Lehigh and Hillsboro fire depts. may unite

Hillsboro officials were given the green light by the City Council Tuesday to continue exploring the possibility of the Hillsboro Fire Department taking over responsibility for the fire station in Lehigh.

Fire Chief Ben Steketee and City Administrator Steven Garrett reported they had been invited to meet with the Lehigh City Council earlier in the month to talk about the possibility of making the Lehigh station a substation of the Hillsboro department.

“That fire department has been struggling the past couple of years, to put it mildly,” Steketee said, with the primary issues being manpower and morale.

“We’re hoping by doing this to bring in some new leadership to the Lehigh Fire Department, and hopefully get more and better-qualified volunteers to step forward.”

HFP already protects the township around Lehigh and often has been the department of response for the small community west of Hillsboro because of situations with the Lehigh department, Garrett said.

Steketee said making the Lehigh department a substation of Hillsboro would provide benefits for both Lehigh and Hillsboro.

“The benefits to their community are pretty clear,” he said. “But there are some things I’m not qualified to work out, like what type of exchange there’s going to be because it’s going to cost us money for us to set them up.”

Steketee said Lehigh has “a lot of the basics” in regard to equipment, but some of the equipment needs to be tested and certified.

Garrett said the arrangement is still being discussed, and he has questions about liability and financing that need to be resolved.

The council expressed support in principle for continuing the exploration process.

“If we can help Lehigh, or any other smaller community, I think that’s what our job is,” Mayor Delores Dalke said.

In other business, the council:

delayed action on refunding general obligations bonds issued in 1998 when the Public Building Commission acquired the facilities and grounds of Hillsboro Community Medical Center.

Jerry Rayl, the city’s financial adviser, recommended the move because, given current low interest rates, refunding would save the city almost $150,000.

Rayl outlined two options for refunding the bonds.

The first would result in lowering the payments for debt service by $10,000 to $7,500 each year through the life of the bonds.

The second would keep the debt-service payment at the current level, which would have the effect of paying off the bonds sooner and thus realize savings for the city at the end of the term.

Dalke said she thought Option 1 would be in the city’s best interest.

“Because we need to be concerned about current cash flow, we probably need to be looking at that first option,” she said.

The council delayed action in order to give the HCMC Board of Directors a chance to review the information.

approved an ordinance for issuing general obligation bonds in the amount of $400,000 toward the Main Street renovation project.

approved Ordinance 1068 to annex the former AMPI property along the city’s north edge.

heard from Rayl that the city will soon need to pass an ordinance authorizing the $3.47 million renovation project at the water-treatment plant. He reminded the council that $1.55 million of that project will be covered by a Rural Development grant, and that the city would be issuing $1.92 million in general obligation bonds over 40 years to pay for the rest of it.

approved a bid of $20,450 from Kansas Sand & Construction for work needing to be done on the house at 316 N. Washington through the city’s neighborhood renovation project. The council also agreed to pay a bill for $3,000 to Reiss & Goodness Engineers for partial payment on the work the company has completed on the project.

agreed to file for an extension with the state on the neighborhood improvement project because work will not be completed according to schedule.

heard from Garrett that the city’s application for a grant to reroof and make other improvements at the Schaeffler House had been turned down. He said the city and Historical Society are investigating other strategies.

recessed for a Public Building Commission meeting, during which members elected Shelby Dirks as president of the PBC. Len Coryea had been elected vice chairman at an early meeting.

took no action after a 10-minute executive session requested by Councilor Barney McCarty to discuss personnel.

took no action after an executive session called to discuss the acquisition of property.

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