Council considers financial requests from two companies

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Following two public hearings that drew no interest from the public, the Hillsboro City Council moved ahead with new financial arrangements involving two local companies.

One company was Golden Heritage Foods Inc., which was asking to refinance some past bonds held by the city. The process would clarify and update ownership issues that arose since Golden Heritage was formed in 2002 with the consolidation of the former Barkman Honey Co. of Hillsboro and Stoller’s Honey Co. of Ohio.

The new agreement would have the city reissue bonds to Golden Heritage in an amount not to exceed $2 million for the purpose of “refunding, redeeming and retiring” outstanding bonds still registered with Barkman Honey.

The transaction will not affect the tax-abatement agreement now in effect, and it will not cost the city of Hillsboro anything, according to Jerry Rayl, the city’s financial consultant.

With the completion of the public hearing, the process moved to the final step. The city council met in special session Monday to approve the ordinance that will formalize the plan.

A public hearing also was held regarding Container Services Inc., which is seeking 10-year tax abatement on the new warehouse the company is erecting at its plant in the industrial park.

The council eventually passed an ordinance that would allow a tax abatement of 42 percent on the new building, which is expected to cost about $146,000.

In a detailed explanation, Rayl said the city’s new formula for figuring tax abatement-which evaluates the economic impact for state, county, city and school taxing entities-the new warehouse would not qualify for 100 percent abatement.

The focus of the discussion was whether Container Services’ expansion would result in enough new jobs in the long run to offset the temporary loss of tax revenue.

Mayor Delores Dalke said that until recently, the city hasn’t followed up on the abatements it has granted to see if a company is meeting its projected growth goals.

“We’ve never checked the numbers before,” she said. “Up until a couple of years ago, you could put in any numbers you wanted (about growth projections) and it was OK.”

Rayl said even though the formula now used by the city indicated only 42 percent abatement, the city had the authority to do whatever it wanted to on the matter. But his counsel was that the city should stick with formula unless it had “overwhelming reason” to deviate from it.

Council members indicated their concurrence with Rayl’s advice with a 4-0 vote to approve the proposed ordinance, which indicated a 42 percent abatement.

The council heard encouragement from the mayor that Hillsboro and other Marion County communities should set aside “petty issues” and become a stronger lobbying force for additional funding for Marion Reservoir.

Dalke said she and City Administrator Steven Garrett met with reservoir officials recently to hear about plans for the federal money that recently was earmarked for improvements at Cottonwood Point.

Dalke said even though Marion Reservoir is the most profitable Corps of Engineers project in the district in terms of length of stay and number of visitors, it has been habitually underfunded because it lacks a cohesive lobbying effort at the local level.

“We’ve been left out for years,” she said.

As a case in point, she cited the recent consolidation of the main district office at Council Grove Reservoir-even though the office facility at Marion Reservoir was better equipped for the operation.

“Council Grove got it because (city leaders there) had their act together and lobbied for it before we even knew about it,” Dalke said.

The mayor said Marion Reservoir is already Marion County’s leading tourist attraction, but is still well below its potential. To illustrate, she said the local lake has only 172 campsites compared to 1,100 at El Dorado Lake.

In other matters, the council:

— approved three appointments to city boards: June Glasgow to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Karen Elliott to the Planning & Zoning Commission, and Chad Nowak to the Hillsboro Housing Authority. Glasgow and Elliott are new appointments while Nowak is a reappointment.

— approved reissuing cereal malt beverage permits to all four applicants: Hillsboro Golf Association, Casey’s General Store, Vogt’s Hometown Market and Cooperative Grain & Supply.

In response to a question by Councilor Len Coryea, Garrett said state law requires that a permit must be approved for any applicant that meets basic criteria required by the state: no felonies within the past two years, permanent residency, U.S. citizenship and appropriate character.

— heard Coryea’s affirmation for the drive-through nativity project sponsored by the Hillsboro United Methodist Church during the first weekend of December. He said the project exemplified “the true meaning of giving without asking for something in return.”

— heard Coryea’s affirmation for the effort of Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce President Joel Klaassen, who was seen clearing snow Saturday morning to create paths from the street to local businesses. Councilor Matt Hiebert also was affirmed for his efforts to clear away snow along Main Street.

— heard a suggestion from Coryea and Councilor Byron McCarty that the city build a “snow hill” for recreational sledding and tubing. The cities of Hesston and Newton have created snow hills in their city parks.

Garrett said he would talk to Matt Dalke, city recreation director, about the feasibility such a project.

— heard affirmation from Gordon Mohn, superintendent of Hillsboro schools, for the work of Officer Jessey Hiebert and other members of the local police department. Mohn said Hiebert had been called to the school earlier in the day on a drug-related incident and had handled the situation well.

“I don’t know if you realize what an asset he is to the community,” Mohn said about Hiebert.

— met in executive session to discuss legal matters. No action was taken in public session.

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