Bid for legals raises ire of publishers

A proposal to change the newspaper in which the City of Hillsboro publishes its legal notices was met with strong resistance from the current holder of that privilege during the Nov. 21 Hillsboro City Council meeting.

Joel Klaassen, representing Print Source Direct, Hillsboro, asked the council to make the Hillsboro Free Press Digest the city’s official newspaper. Doing so would qualify it to publish legal notices.

The Digest, Klaassen said, recently fulfilled the state’s requirements for eligibility: it is a paid-circulation publication that has been published every week for one year.

Klaassen said if the council would agree to run its legal notices in the Digest at an agreed-upon rate, Print Source Direct would also run the legals without charge in the Hillsboro Free Press, which saturates Marion County.

The Free Press is not eligible to charge for legals because it does not require paid subscriptions.

The circulation of the Digest is less than 100, Klaassen said. The Free Press, though, goes to more than 1,600 homes in the 67063 zip code and more than 6,800 homes in all which includes Marion County and parts of five surrounding counties.

In his letter to the council, Klaassen stated his proposal would save taxpayer dollars and almost triple the number of households reached with public information than has been achieved through the current official newspaper, the Hillsboro Star-Journal.

Klaassen said one way to save money would be to reduce the type size of legals from the 9-point type currently used in the Star-Journal to 7-point type. He said some daily newspapers in the state even run legals in 6-point type.

Speaking against the proposal were Bill Meyer and Eric Meyer of Marion, principals in Hoch Publishing Co. Inc., which publishes the Star-Journal.

“What Joel proposes is an end run, sort of like what they’re doing in Florida right now, to get around a law that has been going on for more than a hundred years,” said Bill Meyer. “I would propose it’s something like the Wal-Mart circular.”

According to Klaassen’s letter, legal counsel, “both of local origin and through the Kansas Press Association, has confirmed that our plan is on solid legal footing and fulfills the requirement.”

Meyer said: “This Digest, which I say I never heard of, probably can comply. But I think you can see that’s a subterfuge to get around the law, and I really don’t think the people of Hillsboro would want to do that.”

Eric Meyer said the Star-Journal, in an effort to serve the Hillsboro community, choses to publish on Wednesday mornings so it can include coverage of Tuesday-night council meetings-even though the paper could get more advertising if it was published later.

“That’s one of the commitments I think we make to try to be a community newspaper,” he said.

Eric Meyer called Klaassen’s plan “a scam.”

“I can just as easily go out and get a couple of pieces of carbon paper and type something up and call it a newspaper,” he said. “But your official newspaper will be something nobody’s ever seen.”

Bill Meyer told the council that Print Source Direct’s offer to have the legals run without charge in the broad-circulation Free Press should not even be considered.

“In determining what will be your legal newspaper, you can’t consider the Hillsboro Free Press because it is not a newspaper,” he said. “You can’t mix apples and oranges, or sheep and goats, or whatever. You could put it in the Wal-Mart circular, but that wouldn’t make it a newspaper.”

City Clerk Jan Meisinger reported that the City of Hillsboro has paid $7,456 for all city advertising so far this year. The amount spent only on legals was not reported.

By state statute, a newspaper is not allowed to charge more for publishing legals than its highest commercial rate, which, for most newspapers, is the rate for classified display advertising.

Bill Meyer said they had raised the Star-Journal’s rate from $1.00 to $1.15 per line in July. That comes to about $10 per column inch, which he said was the Star-Journal’s current rate.

Mayor Delores Dalke asked if a newspaper can charge less than the guideline set by the state.

“When it’s not competitive, everybody charges the maximum,” Klaassen said. “Basically, that’s what you’ll find statewide.”

Bill Meyer defended the Star-Journal’s practice of running legals in 9-point type.

“The Star-Journal could print it in smaller point size,” he said. “It’s doubtful you would save a great deal of money. The reason it’s in 9-point type is because the citizens of Hillsboro and Marion County are older people and it’s difficult to guarantee readability.”

Klaassen said running the same legal notice in 7-point type instead of 9-point type would save the city about 19 percent on its bill.

Having heard the input, the council decided to table the issue for further consideration.

In other business, the council:

— heard that the city’s request for a grant to help cover the airport tarmac and runway with a four-inch asphalt overlay had been approved. The grant will provide up to $124,000 (75 percent) or the project costs. The rest will be covered by city funds.

— agreed to reduce the city’s November water bill for Virgil Oblander, 205 S. Eisenhower. He had been charged for 62,600 gallons of water for the previous month. His total for the previous four months combined was about 65,300.

Oblander said there was no sign of a leak, but his water meter had been replaced in recent weeks.

“It could have gone haywire, but I don’t know,” he said. “Something just don’t add up there and I wondered if anything can be done about it.”

The council agreed to adjust his November bill to reflect his average monthly usage.

— asked the Hillsboro Historical Society to make a list of all its capital-improvement needs at city-owned historical properties, and then prioritize them for council consideration.

Peggy Goertzen and David Wiebe, representing the historical society, had asked the council for money to replace cedar shingles on the shed addition to the Adobe House at a cost of between $10,000 to $11,500.

“I wish this could have been done before budgeting (for 2001),” said Dalke.

“We do things when they become apparent to us,” Goertzen said.

The council agreed with Dalke’s suggestion that the society make a list of its needs on all properties. The council could see what, if any, money, could be allotted from the city’s capital improvements budget for this year, but also plan for future projects in 2002 and beyond.

— approved Ordinance 1036 which would eliminate a separate and higher electrical rate for commercial users, and would set the monthly rate for residential and commercial users at $.089 per kilowatt hour.

City Administrator Steve Garrett said the new rate is a slight increase for residential users and would offset any loss in payments caused by eliminating the higher commercial rate.

— approved a progress payment of $17,294.79 to Mid States Energy Works, Inc., Salina, for work completed on the new electrical substation. The entire project is projected to cost $382,360.

— approved a policy to keep staff-produced audio or video recordings of city council meetings for 30 days following each meeting. After the 30-day period, the tape will be destroyed or reused. Exemptions may be made of certain public hearings.

— approved ordinances 1038 and 1039 which authorize zoning changes to redefine Hillsboro’s general commercial district.

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