community development plan, but essentially, it’s an encompassed document,” he said.

Both Seward County and the City of Liberal have comprehensive plans at this time, but neither are unified. McCaffrey said some of the talks prior to the joint meeting were to see if a unified plan could be established, which he said will put both entities on the same page.

“Part of that revolves around the cost of getting it and how do we go about doing that,” he said. “By state law, we can do it internally with the assistance of our planning and zoning commissions. We can hire outside consultants to do it. I think it’s been done in the past, but it’s almost prohibitively expensive.”

McCaffrey said $70,000 is about the minimum bid on using a consultant. Because of this, he said the focus has shifted to not hiring an outside consultant.

“We were focused more on trying to find a way to do it individually, whether that means utilizing staff between the city and the county or possibly hiring somebody to come be a director or an overseer of these projects,” he said.

McCaffrey did say this would likely have to be the option given schedules of other likely candidates for the job.

“If we just rely on the commissions and city staff to try and get it done with everything else we have going on, there’s just not enough time available,” he said. “Somebody would have to be dedicated to doing that.”

McCaffrey then talked about the recent meeting county and city commissioners had with Ford County Dodge City Economic Development Direct Joann Knight.

“As part of her presentation and answering questions, she talked about what she called a strategic plan, which was not just strictly a land use plan, which is mostly what the county’s comprehensive plan is.”

Seward County Administrator April Warden said Knight felt as though the county’s strategic, comprehensive and economic development plans needed to coincide with one another.

“Her recommendation was you start with your strategic plan first and then work into your comprehensive plan and your economic development plan,” Warden said.

McCaffrey said the plans for both the city and the county are so far outdate that they seem no longer useful.

“I know the county will be getting a recommendation from our planning and zoning commission, who has been trying internally with the board to try and update our comprehensive plan that they feel is so out of date,” he said. “There’s no way they can just kind of go through it and update certain sections and make it useful. Their recommendation to us from the county standpoint is somehow, someway, we need to just kind of start over and get a new comprehensive plan.”

Instead, McCaffrey said the goal is to develop a better plan that incorporates the scope of comprehensive, strategic, economic development and land use.

Warden said she has met with Liberal Interim City Manager Calvin Burke to exchange comprehensive plans.

“I think both the boards want to work jointly,” Warden said. “We’ve had a lot of input from the planning and zoning board from the county’s standpoint. They had their meeting recently and wrote a letter to the county commissioners and said, ‘We like the direction that the community is taking on working on a joint plan.’ They support that, and they would like to see that developed.”

Warden estimated with community input and to allow the community time to see what is happening, it would take about a year to put a plan together.

“I would say we’re in the very beginning stages of that, but I think that we have to keep the momentum going and decide when we’re going to schedule what’s the next step, how are we going to move forward,” she said.

With most of the entities at the joint meeting approaching budget time, McCaffrey said it would be good for the entities to know how much money needed to be reserved and allocated for the plan.

Liberal Vice Mayor Taylor Harden said with Seward County Community College and USD 480 officials at the meeting, it was likewise good to get input from those entities for future community development plans.

“That way, we can make sure as a county and city that we’re all working together, kind of seeing the big picture from everybody so we’re not developing things where you guys plan on developing things,” he said. “We kind of have an overall feel of the flow of the direction that we want the entire area to go. That also includes Kismet. We want to make sure we have a lot of input from that area.”

Harden added the local Joint Economic Development Committee should also be brought into the equation, and plans should also benefit people who live in either Liberal or Kismet and commute to the other community.

“Hopefully, it’ll be a nice bipartisan approach,” he said. “It’ll have input from all the panels. The nice thing is it shouldn’t have to be all handled at board meetings after we have it initialized. There will be staff dedicated to this 24 hours a day, so hopefully, they’ll be the ones coming to your meetings collaborating and agregating all the information. It definitely seems like a bright opportunity for us. Instead of paying $150,000 for a stack of paper that we never pay attention to, actually try to brainstorm and look at the next 20, 30 years for our community and figure out what we want to achieve.”

SCCC President Dr. Ken Trzaska said keeping a plan brief would also be a good idea.

“Our strategic plan is three pages, and it goes out three years,” he said. “Every year, we evaluate that as an executive team and as a college. We got everybody’s input on campus and just simplified the process. In today’s world, I think they have to be simple and accessible to be stable.”

Trzaska talked about some of what went into SCCC’s comprehensive plan.

“First, we did our core values, and then we identified five key directions as an institution,” he said. “Everything we do relates to those five key directions. Then we created what we call long-term goals and aspirations related to those key directions. It’s worked well. It keeps us accountable. It’s very accessible to people.”

Trzaska said college officials would be willing to help with the process of creating a comprehensive plan for the city and county, which would save money for both entities.

Harden talked about some of the benefits of having both the city and county in one comprehensive plan.

“What my hope would be is if we can all develop out the next two decades of our community growth together, that would lead to a lot of interlocal agreements where we can all try to save each other some money and collaborate on larger projects so that we don’t end up stepping on each other’s toes,” he said.

Trzaska said it is also important to make sure goals and aspirations align with budgeting processes and available resources.

“It’s really easy to say, ‘Where do we want to be in 20 years?’” he said. “I don’t think anybody in this room knows what’s going to happen in five years. You have to be realistic, and that’s always the vulnerability of a long-term plan. Have a long-term vision and aspiration, absolutely, but make sure that you’re looking at, in my opinion, no more than three years out.”

Seward County Commissioner Ada Linenbroker agreed it is important to have everyone on the same page when creating a plan.

“If all of us come together and bring that information together as one, we’ve cover every entity, so there’s no question that we left somebody out,” she said.