City ‘fishing’ for funds for airport projects

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro City Council took steps to make more improvements at the city airport during its Sept. 21 special meeting at city hall.

Bob Previtera, city engineer with Reiss & Goodness Engineers, presented estimates for two potential projects. One was to rebuild the taxi-ways at cost of $137,400. The other it to build heli-port for $43,000.

Previtera presented the projects so that they could be formally submitted for funding assistance through the Kansas Airport Improvement Program.

If approved, the state would provide 90 percent of the funding, except for preliminary engineering work, and the city would pick the tab for the rest. The city has used the program for other airport projects in recent years.

Previtera said it was not clear whether the heli-port project would qualify for the program.

“(The state) won’t do it for hospitals, that’s a given,” he said. “But being part of an existing airport facility, that question they couldn’t answer on the phone to me.”

The heli-port would serve as a safer transfer point for patients needing medical services in Wichita or other locations. Presently, the transfers are made in the parking lot of Parkview Church, adjacent to Hillsboro Community Medical Center.

Previtera said even if the heli-port project wouldn’t qualify, the state would still consider the taxi-way project-it wasn’t an all-or-nothing application.

Councilor Len Coryea said it was important for the city to have a good airport if wanted to be successful, but he raised questions about the principle of spending so much money for the benefit of relatively few area people who can afford airplanes.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys with very expensive toys, paying very little rent and no property taxes,” Coryea said. “They’ve got the biggest and best toys anybody has in our county, and they pay the least of amount for upkeep. I wish they would throw in a higher chunk to do this.

“The heli-port, to me that’s much more critical,” he added. “It probably costs you more to keep a golf court in Hillsboro than it does an airplane.

“I’m not saying we don’t need it. I’m saying we’ve got guys who can help contribute much better than they are to the cause.”

City Administrator Steven Garrett said the city had little lose by applying for both projects.

“I think we ought to fit in the whole thing and see what they kick back to us,” he said. “If they won’t allow a heli-port, there’s an answer. But basically what we’re doing is taking our fishing pole and casting for some free money.”

Mayor Delores Dalke said having a good airport contributes to the local economy.

“If you drive out some Saturday and see the size of the planes out there, and go out there when Tabor has homecoming and see what kind of people are coming and spending money in our town…,” she said.

“I saw some planes out there Saturday (for the Arts & Crafts Fair), and I’m sure those people were spending some money in our town.”

In the end, Coryea made the motion to submit the estimates to the state, and it passed without dissent.

City cafeteria plan

The council voted to expand the amount city workers can have deducted from their paychecks for cafeteria plan expenses.

The change would enable workers to have up to $50 per paycheck-$1,300 per year-be taken out before taxes for medical-related expenses, and a maximum of $5,000 a year for child care.

With a cafeteria plan, workers estimate how much they will spend on medical expenses and child care for a given year. That amount is withheld from their pay, prorated over a year, and is not taxable as income. The money is reimbursed as expenses are incurred. If workers do not use the full amount by the end of the year, the leftover is retained by the employer.

Responding to a question from Coryea, City Clerk Jan Meisinger said the only liability to the city would be if a worker had significant medical expenses early in the year, the city is required to pay out reimbursements even if the funds have not been withheld yet.

In part for that reason, the council agreed to set limits on how much money a worker could deduct for medical expenses. Meisinger said an employer is required to review the parameters of the program each year.

Other business

In other matters, the council:

— approved the appointment of two members of the Hillsboro Community Medical Center board for a three-year term: Eileen Unruh, who is the current board chair, and Jim Brennan, who is a new appointment.

No other names were submitted by HCMC for the two openings, although bylaws stipulate two names for each opening.

— approved the sale of a lot in Hillsboro Heights. The lot will be split between two purchasers, Rod and Carolyn Koons, owners of Rod’s Tire & Service, and Roger and Cynthia Fleming, owner of Fleming’s Mini Stor-all. The lot is situated between their two businesses. Each of the two parties will pay $3,850 for their half of the lot.

— heard Garrett say city workers made it through the Arts & Crafts Fair weekend “with our heads attached,” and reported no major incidents related to the event, which drew an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people to Hillsboro, according to Police Chief Dan Kinning.

— following a 20-minute executive session to review the performance of the city administrator, approved an addendum to his contract raising his annual salary to $63,000, effective Oct. 20.

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