Lehigh leaders endorse enterprise zone for Marion County

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
The Lehigh City Council endorsed a couple of county actions at its Monday meeting that would promote economic development in Lehigh and greater Marion County.

The meeting was the last one chaired by Mayor Ron Duerksen before the April 5 elections, which will usher in a new mayor and council members.

The council passed a motion to endorse a renewal of the county’s status as an enterprise zone, a designation by the Kansas Department of Commerce that the Marion County Economic Development Council signed up for in 1993, Duerksen said.

Duerksen said the enterprise zone “can be used to aid new and expanding businesses in our community” by providing potential state sales-tax exemption and income/privilege tax credits to these businesses.

The council took Duerksen’s recommendation that the city “join in with this program.”

City Clerk Rose Funk will put together a letter to the MCEDC expressing the city’s desire to participate.

The council also agreed with Duerksen’s approval of the county’s intention to hire an employee strictly to work on economic development, an issue that was discussed at a recent meeting with county commissioners.

“The meeting went very well,” Duerksen said.

The majority of the towns represented at the meeting fully endorsed the county’s plan to hire such an employee, he said, and encouraged the commissioners to move ahead with the hiring process immediately.

“My main concern that I voiced there was this: How can a town of Lehigh’s size also be included in this?” he said. “That was the concern of some other small towns there.”

He said the key to ensuring their ability to benefit from such a plan would be to make sure the economic development position stayed at the county level rather than align with any one city in Marion County.

Councilor Monty Root said that would have to be coupled with an effort in Lehigh to “get our grant-writers fired up” to seek funding for specific economic development measures.

On another topic, Duerksen said the city is one step closer to resolving its discrepancies with the city of Hillsboro’s billing for shared fire-protection services. Duerksen said he met with Steven Garrett, Hillsboro city administrator, to discuss the monthly itemized bill from Hillsboro.

The two began these regular monthly meetings just prior to the council’s Jan. 10 meeting.

In response to questions from the council at last month’s meeting regarding the bill, Duerksen said Hillsboro had corrected its billing from February, reducing the amount from $407.23 to $351.05, and provided documentation explaining the method of charging.

The city will be current on its payments after paying the bill for February and March.

Duerksen said he feels better about the arrangement with Hillsboro’s fire department after this last meeting with Garrett, but he wishes the current city council could have a couple more months to finish working out details.

“Let’s just say we’re closer today than we’ve ever been,” he said regarding the council’s work with Hillsboro to resolve the discrepancies.

The council agreed with Duerksen about paying the adjusted balance of the bill.

Duerksen recommended that whoever succeeds him as mayor should continue meeting with Garrett to discuss any questions regarding the monthly bill at least a couple days before each council meeting.

In other business, the council:

— agreed to have Root install a padlock on a portion of the new break-out box that Elcon Services just installed for generator hookup. Duerksen said without the padlock anyone could walk by and shut off the city’s power. Root said he would look at the box to see whether a padlock with a key or a combination would be more suitable.

— decided to have Councilor John Masson call Fred Sheridan, a local electrician, about replacing the transformer in the siren. The siren has not worked properly since the January ice storms, Masson said, and needs to be functioning before tornado season hits.

— discussed the nuisance-ordinance action pending against the property owner at 210 S. Vernon. Duerksen said all the paperwork for the court order to have the city clean up the property is at the city attorney’s office, but that the attorney wants to contact Marcus Rhodes, Lehigh’s nuisance-control officer, before moving forward.

Duerksen recommended taking the $100-per-day fine allowed by the nuisance ordinance and “play it out that way” to pay for the cleanup. Funk will contact the attorney about the fine.

— reviewed three bids to mow the city’s park and grounds. The council agreed to let Duerksen contact two of the bidders and get adjusted bids based on more comparable services suited to the city’s needs. The council decided to hold a special meeting before the April 5 elections to make a decision on the bids.

— decided to run the ad for a new city clerk for two more weeks, following a 15-minute executive session to review the two written applications already submitted. The council told Kathy Liles, who attended the meeting to let the council know of her interest in the position, that she would have to submit a written application.

— reviewed a bid from APAC-Kansas to reseal Main Street. Duerksen said he will call Councilor Eldon Kaiser, not present at this meeting, for recommendations on other companies from which to solicit bids for this project. Duerksen said the project needs to happen as soon as possible so the street can be resealed before the first snows later this year.

— agreed to have Kaiser order street signs for the city, including stop, yield and street-name signs.

— decided to have a city resident with 40 hours of community service on his hands either help Root with painting and weeding around the park on Saturdays in preparation for the Memorial Day Engine Show, or assist other city employees with work not involving operation of machinery.

— agreed to have Root and Councilor Todd Jost set a new concrete base for the bird bath that was vandalized a couple months ago.

— decided that Duerksen and Jost will make sure the new gate is finally hung at the sewer pond.

— commended workers for the paint job they did last week on the city building interior. Duerksen also thanked Root for his work on the playground equipment.

— approved a motion to purchase updated billing software for the city clerk’s office.

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