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Commissioner: Deal with water issues now

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Ellis County commissioners and department heads discussed a wide range of topics in Monday afternoon's special meeting at 601 Main.

County priorities from the commissioners' perspective was on the agenda of the planning session. In Commissioner Swede Holmgren's estimation, there is one priority that stands above all others: adequate water supply. Without water, he said, the population will dry up.

"If we don't do something now as a county, you're going to see corridors of people living along the interstate, along Highway 183, and Highway 281, and that's it," Holmgren said. "There's not going to be anybody out there, because you can't survive without water. And it's coming. I'm telling you right now, guys and gals, it's coming. We are depleting our water supplies so fast."

Holmgren provided anecdotal evidence of the dire situation.

"My well at my house is 65 feet deep, and two years it's dropped 10 feet," he said. "I would tell you -- and this is only one old man's opinion -- this is the No. 1 issue in western Kansas.

"You can talk about infrastructure and economic development and everything else you want to, but if you don't have water to drink, it's all for naught."

Commissioners also briefly discussed aspects of the proposed expansion and renovation of the county courthouse and jail. Architects will meet with the Ellis County Sheriff's office and Hays Police Department.

"We need to look at that plan," said Sheriff Ed Harbin. "There's some issues with it."

During discussion of the 2014 budget, Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees gave a presentation explaining why his office needs to add one more attorney and one more staff person. The office has four attorneys and five support staff.

During the last five years, on average, Drees' office has resolved 1,087 cases per year, but on average 131 cases per year are not resolved, due to manpower limitations.

"That is first and foremost the reason I need the help," Drees said. "I need those other 10 percent of cases looked at."

Commissioners said they would take Drees' request under advisement as the budget process progresses.