LANCASTER — Some roads less taken have recently increased responsibilities for townships by way of a fairly new statute enacted July of 2018.
That was the message Atchison County Counselor Patrick Henderson delivered to the township boards of Atchison County during a special meeting commissioners hosted Tuesday night in Lancaster. The statute came on the heels of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling handed down two years prior in 2016, Henderson said. The county will continue to be responsible for signs related to direction like names of roads, number of miles and those of a similar nature, Henderson said.
In respective township jurisdictions of Benton, Center, Grasshopper, Kapioma, Lancaster, Mt. Pleasant, Shannon and Walnut each township board shall be responsible for speed limit signs, stop signs, warning signs like dangerous curves and falling rocks as well as speed limits.
Henderson advised that unless posted otherwise on all roads other than highways, the speed limit defaults to 55 mph, according to statute. To make changes like speed limits, Henderson advised they would have to adopt a resolution to make changes official. He recommended the township officials consult with the sheriff about authorizations concerning traffic related sign issues and speed limit.
Superintendent Seth Howard of the Atchison County Road and Bridge Department told the officials to submit their changes to the sheriff after they go into effect so that the sheriff’s office deputies will have authority to enforce the laws.
Another issue Henderson touched base on concerned township governance and the expectations that relate to public officials and governing bodies. He told the township official they are subject to the Kansas Tort Liability Claims Act like all governing bodies within the state.
Townships are only required to meet quarterly to conduct business operation and an annual meeting to review the budget and money throughout the year, Henderson said these meetings are all public and the time, date and place of all meetings need to be made known.
All decisions are required to be made in the public meetings like any gathering of the board members, social media, email communications and telephone calls. Any two members of a three member board shall not discuss or advocate township business outside of a public meeting setting. However, they can talk about personal things, schedules and basic agendas.
Township boards are subject to Kansas Open Records Act, Henderson said. Citizens have a right to audit, observe and film governing bodies. Henderson said if citizens are concerned there are any KORA violations they can file complaints to the Kansas Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney General and the county attorney.
Some concerns have the potential to result in a lawsuit. There are specific exceptions for township members to recess into executive sessions as with other governing bodies, Henderson said. All documents subject to KORA and requests for open records shall be submitted in writing.
Henderson reminded the township officials to advise the county of roads they wish to designate as minimum maintenance, or closure to make it official, and to update the county maps as necessary.
Atchison County Chairman Jack Bower said the county recently entered a 10-year bond agreement to finance replacements of the fracture critical off-system bridges in the county. To date two bridges have been completed.
The bridge along Jewell Road will open within the next few weeks, Howard said. After its completion the plan is to next proceed to Graham Road.
The topic invoked some questions from the audience. Howard and commissioners agreed the program might actually entail construction of a new bridge or installation of a culvert whenever compliant with the drainage area of the tributary. County officials agreed the roads that are designated mail and bus routes are considered a higher priority than non-residential and field roads.
Howard said the county has developed a 5-year plan for the county-maintained roads, but the plan is changing somewhat.
“This winter did a number on us,” Howard said.
There some discussions about the flooding impact in Walnut Township and damages sustained from rock haulers along the roads in Center and Mt. Pleasant townships.
Howard reminded the officials about the relocation of the county’s noxious weed office from Effingham to the county shop in Atchison. He estimated office closure will save the county $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Installation of the 911 address signs to enhance emergency responses will take place during the summer.
Each township also received a packet of the information covered during the evening’s presentation along with drafts of resolutions, ordinances, resource information and some maps.