City Council challenged to rank ‘want-to-do’ projects

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Like a family with a long list of “honey-do” projects and a limited household budget to pay for them, Hillsboro City Council members were asked during its Tuesday meeting to begin prioritizing a long list of potential projects on the city’s want-to-do list.

City Administrator Steven Garrett distributed a list of about 30 projects the council had talked about or proposed over the past year or so. He also included the estimated cost of most of the projects.

“What brought this to mind is that sometimes we’re buzzing along doing stuff, and all of a sudden somebody comes up with a new idea and we run off and do it,” Mayor Delores Dalke said. “What does that do to stuff that’s already on the table?”

Dalke said “it’s scary” when the combined cost of all the potential projects is considered. Ideas range from a new swimming pool to museum upkeep.

As listed, the total price tag came to $15.3 million-not counting the projects that did not include a cost estimate.

Many of the projects could be funded from sources other than the city budget, Garrett said. Projects tagged exclusively to the city were estimated to cost just over $1 million.

“I just think this is a good time to go through the projects so we know what we can do and what we realistically can’t do,” Dalke said.

The mayor said the project on the list that has generated the most input from citizens is doing something about the stretch of U.S. Highway 56 that passes along the north edge of town.

She said the amount and speed of the traffic that runs along U.S. 56 creates a safety hazard for Hillsboro’s citizens and visitors.

“I would say that’s one of the projects I’m talked to about the most by the public, particularly now that a lot of traffic is using 56 because (Kansas Highway) 150 is open and also because of the problems that happened on (U.S.) Highway 50.”

Garrett admitted he is among those concerned about safety.

“Every time we get on that road, I feel like I’m taking my life into my hands,” he said. “As soon as I get on the road, it looks like there’s plenty of space between me and them. But by the time I get up to speed, boy, there they are.”

Dalke said she has written two or three letters to the Kansas Department of Transportation about lowering the speed limit from Hillsboro Heights, east past the industrial park.

“I was told very clearly on the phone six weeks ago (lowering the speed limit) will never happen, so we might as well quit writing letters because (KDOT) will oppose that forever,” Dalke said.

She said Hillsboro’s best solution may be to build additional turning lanes. Garrett said outside funds might be available to help cover the cost of such a project, if KDOT will allow it.

Council members agreed to study the list of potential projects and then meet to set priorities and timetables at a planning session to be held in the near future.

Lincoln Street waterline

Prior to the business agenda, the council held public hearings regarding two projects: replacing the waterline along Lincoln Street, and applying for grant money for a second phase of housing rehabilitation on the city’s north side.

Neither topic generated public response, although two or three affected citizens were on hand to listen to the presentations.

Regarding Lincoln Street, Rose Mary Saunders of Reiss & Goodness Engineers said the city’s application for a Kansas Department of Commerce community development block grant will be submitted by the Oct. 15 deadline. The announcement of grant awards will be made soon after the first of the year.

She reminded the council that the cost of replacing the existing 4-inch waterline with an 8-inch line, from the railroad right-of-way on North Lincoln to one block south of F Street, would be $311,000.

Half of that money would come through CDBG grants and the other half would be borrowed from the state revolving fund. The loan would be repaid by the 1,150 users on the system with a surcharge on their water bill totaling less than $10 a year per household.

Saunders said KDOC generally recommends that a 6-inch line be used in residential areas, but a hydraulic analysis of Lincoln Street indicated the need for an 8-inch line in order to maintain appropriate pressure in case of fire flow.

The city will need to pay for the additional expense of using 8-inch line instead of 6-inch line, which was estimated to be around $7,400.

The council later approved the additional expense.

“It’s kind of one of the reasons why we’re doing it,” Councilor Matt Hiebert said about ensuring adequate pressure in case of fires.

Garrett agreed. “For that amount of cost, we don’t want to be chintzy,” he said.

Saunders noted one item of good news-the interest rate for the state revolving fund had actually dropped from 3.99 percent to 3.90 in recent weeks.

“That will save the city several hundred dollars,” she said.

Saunders added that based on information gathered about residents along Lincoln Street, the city should have no problem meeting the state’s qualifying requirement regarding low- to moderate-income households.

The only information still lacking for the application is gathering responses from at least 80 percent of the residents. She said the city is 10 to 11 households short of that requirement, but city representatives would be going door to door if necessary to get the information.

Following the public hearing, the council approved several resolutions needed to move the project along.

Housing rehabilitation

The second public hearing was about applying for grant funds for Phase II of the city’s housing rehabilitation program.

The first phase was completed in 2003. The city’s application for funding Phase II in 2004 was not approved. The city is now applying for the coming year.

Saunders said the target area for Phase II is the 200 and 300 blocks from First Street to Third Street, and from the center line of Main Street to the center line of Madison Street.

She said the purpose of the grant is to bring the homes of eligible applicants to a livability standard where the houses could “make it another 20 years, plus.”

The maximum amount that could be approved for the entire project would be $400,000. With a cap of $20,000 that can be spent per home, a full grant would rehabilitate 16 to 18 homes in the target area, Saunders said.

A few homes would likely be slated for demolition, she added.

Residents who own the home they live in do not have to pay for any of the work, Saunders said.

In the case where homes are rented to tenants, the landlord would pay for 25 percent of the improvements if he or she does not qualify as being low to medium income.

Saunders said the city had received 12 applications prior to Tuesday’s meeting. A “couple” of the applicants were not eligible. A few other applications had come to Saunders on the day of the meeting, but had not been reviewed.

Saunders said she and Tom Chavy, project inspector and risk assessor, would be doing a walk-through in the target area Sept. 17.

After returning to its regular business session, the council approved several resolutions that will move the project forward.

Sales-tax revenue up

In his report to the council, Garrett noted that city sales-tax revenue was up about 22 percent in 2004 from the same time a year ago-$184,000 to $225,000.

“I’m not sure if there’s one thing to attribute that to, or several things to attribute that to,” Garrett said. “But either way, I’ll take it.”

He reminded the council that sales-tax revenue is used first to pay the city’s bond and interest. Anything left over goes into the capital-improvements fund.

Arts & Crafts Fair parking

The council approved Resolution 2004-03, which closes the downtown streets of Hillsboro to unauthorized parking from 6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 17, and all day Saturday, Sept. 18, to allow exhibitors to set up and manage their booths for the annual arts and crafts fair on Saturday.

This will be the third year exhibitors will be allowed to set up on Friday evening rather than having to wait until the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning.

Councilors encouraged Garrett to make sure the half-dozen or so businesses affected by the parking ban are aware that it’s coming. Garrett said Arts & Crafts Fair personnel would make those contacts.

In another fair-related matter, the council told Saunders to ask the contractor to delay seeding grass along the recently renovated stretch of North Main Street until after the fair. The project had been tentatively slated for that Saturday.

Other business

In other matters, the council:

— heard from Garrett that the Kansas Highway Patrol had turned down the city’s application for grant funds for adding fencing and a backup generator at the water-treatment plant.

Garrett said KHP had received $5 million in requests and had only $1.2 million to award.

— affirmed Dalke’s request that the city formally respond to the Marion County Planning and Zoning Commission’s newly developed regulations regarding zoning and subdivisions.

Comments can be received in writing, or delivered in person at a public hearing slated for Thursday, Sept. 23, in Marion.

“I think it is extremely important that we comment on that because part of that has to do with extra-territorial zoning-what happens right outside our city limits,” Dalke said.

— heard from Garrett that Marion County has been included by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a declared disaster area following heavy rains in June through July 25.

As a result, Garrett said the city can be reimbursed for cleanup and other expenses it incurred because of the abundance of algae bloom at Marion Reservoir.

— heard from Garrett that the feasibility study on water-plant cooperation between Hillsboro and Marion should be delivered around Sept. 17. The findings of the study will determine the next step in the process, he said.

— heard the city had purchased a used salt truck from the state. The truck, which is being repainted to avoid confusion about its ownership, can apply either salt or brine to streets when the city experiences freezing precipitation.

“Because we’re expecting a winter with lots of moisture and lots of snowfall, I’m hopeful that it will eliminate the need for us to get out the heavy equipment and push snow and ice off the streets,” Garrett said. “The brine will really keep it off if it’s a light snow.

“I think it will be a street-saver in the long run.”

— approved paying an invoice for $8,672 from Evans, Bierly & Hutchinson for work done plans to renovate the city’s wastewater system.

— accepted a bid from the South Central Kansas Economic Development District to serve as the administrator of grant money designated to the water-plant renovation project.

Saunders said seven firms had been contacted, but SCKEDD was the only one to submit a bid. The bid was $12,000, which was within the budget price, Saunders said.

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