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In 17-year gap, Phelps sees progress on water issues

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Eber Phelps, a familiar face in state and local government, has brought his historical perspective to Hays City Commission since rejoining the commission in January.

Phelps left his spot as Hays City Commissioner 17 years ago to serve as a state legislator and, after his appointment to fill Barbara Wasinger's unexpired term, he is seeing the fruits of past commissions' decisions.

Although he just finished campaigning a few months ago, when he lost his re-election bid for the 111th Kansas House District, he's back on the campaign trail facing Shaun Musil, Todd Gabel, Dominic Pianalto and incumbent Ron Mellick for three seats in the April 2 city commission election.

Since his January appointment to the commission, Phelps has been involved in reviewing the city's water conservation initiatives, many of which were implemented during his previous commission stint in the 1990s.

"I recall other commissions around us kind of poking fun at us (for water conservation measures) and now it is 20 years later and it's obviously proven to be worthwhile," he said earlier this month. "When I came back on the commission, I wanted to revisit that, and, lo and behold, the meeting before I came on board, the manager gave a beautiful report on where we're at and what we need to do.

"It's time to initiate those incentives again and also let people understand we have a very complicated water delivery system in Hays."

That water delivery system, he said, entails everything from conservation to reconfiguration of the wellfield and recharging the aquifer. His ground-floor historical knowledge of the city's water issues, along with his knowledge of legislative matters and lifelong residency in Hays are top reasons, he said, voters might be inclined to check his box on the upcoming ballot.

In addition, it's his hope, Phelps said, to continue to keep city spending under control, identifying the difference between "wants" and "needs."

"At the moment, the wants are a civic center and a pavilion, all kinds of things," he said. "We've also got to take into consideration our county has some real needs as well.

"Since we are a part of the county, we have to be cognizant of what they've got on the table as well."

Still tuned into state political issues, Phelps said he fears state tax burdens could be shifted to the local level. Phelps said communities could see mill levy increases to fund school districts.

"Less and less money will be coming to the municipalities, so we have to tread cautiously," he said.

Another top issue for the city, Phelps said, is maintaining the roughly 115 miles of streets in Hays. He said he has been pleased to see commissions set a schedule for maintaining streets and also airport upgrades. He said he thinks the right course of action is being implemented in addressing street repairs.

"You would probably like to go in and take care of all your streets, but we have to do that in phases ... designate streets," he said. "We have a pretty astute city service department, and I think they are able to make their recommendations."