Commission prepares to send out county-wide survey

Nearly two years after the formation of the Nemaha County Planning Commission (NCPC), a county-wide survey is ready to send out to all Nemaha County households asking for residents’ opinions on various topics regarding life in Nemaha County.

Background

In 2019, during the development of the Soldier Creek Wind Farm in southern Nemaha County — surrounding the communities of Corning and Goff — it was apparent that Nemaha County residents were divided in their vision of what life in Nemaha County should look like. Therefore, the NCPC was formed to begin the initial steps of developing a comprehensive plan for Nemaha County.

The NCPC met for the first time on Oct. 22, 2020. Since their first meeting — despite multiple hiccups including changing planning consultants — the NCPC has been working on developing a county-wide survey to send to Nemaha County residents.

The NCPC began working with Keith Marvin with Marvin Planning Consultants in 2020. Little progress was made with Marvin Planning Consultants, and the NCPC — along with the Nemaha County Commission — decided to switch planning consultant companies. On April 18 2022, Nemaha County Commission entered into a contract with Richard Horton, a certified community planner by the American Planning Association.

Horton has provided planning services in 30 states and has achieved the highest accreditation awarded by the Association, which is the A.I.C.P. (American Institute of Certified Planners).

With a new planner hired and the NCPC discouraged by “the work accomplished to date,” the NCPC started over with Horton.

The Survey

Horton first met with NCPC during their April 2022 meeting. Then, in order to begin developing the survey, Horton began to conduct stakeholder interviews in May.

Stakeholder Interviews

According to Horton, “A stakeholder refers to persons or groups in Nemaha County who may affect or be affected by a decision[s] that are outcomes of the comprehensive planning process.”

Multiple groups across Nemaha County were interviewed by Horton over the course of two days, while email messages were sent from individuals to Horton over a period of several days.

“Forty groups were interviewed in person representing 150 to 200 individuals while numerous other citizens sent emails to me to specify their issues, concerns and data to support their input,” Horton said.

Survey Questions

With the stakeholder interviews completed, the NCPC began to develop questions for the survey that “truly represent the key issues” in Nemaha County.

Horton said this was the biggest hurdle the NCPC had to overcome when developing the survey.

“[The biggest hurdle was] to develop potential survey questions that truly represent the key issues that need to be tested in the survey instrument with emphasis on industrial energy [turbines],” Horton said.

NCPC Vice Chairman Galen Ackerman said that constraining the survey was the biggest challenge.

“Constraining the survey to no more than 25 questions while still covering the issues and characteristics that were determined to be important as a result of the stakeholder interviews [was the biggest hurdle],” Ackerman said.

NCPC Chairman Michael Schmelzle said the biggest hurdle was for the NCPC to find neutral ground and get things into perspective in order to compile the survey.

“We have had some gray areas to work through and the committee has worked well through it,” Schmelzle said. “In order for us to work together, we’ve got to find that neutral area. I think the survey is going to be very important for people to fill it out appropriately and be honest about it, and if they have any comments on it, to make sure they put the comments down to make sure the county commissioners know through the survey, what they want.”

Ackerman also said industrial wind is one of the major topics included in the survey.

“Because the resolution that established the ‘advisory committee’ was the direct result of the County Commission work on determining the Soldier Creek project decision, I believe all on the Planning Commission would say that industrial wind is a major topic,” Ackerman said. “Even so, we all also agree that deeper a understanding of citizen opinion on the other areas such as roads and bridges, housing, employment, etc., is vital to knowing where our County is going and how it will arrive there.”

Schmelzle agreed that industrial wind was the big issue, when compiling the survey, as well as housing in Nemaha County.

“I think housing is always going to be a big issue and how to draw people back into the county, and even keep people in the county,” Schmelzle said.

Ackerman and Schmelzle added that while the NCPC is comprised of many different individuals with certain opinions on topics, they all have one goal in mind.

“Even though we individually have very different perspectives on certain topics, I believe we’ve developed a very healthy mutual respect for each other,” Ackerman said. “I believe we’ve worked so well together because we are unified in our goal of developing an effective survey that will lead the County to a well-informed Comprehensive Plan.”

“Dynamics were pretty good,” Schmelzle said. “We tried to find neutral ground and compile ideas from both sides to make it work.”

As for which topics “made the cut” in the 25 questions survey, Horton said the survey questions are “very detailed about life in Nemaha County.”

Survey question topics include, but are not limited to: industrial wind, Nemaha County as a place to live, Nemaha County as a place to raise children, Nemaha County as a place for education, Nemaha County as a place to work, cost of living, employment opportunities, rural character, safe place to live, agri-business, affordable housing, protecting farmland, childcare, quality of roads, quality of healthcare and much more.

Taking the Survey

While the exact date for when the survey will be sent out has not been set in stone, Ackerman said as soon as the NCPC can put informative advertising in front of the citizenry for “at least three weeks as per County Commission guidance,” they will send out the surveys.

According to Horton, the surveys will be mailed directly to each household — approximately 4,500 households — in Nemaha County, via the U.S. Postal Service in a sealed envelope bearing the Nemaha County official seal.

Horton also said a cover letter with instructions will be included with each survey and will request each survey be returned in one week.

According to Horton, Ackerman and Schmelzle, the paper survey inside will have printed on it a “unique ID code.”

“The recipient can either complete the paper survey and return it in the postage-paid envelope supplied, or go to the URL represented by the QR code also printed on their survey. Once at that official survey site, they will be required to enter their own unique ID code prior to being permitted to complete the survey online,” they said.

Schmelzle encouraged all residents to respond to the survey.

“We have to have an accurate representation on how the county should move forward, and it will be reflected on what we receive back on the survey. It is very important and that is what we are all stressing,” Schmelzle said.

Gathering, Using the Results

According to Horton, once the surveys are sent back, The ETC Institute of Olathe, Kansas is the manager of the survey process.

“They will distribute the survey, analyze the results, ensure the results are statistically valid, prepare a written report of the results, and send the results through me back to the Planning Commission and the County Commission for their review and future use as decisions are made in the future,” Horton said.

Horton said the survey data will position the Planning Commission and County Commission to make informed decisions about issues/opportunities facing the County in the future, and help build a comprehensive plan.

“[They will be able] to apply the statistically valid data to key issues such as the wind turbines to determine how that issue/opportunity will be addressed by the County Commission,” Horton said.

Comprehensive Plan

Horton said a comprehensive plan for Nemaha County “will serve as a tool to be used by decision-makers in the future as allocation of resources is contemplated.”

Ackerman said having a comprehensive plan in place — which is developed based on the county-wide survey results — will help the Nemaha County Commissioners make “well-informed decisions.”

“No matter what field you work in or what ‘style’ you operate your household with, it is a recognized fact that you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Ackerman said. “When we elect our County Commissioners, we assign them responsibility to make the best possible decisions for us all. I believe an accurate and up to date Comprehensive Plan will provide them with the key data points from which they can then make well-informed decisions for today and for tomorrow.”

About The NCPC

The NCPC was formed after Resolution 2019-4 was adopted May 13, 2019. The resolution states the commissioners will appoint an “advisory committee,” which was eventually appointed and then became the Planning Commission. Since the resolution was adopted, it has been extended several times and the language has changed. Resolution No. 2019-4, Resolution No. 2021-12 and Resolution No. 2022-8 can be found on our website at SabethaHerald.com.

Current members of the NCPC are Chairman Michael Schmelzle, Commissioner District 2; Vice Chairman Galen Ackerman, Commissioner District 1; Bob Ruddick, Commissioner District 1; Andy Grove, Commissioner District 1; Freda Dobbins, Commissioner District 2; Brent Alverson, Commissioner District 2; Charity Henry, Commissioner District 3; Lynette Strathman, Commissioner District 3; and Martin Schmelzle, Commissioner District 3. Nancy Gafford is the Recording Secretary.

The NCPC meets regularly on the fourth Monday of each month. Minutes from each of their meetings can be found at http://ks-nemaha.manatron.com/.

Heather Stewart198 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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