Lehigh Council OKs enterprise zone, wants more local benefits

The Lehigh City Council endorsed a couple of county actions at its March 14 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.

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