One of Greensburg’s buildings spared destruction in the May 4 tornado has become the focus of a developing conflict between city government and local residents.

One of Greensburg’s buildings spared destruction in the May 4 tornado has become the focus of a developing conflict between city government and local residents.
The metal building erected by the Kiowa County Soil Conservation Board a dozen years ago has been leased since in five-year increments to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  The rent received has served as the Conservation Board’s primary source of income.
No rent has been paid, however, since the storm; the building needing around 45 days of remodeling work, according to current Conservation Board Chair Tom Taylor.
The problem comes in the building’s location, on the north side of Illinois Street, putting it just inside one of the areas under moratorium on building activity.  That difficulty was overcome for people living north of Ohio Street in a special city council meeting Thursday evening when the north side moratorium was allowed to expire the next day.
Residents needing only to replace a roof north of Ohio can now do so, though plans for zoning the area as an industrial park are still in place.
“If people north of Ohio want to repair their house, knowing there may be a cement plant next door in five years, then so be it,” councilman Brandon Hosheit said.
While opening the door to housing repair on the north side, allowing that moratorium to sunset did little to resolve the Conservation Board’s dilemma, simply because their building sits between Illinois and Ohio.
 It’s the corridor between Illinois and Ohio Streets that has become the designated path for the new freeway version of US 54 to be built.  Kansas Department of Transportation was given the green light last week to begin the process of acquiring the property in that corridor, both commercial and residential.
Without assurances it can be helped in later reconstruction, the Conservation Board doesn’t want KDOT to eventually buy the space its damaged building sits on, but does want the City to allow it to begin its remodeling immediately for two reasons.
The sooner the remodeling is finished, the sooner FSA and NRCS can return to the building and begin paying rent.
Even more urgent is the need to have the building ready for use by October 31, exactly 180 days after the tornado hit.  According to Taylor that’s the deadline FSA has agreed to as the cutoff point for keeping the agency in Kiowa County.
While a number of county FSA offices have been closed recently across the nation in a cost-cutting effort, Greensburg appeared to have escaped the ax when it was decided earlier this year to close the Coldwater location instead.  All that changed May 4.
“Washington figured the tornado made this the perfect time to close our office,” Taylor told council members at the June 18 meeting.  He also said FSA agreed to the six-month grace period only at the urging of state FSA director Bill Fuller.
“Bill told us 180 days was the best he could do,” Taylor said Monday.  “That’s all we’ve got to work with. If we don’t have this building ready to go and have FSA back in there by then, FSA will leave Greensburg.”
Taylor went on to tell the council Monday that with five FSA and three NRCS jobs at stake that amount to an annual payroll of $300,000, the City might want to “think twice” about not letting the remodeling work proceed.
 “If you’re up and running in six months will they let you move the building later?” councilman Gary Goodheart asked Taylor Monday.
Taylor said he assumed so.
 While the moratorium on building north of Illinois Street was allowed to expire due to lack of extension Thursday night at the special meeting, the council did decide to extend the moratorium on the corridor between Illinois and Ohio another two weeks.
As for how long it might be before KDOT could begin acquiring property between the two streets, District Engineer Bob Cook said it would be at least two months.
“We’d need at least a month to finish title searches and another month to do property descriptions,” Cook said.  He indicated greater detail of the process would be given at the town meeting scheduled for June 28.
Mayor John Janssen said it was his impression after talking with the state’s congressional delegation Tuesday that something can be worked out at the federal level to keep FSA in town.
“There will be an ASCS office in Greensburg,” Janssen said Thursday evening.  “From talking to our people in congress I can say they’re committed to that.  We’re not going to lose those jobs.”
“What I’m hearing you say right now is news to me,” Conservation District Board member David Allen said.  “But if there’s some other way of working this out, I’m not opposed to that.”
Having missed Thursday’s meeting because of harvest, Taylor was circumspect when told Thursday evening of Janssen’s comments.
“I’d like to believe everything John said,” Taylor replied after stepping down from his combine.  “And I’m sure the politicians were sincere.
“But from what I understand of the situation in Washington, these decisions go right over the heads of our congressmen and senators.They can state their opinion.  But if we miss the deadline of 180 days, and FSA wants the office out of Greensburg, I’m not sure there’s any way to stop that.”