Better cell-phone service coming ‘pretty quick’ with Alltel tower

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The prospect of having better cell-phone reception in Hillsboro isn’t far from being fulfilled, the Hillsboro City Council heard at its Oct. 7 special meeting.

City Administrator Steven Garrett said Alltel Corp. should have its new tower constructed on the former AMPI property “pretty quick.”

He said an official from the company told him Alltel likes to build its towers “before the snow flies,” and the average construction time for a tower is two weeks.

The prospect of having better 911 communication across Marion County looks brighter, too.

For some time, some police and fire departments have had trouble communicating with the dispatch office in Marion because of incompatible systems.

The county has decided to pay 100 percent of the cost to replace repeaters where necessary-including at Hillsboro, Garrett said. The county also will pay 75 percent of the cost of each new radio needed by the various entities.

Hillsboro’s repeater broke down in recently, forcing the city to borrow one.

“That’s a good deal for us and a good deal for them,” Garrett said of the arrangement. “That way it gets the whole project into a position where it can actually get funded and get mobile. It really comes at a good time for us with the repeater going down.”

Mayor Delores Dalke said the project will be funded with federal dollars.

“We’re very fortunate the Homeland Security money is coming through now,” she said. “That’s what (the county is) designating that money for.”

Each new radio will cost between $500 and $600, Garrett said. He added that the county’s cost-sharing arrangement is intended to keep the various entities from buying more radios than they need.

“Since we’re having to put up 25 percent of the money, we might look at it before we order a lot of radios,” he said.

A citizen in the audience asked if the Alltel tower and the county’s upgrade will enable citizens to talk directly to the Marion dispatch office when they dial 911 within the county.

The citizen said on two occasions when he called 911 while driving within the county, he was connected once with Newton and once with Emporia and his call had to be transferred.

Garrett said he did not know how the upgrades would affect that situation, but would try to find out.

About a half dozen citizens were at Tuesday’s meeting, presumably with the expectation of addressing the proposal promoted at the Sept. 23 council meeting to exempt additional public properties from the statewide ban on alcohol consumption.

Dalke acknowledged their presence near the end of the meeting and said, in case they did not know, the proposal had been dropped indefinitely from the council’s agenda.

She and Garrett explained they could not add the topic to this meeting’s agenda because state law requires that the published agenda for a “special meeting” not be changed.

Recent city council meetings have been “special” because the starting time was adjusted from 4 p.m., which was approved at the start of the year, to 6 p.m. in order to accommodate the schedule of Councilor Len Coryea, who is a high school football coach.

Despite the stipulation, Dalke invited the citizens to make comments if they wished to.

One of the citizens, Kermit Ratzlaff, asked how he and other Hillsboro residents could be informed about the council’s agenda in advance.

Garrett said he didn’t know what mechanism to use because the agenda usually is not finalized until the Friday afternoon before a meeting-which is too late for publication in local newspapers. He did say the agenda is posted in the main hallway of city hall prior to meetings.

Dalke added that, under state law, any citizen can ask the city to mail an agenda to him or her in advance, and the city would do so.

Garrett said the current procedure is inconvenient but is not intended to be secretive.

“I would hope that because we’re all friends and neighbors here that there would be a little bit of trust that your elected leaders and you’re appointed leaders aren’t trying to pull one over on you,” Garrett said.

“I think I speak for everybody at this table, that’s not what we signed up for.”

Ratzlaff responded, “I appreciate that information, and you are assured of our trust. Everyone on this council is commended for their sincerity and diligence.”

Councilor Coryea said one reason the council’s discussion about alcohol consumption on city-owned property was perceived the way it was by the public was because the council is directed by law to discuss such ideas in open session.

“There are so many committees in town that can go behind close doors and talk about all the down-and-dirty talk they want to do because there’s no law saying you can’t,” Coryea said.

“But we’ve got to do our think tank right here in front of the press. Sometimes the press will sensationalize some of the wording to sell papers. That’s my opinion.”

In other matters, the council:

n questioned an expense report for additional repairs on the city-owned vehicle assigned to the fire chief. Councilor Byron McCarty asked whether the city shouldn’t try to find a vehicle that didn’t require repairs so frequently.

Responded Garrett: “It does kind of nickel-and-dime us, but I’m not sure where we’d get something to replace it at this point.”

n asked Garrett if anything has been done to correct the leakage problem in basements along North Main when it rains. The problem appeared after a 6-inch rain following the completion of the new downtown sidewalks, which include a decorative ribbon made with unsealed bricks.

At an earlier meeting, the council was told by the contractor that dirt and debris would probably seal the bricks with time.

“It seems that might be happening,” Garrett said, “but we haven’t had a 6-inch rain, so it’s hard to tell. We have had several 11/2-inch rains and (the leakage) keeps getting less and less all the time.”

Garrett said the contractor, APAC Kansas, is “on the hook” for one year after the project is deemed to be officially complete-which won’t happen until the final “punch list” of corrections is completed.

n granted a request from the Hillsboro United Methodist Church to use part of the fairgrounds and Memorial Field for a drive-through Nativity pageant. The pageant debuted last holiday season and the 2003 version is being planned for Dec. 6-7.

“I think it was well received,” Coryea said of last year’s show. “It was probably one of our highlights of December in the community.”

n heard from Garrett that the city is building some walkways and repairing some dirt shoulders at the local airport.

“We had some convenience issues there,” Garrett said of the need for walkways from the parking area to the hangars and from the runaway to the gas pumps.

The dirt shoulder was deteriorating, he said, and “was eating into the runway at some places.”

n heard that Garrett plans to meet with the Lehigh Fire Department soon to pursue a proposal to make the Lehigh department a satellite operation under the management of the Hillsboro department.

n approved the renewal of a cereal malt beverage license for JTJ Inc., the company building the new grocery store in Hillsboro Heights.

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