ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro City Council and representatives of the Hillsboro Management Board apparently found a way to work through their differences the old-fashioned way: by talking about them face to face.
When the discussion at the council’s regular Aug. 2 meeting came to a close, HMB representatives left with a promise that their funding from the city would be fully restored for 2006-but not until both parties agree to changes in the way the HMB office will function in the future.
The council had come to the meeting to approve the publication a 2006 budget that would have cut $10,000 in economic development funds that traditionally have been used to help finance the administrative office of HMB.
A call for changes
Created in 1991, HMB is comprised of two representatives from each of the five participating entities: Hillsboro Development Corp., Chamber of Commerce, Arts & Crafts Association, Marion County Fair Association and the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
During the council’s July 19 meeting, Councilor Len Coryea had raised concerns about the effectiveness and productivity of the HMB office, which is staffed by one full-time employee and two part-time employees.
Since that meeting, the council had met in a work session about the budget and HMB met at least twice to discuss the issues Coryea raised-including one time with Coryea, who is the council’s liaison to HMB.
As HMB chairman, Darrell Driggers submitted a letter to the editor that appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of the Free Press. The letter defended the current HMB structure and staff, and invited dialogue about the complaints council members said they have heard.
Driggers resigned from HMB late last week.
Making a case for HMB
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mike Kleiber, who represents the Hillsboro Development Corp. on HMB, acknowledged that some changes in the system are in order, but asked the council to reconsider its decision to cut funding because it would jeopardize the future of the office.
“Truthfully, there’s a lot of things that go on in that office that probably don’t meet the public eye,” Kleiber said. “But there are a lot of things that happen there that are very important to our community.
“As far as the Development Corp., we have a number of things going right now,” he added. “To have a staffed office is very important to us.”
Marcella Mohn, representing the Arts & Crafts Association, called the current office arrangement “excellent.”
“Those girls do a lot of work for us and they answer the telephone many times, especially when it gets to be this time of year,” she said. “A lot of people call, and they have a lot of questions-not only exhibitors, but visitors who come in to town.
“I don’t think we can operate without that office. We have a lot of volunteers who work, but we still need that office.”
Becky Nuss, Chamber president, said the HMB office is critical for that organization’s efforts to promote member businesses and projects.
“We’re doing a lot of things, but where would people who have questions about Chamber go if we didn’t have an office?” she asked. “It’s very important for us as well to have that office there.”
Jim Elliott, Chamber representative, said HMB and its office serve important communication and coordination functions for the benefit of the city.
“I don’t believe any of the five entities would be able to operate as efficiently or effectively without that administrative support,” he said.
Elliott said the five organizations are essentially volunteer boards that depend on other volunteers to get the work done.
“The Hillsboro Management Board office is really the mobilization center for that volunteer network throughout our community,” he said.
Coryea, out of town on vacation, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. But Elliott addressed a complaint Coryea had raised at last week’s HMB meeting-that the office is sometimes closed in the middle of the day.
Elliott said such occasional situations were caused by the travel schedule of the HMB executive director.
“She represents all five organizations at many state and regional meetings,” he said. “The administrative staff are only part-time, so there are times when that office may be vacant for an hour or so over a lunch period.
“A reduction in staff would certainly have an impact on that issue.”
Elliott also said HMB is open to discuss complaints people have about its work, but hearing about “several” complaints from unnamed people doesn’t help the process.
“That word ‘several’ could be two or 200,” he said. “Without any names behind a complaint, it’s like an anonymous letter to a newspaper.
“I would encourage people of our community, if they have a concern with Hillsboro Management Board or with the office, to contact members of the board or (the executive director) to address those concerns personally.
“Otherwise, those types of complaints are hearsay.”
Councilor Byron McCarty said he had received a complaint from a constituent and talked to the executive director about it.
“I think it got resolved,” he said. “The complaint was probably unfounded to begin with. But I think there are some other issues that other people have that need to be addressed.”
When Chamber representative Mike Padgett asked for specific complaints, Councilor Matt Hiebert said people aren’t seeing tangible results for the amount of taxpayer money spent. In all, about $30,000 comes to HMB through the city budget.
“Like you said, you have a $60,000 budget and $48,000 of it is salaries,” Hiebert said. “You don’t have a lot left over after utilities and rent for economic development.
“Nobody here has said that we don’t see that somebody needs to be there to answer the phone and talk to people when they call,” he added. “It’s that people would like to see a little more visibility of what is actually going on over there.”
Kleiber agreed. “That’s where we need a cooperative effort with the council and HMB,” he said. “I know I’ve learned a lot in these past few days.”
Working toward a solution
McCarty eventually made a motion that the $10,000 line item be restored in the budget, but he wanted assurances that the council and HMB would meet in the near future to identify specific expectations.
Hiebert said it was important that agreements be reached before the money is spent.
“I think we need to get together and have this little discussion and find out what’s going to transpire and what’s going to take place before we say we’re going to go ahead and give it to them,” he said.
“That’s part of what this whole holding back of the $10,000 was for.”
Mayor Delores Dalke said the council could restore the line item for economic development, but not authorize the disbursement of the funds until a later time.
Dalke added that she had no problem restoring the funding, but did not want an increase in the city’s mill levy to do it.
“Our taxes are high enough in Hillsboro-we all know they’re high enough,” she said.
“In fact, I was at an HDC meeting where they were questioning the fact about why they are as high as they are-and whether it’s anti-business.
“I would hate for us to have to raise the mill levy. I think we’re going to have to take (the funding) away from someplace else because the budget is worked out right now to keep the mill levy level.”
Given the additional discussion, McCarty’s original motion died for lack of a second.
Councilor Shelby Dirks, noting the council needed to approve the budget for the purpose of publishing the city’s projected bottom line, said line items within the budget could be adjusted later.
His subsequent recommendation to approve the 2006 budget passed 3-0.
In other business, the council:
— authorized Rose Mary Saunders of Reiss & Goodness Engineers to begin the application process for another housing rehabilitation grant for the north side of Hillsboro.
The new rehab zone would include the 200 block from the middle of North Main Street east to the middle of North Madison.
— asked City Engineer Bob Previtera to have put into writing an offer by APAC-Kansas to extend by two years its warranty on work completed during the recent the Main Street improvement project.
Previtera said final inspection had revealed “minor cracking” in the sidewalk concrete adjacent to the accessibility ramps.
— authorized the following payments for work on the Main Street project: $138,617 to APAC-Kansas for construction work, including change orders; and $2,608 and $5,344 to Reiss & Goodness Engineers for inspection and final engineering fees, respectively.
— authorized the following payments for work done on the waterline-replacement project on Lincoln Street: $100,035 to Mies Construction for work completed and $1,680 and $1,567 for inspection and engineering fees, respectively.
— heard from Previtera that the Lincoln Street waterline project should be completed within three weeks.
— heard from Megan Kilgore, HMB executive director, that the Convention & Visitors Bureau, in partnership with Country Haven Inn, Hillsboro, will be putting signage along U.S. Highway 50 west of Strong City that will advertise the historic sites in Hillsboro.
The sign should be up within a month.
— authorized advertising for bids related to the construction of the city’s proposed aquatic center.
— authorized the mayor to sign a loan application with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to aid in the construction of the sewer lagoons and associated sewer lines.