Council to survey community interestin new ‘linear park’

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF

How much interest does the community of Hillsboro have in seeing a “linear park” developed on three blocks of abandoned railroad line within the city?

City Administrator Steven Garrett was instructed by the Hillsboro City Council at its July 2 meeting to find out after an ad hoc group of citizens proposed such a project.

The group, calling itself the Hillsboro Linear Trail Committee, presented a written proposal asking the city to designate $5,000 in the 2003 budget for the “first phase” of the park from Lincoln Street west across Main Street to Ash Street.

The committee stated it is interested in “developing more green spaces and recreational walking paths.” A properly developed linear park “provides residents with safe areas for participating in diverse forms of leisure activities and recreational opportunities.”

The group’s written proposal requested the city’s $5,000 be designated as a block grant for use in developing the linear park and that the committee “be authorized to determine the expenditures.”

The proposal also asked the city to provide the manpower, machines and material to help volunteers create a level walking surface no less than eight feet wide; level all sharp banks to a mowable surface and remove all overgrowth of trees and scrub brush; provide a border of used railroad ties or telephone poles; create a walkway from limestone screenings; and supply city compost as needed.

The proposal also suggested the city appoint an official committee from a cross-section of residents and business owners “to address land-use issues, particularly around the Cooperative Grain and Supply.”

“Does it sound like something you’d like in our community?” committee spokesperson Rene Matz asked after the council was slow to respond after her initial presentation.

“What is the feeling of the community?” Councilor Matt Hiebert asked.

“Our committee would find out,” Matz responded, adding: “One option, I suppose would be to leave (the property) the way it is, which is an eyesore.”

Councilor Byron McCarty said the property has become less of an eyesore since city crews began mowing the property in 1999 after it had been ignored by the owners, which the city had taken to be Central Kansas Conservatory Inc., a non-profit organization interested in transforming the abandoned rail corridor between McPherson and Marion into a recreational trail.

McCarty’s comment sparked discussion on several related issues. One issue was the lack of clarity about the ownership of the corridor, since CKC claims only to own the right-of-way and is not the organization responsible to keep up the property or to pay taxes on it.

The city has billed CKC $6,900 since 1999 for mowing the property. That bill remains unpaid and the city is continuing to mow the property.

A related issue was whether, in principle, the city should use public money to improve private property. City Administrator Steven Garrett said the city-owned land that was leased for years for the Dari-Ette business illustrated the potential for confusion down the road.

Gordon Mohn, a member of the ad hoc committee, said a clear cooperative agreement would need to be struck between the various parties involved.

Garrett said that is difficult to pursue because ownership of the land is unclear.

Another issue was whether the city has money to invest in such a project even if the council favored it. Garrett said the city has developed a five-year capital-improvement plan-which could be altered. But the council is already forming its 2003 budget “and the money is already spoken for.”

Garrett said projected funding shortages for 2003 will already make that budget process a challenge.

“The council has agreed to keep the mill levy as close as possible to last year,” Garrett said. “I’m not sure we can even discuss where money (for a linear park) can come from.”

When Kevin and Angy Jost, rural residents who have been legally challenging “rails-to-trails” activities in the countryside, raised their concern about the integrity of CKC, Mayor Delores Dalke suggested that the council’s first step should be to find out how the community feels about such a project.

That notion was affirmed by the ad hoc committee as well as the council.

As a first step, Garrett was instructed to survey business owners and residents who own property adjacent to the abandoned railroad corridor. The second step, then, would be to survey the broader community.

While Garrett gathers that information, the city also will try to find legal clarity regarding ownership issues.

In another matter, the council voted unanimously to instruct City Attorney Dan Baldwin to ask for full payment on a $119,000 letter of credit taken out by Kunkel & Associates, a California-based company, from an unnamed bank in California.

Kunkel & Associates owns the lots being developed as Willow Glen by Kunkel Construction, a Hillsboro company owned by Bruce and Sherry Kunkel.

Because of a major financial setback unrelated to the Hillsboro housing development, Mayor Dalke said Kunkel & Associates has fallen $28,500 behind in paying for special assessments.

The council discussed asking the bank only for the $28,500 currently owed. But because the letter of credit might be in jeopardy when it comes due for renewal in 2003, the city might be wise to ask for the entire amount now, said Jerry Rayl, the city’s financial consultant.

“If I was a bank, I wouldn’t (renew the letter),” he said.

Asked how he thought the California bank would respond if the city asked for the entire $119,000, Baldwin, alluding to the possibility of additional negotiation or even litigation, quipped: “Who knows what their response is going to be, but it’s not going to come back in check form.”

Dalke emphasized the situation facing Kunkel & Associates does not reflect the financial status of the Willow Glen project or on the local developers.

“What (Kunkel & Associates) is doing with their money has nothing to do (with the Willow Glen project),” she said. “The developers are not the owners (of the lots).”

Rayl said the city is still owed a total of $459,000 in special assessments for the entire project, but that amount will continue to decrease as more lots are sold and the new homeowners assume responsibility for their share of the payments.

In other matters, the council:

n approved a job description for adding an electric groundman to the electrical department. Asked about the starting wage for the position, Garrett said it would likely be $10 to $13 per hour, depending on the qualifications of the candidate.

n approved paying engineering statements from Reiss & Goodness for $5,635 for inspection services on the alley and intersection improvement project from May 28 through June 21, and $2,603.32 in engineering fees for rehabilitating the sand filters at the water-treatment plant.

n approved paying $31,344.17 to Barclay Construction for initial work done on the intersection of Grand and Washington, and $22,577.50 to Walters-Construction Inc., as the final payment for the water-treatment-plant project.

n approved publishing the city’s revised building code as an ordinance in the city’s official newspaper.

n heard from the city’s engineer that the street project on the south end of Washington Street is contracted to begin July 22 and must be completed within 45 days, which would be Sept. 4.

n heard from Garrett that he will be launching a plan to upgrade the city’s aging fleet of four dump trucks. Mayor Dalke suggested that Garrett explore the possibility of purchasing a new truck rather than a used one that likely would require extensive repairs down the road.

n heard from Garrett that the police department will be applying for another “cops matching grant” to add a law-enforcement officer to the force so that a current officer could be designated for detective work. Garrett said Police Chief Dan Kinning currently was putting in considerable unpaid overtime to pursue detective work while continuing his duties as police chief.

n heard from Garrett that city utilities rates remain the same for 2003, but that residents ultimately would be paying more for trash services now that the county is taking responsibility for it.

n heard from Garrett that the city likely will need to add a third member to its water-treatment-plant crew now that it is becoming a wholesale distributor of water and that 24-hour attention will be necessary.

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