Hillsboro council embraces recommendations for future

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Members of the Hillsboro City Council vowed at its Aug. 20 meeting to take seriously the four recommendations for action submitted by a “think tank” of community leaders.

Gordon Mohn, USD 410 superintendent and a member of the 11-person Hillsboro Select Committee-an ad hoc group called together by Mayor Delores Dalke to talk about Hillsboro future-reported on the group’s work and presented its four recommendations:

n “Use and encourage other decision makers throughout Hillsboro to use the guiding principles articulated in the description, ‘The Hillsboro of the future is a thriving community where….'” (See sidebar for those guiding principles.).

n “Encourage and expand intergovernmental cooperation between Marion County and the City of Hillsboro.”

Mohn encouraged the council not let the contentious issue of solid-waste removal prevent cooperation on other issues of mutual benefit.

“I tend to think what’s good for Hillsboro is good for Marion County, and what’s good for Marion County is good for Hillsboro,” he said.

n “Facilitate a discussion by stakeholders for the purpose of community economic development.”

Mohn said the issue came to the forefront recently regarding cuts in the 2003 budget, but that the discussion needs to involve a broad circle of people and groups involved with Hillsboro economic future.

n “Promote the development of leaders among Hillsboro residents.”

Mohn said the committee’s intent was not more “leadership training,” but that the city find ways to identify and encourage a new and younger generation of leaders to become involved in the city’s future.

As part of its recommendation, the Select Committee asked that the city initiate action on the four items “not later than Oct. 1.”

Mohn said the reason for including a specific date was that the group did not want its report to “sit on the shelf” indefinitely.

“If it sits on the shelf, then all these guys did was come and drink tea,” said Steven Garrett, city administrator and an HSC member. “We do intend to review this from time to time-to ‘check the oil’ and see how we’re doing.”

Mayor Delores Dalke, who convened the committee, said its “guiding principles” should be the basis for all decisions the council makes.

“We need to ask, will (a particular proposal) really make a difference for the future of the whole community, or will it primarily benefit only a few people,” she said.

When Councilor Barney McCarty noted the impending Oct. 1 deadline, the mayor suggested calling a special meeting for the purpose of having a council work session.

She explained that under state law, a work session can be attended by the public. The council can discuss whatever issues it chooses, but formal recommendations or decisions must be made only in formal council sessions.

Mohn encouraged the council to call a work session, where they could allot sufficient time to discuss the issues. He said frank and open discussion had been the most valuable part of the Select Committee’s time together.

“As I read through the final report again after being away from it for a month, it’s not as powerful as what we talked about,” Mohn said. “You really needed to be involved in these kinds of discussions.”

A specific strategy for dealing with the committee’s work was not determined during the meeting.

Debt collection

The council approved an agreement enrolling the city in the Debt Setoff Program, a program of the Kansas Department of Administration that may make it possible for the city to collect on unpaid debts of utility customers. The program would include delinquent accounts of both present and former residents.

Under the terms of the program, once the city turns over a debt of at least $25, the state will attempt to locate the person, determine if the debt can be paid, then collect what it can. For its work, the state will retain 18.4 percent of all monies collected.

When Dalke asked how far back the city can go to find outstanding debts, Garrett said he wasn’t sure, but assumed that as long as the debts are still recorded on the city books, it could be turned over.

Coincidently, included in the council packet for this meeting was a monthly deposit-refund report citing seven cases where former residents had left the community owing, in total, more than $1,450.

Industrial Park improvements

The council agreed in principle to contribute to a drainage-improvement project in the Hillsboro Industrial Park.

Mike Kleiber, president of the Hillsboro Development Corp., said the organization had done “extensive research” on a master drainage plan, and had concluded that the southeast corner of the 60-acre area currently developed for use “is too low to economically develop drainage.”

At the same time, HDC did want to correct existing drainage problems where possible, Kleiber said. Bob Previtera of Reiss & Goodness Engineers, who is also the city’s engineer, worked with HDC to develop a plan.

Two drainage areas were identified. One is located on the old railroad spur between Industrial Road and Santa Fe Street. The other area is between Santa Fe and Centennial streets.

The two areas are now owned by HDC. The plan is to deed the property down the center line of the drainage area to the adjoining property owners and establish a drainage easement that would require property owners to maintain their portion of the easement.

Kleiber, on behalf of HDC, asked the city to accept the easements and be the governing body “to ensure drainage is maintained.” The cost of the improvements would be paid for by HDC and the property owners.

Council members said they were willing to go along with the plan as long as the property owners understood that, if it was necessary for the city to intervene and maintain a drainage area, property owners would be charged for it.

HDC also asked the city to install an adequate culvert in the center of the drainage that passes under Commerce Street.

The council agreed to the request in principle, but asked Previtera to find out what the project would cost before making a final decision.

The council also agreed to HDC’s request that the city reduce the size of its easement on the south boundary of the park from 90 and 50 feet to 25 feet. The wider easement is no longer needed because the city is not using its old water wells on the property.

Attending the meeting with Kleiber were two HDC members who manage companies in the park: Bob Klein, president of Hillsboro Industries, and Roger Hofer, owner of Wheatbelt Inc.

Budget business

The council formally approved the 2003 budget of nearly $5.26 million, a 4.7 percent increase from the current year. The ad valorem portion of the budget raised through property taxes totaled $506,970 for 2003, an increase of 6.5 percent. The mill levy will be 40.989, an increase of 0.012 mills from 2002.

The challenge of balancing the city budget won’t be getting easier any time soon, Garrett reported. He said recently announced state budget cuts will already affect the 2002 budget, with additional state cuts likely for 2003.

In addition, Garrett said the city learned recently that health insurance rates for city employees will increase in 2003 by 35 percent for the same coverage-after the council approved a budget that had anticipated an increase of only 25 percent.

“This is kind of scary for next year’s budget,” Dalke said. “We’re going to have a real tough year next year.”

Responded Garrett: “If (budgeting city finances) was easy, everybody would be doing it. We’ve just approved the budget tonight and already 2003 is tight.”

Other matters

Another development affecting the 2002 budget was the unexpected resignation of Kermit Dirksen, the city’s part-time building inspector. Dirksen has stepped down from the position, effective immediately, for health reasons.

The city had budgeted for a transition in 2003 from a part-time to full-time position. Garrett said he had already placed ads for a successor, but hiring a candidate for a full-time position will require additional salary for the rest of 2002.

In the meantime, Garrett said, he and his staff would try to cover the necessary duties.

Garrett reported he recently had attended a “very beneficial” Hillsboro Recreation Commission retreat. The commission is planning several program improvements, he said.

One idea of interest to parents of school-age students is that HRC is planning field trips for children on days when USD 410 staff have in-service meetings and classes aren’t in session.

Dalke affirmed the idea, noting that in-service days present a child-care problem for parents who work outside the home.

As the meeting was about to adjourn, Councilor Leonard Coryea mentioned he had been involved in several conversations about aggressive behavior in dogs.

Coryea said he was aware of people who walk for exercise who have altered their route to avoid certain dogs, and he knows of a mother who does not let her young children play in the yard without adult supervision because of a neighbor’s dog.

That sparked a discussion about current ordinances, which only address pit bulls by breed. Council members agreed local complaints involve more than one breed-and need to be addressed.

Dalke said the city of Salina recently passed a widely affirmed dog-behavior ordinance that may help the council as it reconsiders the one Hillsboro follows.

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