Category Archives: Commission

County kicks in $4 million for Big Ditch repairs

111-061507bigditch_fs3_standalone_prod_affiliate_801 Sedgwick County commissioners agreed Wednesday to kick in $4 million toward the cost of repairing the Big Ditch, which provides flood protection for much of the area.

About $10 million in repairs need to be made so the levees can be certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Additional repairs will be required later. The county is splitting the cost with the city. The county will pay an additional $1 million next year.

The city and county missed a Feb. 2 deadline to have the Big Ditch certified.

Decertification could require thousands of homeowners to buy flood insurance or pay higher rates for existing policies.

FEMA is drawing new flood maps. Local leaders say they hope they can make the necessary repairs to the project so it can be certified before the new maps could put more properties in flood zones.

The Big Ditch is the first levee system in the country to undergo accreditation, part of stricter guidelines put in force since Hurricane Katrina decimated parts of New Orleans, where levees broke.

New chairman, vice chairwoman for county commission

Without much fanfare, the Sedgwick County commission voted in a new chairman and vice chairwoman Wednesday morning. But the vote signaled a big change on the board.

Commissioner Gwen Welshimer made the recommendation for Kelly Parks to serve as chairman of the board for the next year, and the board voted 5-0 to do so. New commissioner Karl Peterjohn called for Welshimer to be vice chairwoman of the board. That vote also was unanimous.

The shift signals a new majority on the board. Former chairman Tom Winters and commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh typically voted together when voters were split, and Parks and Welshimer voted together. Observers say that Parks, Welshimer and Peterjohn likely will be the new majority when voters are split, though the commission typically voters unanimously.

New majority for county commission

For years, it’s been the Sedgwick County commission’s tradition to “promote” the board’s vice chairman to chairman.

It’s not looking likely that that will happen Wednesday when the board chooses a new leader for the year.

Former chairman Tom Winters lost his seat on the board to new commissioner Karl Peterjohn, a Republican. Tim Norton, a Democrat, has served as vice chairman the past year.

An effort is under way to make Republican Kelly Parks the new chairman.

“I can’t say for sure who’s going to be elected tomorrow, but the way things look, we believe it’s going to be Kelly Parks for chair and me for vice chair,” commissioner Gwen Welshimer, a Democrat, said Tuesday. “But you know, there’s a surprise around every corner.”

Winters, Norton and commissioner Dave Unruh typically were the majority on the commission when votes split. The commission often votes unanimously, but when members do split, typically Winters, Norton and Unruh voted together and Parks and Welshimer together.

Welshimer said voters expect a change on the commission and “we’re looking forward to doing some things a little differently. There’s a little bit of struggle for people who’ve had the majority. They have a big investment, and they don’t want to lose that investment, and that’s understandable. But then those people who are the new majority have an investment to make.”

Welshimer — as well as political observers — expects the majority to shift to her, Parks and Peterjohn.

While there’s been a “little” stress over the shift, she said, “I don’t think it’s going to turn into anything that we can’t smooth over. But this is a transition, and it’s going to be bumpy.”

Welshimer said she plans to ask to move the election of the new chairman up to the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, have Norton chair the election and then have the commissioner elected chairman lead the rest of the meeting.

Unruh also cautioned that he couldn’t say for sure what would happen.

“Normally Commissioner Norton would be voted in to that spot because he’s been pro tem and has experience and people know him. But I think that’s not going to happen,” Unruh said. “I think the chair and prot tem will change in light of the new makeup of the commission.”

Norton was not available for comment early Tuesday afternoon.