Marion launches lighting contest

The Marion City Council was in the holiday spirit Monday, voting unanimously to approve a Christmas lighting contest for city residents with the top three homes receiving $500, $300 or $100.

The city’s electrical utility department, Marion PRIDE Committee and Marion Parks and Recreation is sponsoring the contest with judging planned for the evening of Dec. 15. Prizes will be awarded Dec. 19.

The idea of a larger financial prize was suggested by Mayor Todd Heitschmidt, trumping the $10 credit on utility bills for putting up lights.

The incentive program ceased in 2012 because of the financial climate, he said, but the situation is better as evidenced with the council’s unanimous vote to revive some form of a holiday incentive.

“We had inquiries about starting the program up again,” said the mayor.

Heitschmidt, who voted against the lighting incentive in 2012, said this year it could be a competition.

The first suggestion was to pay a percentage of the residential utility bill for the top three winners at 100, 75 or 50 percent, but Councilor John Wheeler preferred the idea of awarding cash.

After approving the prize money, which will come out of the electrical department’s budget, the council directed the staff to take care of the details and inform residents of the contest rules.

Kansas Power Pool

City Administer Roger Holter asked the council for direction on three topics that will be voted upon at the Dec. 16 Kansas Power Pool annual meeting.

The first issue is an increase of capacity payments in the amount of $2 to generating member cities in the power pool. Holter said he would recommend voting in the affirmative.

“We have eight cities with generating capacity, and one of the cities wanted an increase or it would shut down its plant,” Holter said.

The current compensation for generating cities is $5.48 on a kilowatt basis, but a compromise increase of $7.48 was debated for those with generating capabilities.

“Capacity payments as a pool is only about 10 percent, but it helps offset the cost of maintenance,” Holter said.

Wheeler, who is the alternative voting delegate, said he didn’t like the way the city of Winfield said it would pull its 40 mega­watts if the pool didn’t vote in favor of the increase.

Holter said the pool came up with five different proposals before agreeing to the $2 increase.

“The discussion was quite divisive,” he said.

The second topic was prohibiting the early termination of power purchase agree­ments until all outstanding debt is satisfied by the pool.

Holter said he would recommend a “no” vote.

“We signed a hard 20-year contract, but only three cities signed that,” he said.

Eleven cities signed a rolling 20-year contract based on debt service by the pool and eight cities went into the “full boat” contract, which terminates the agreement after all debt is paid.

For bond-rating purposes, the pool wants all cities to be in for the 20 years, Holter said.

“There is no termination clause except default of payment,” he added. “The pool is asking to vote for no early termination until the outstanding debt is paid for by the pool.”

Holter said he recommended voting no because if the pool goes out tomorrow and does a 20-year contract, the city lost vetoing process over the board.

The attorney general’s office asked the pool for further clarification on this topic, but the board hasn’t satisfied those clarifications, he said.

“The pool has an AA rating and Westar’s rating is a B+,” Holter said. “I understand their concerns, and my concern is the largest single line item in our budget could be handed over to external sources.”

The council agreed with Holter’s recommendation to vote no.

The third topic of the pool is to secure “full boat” language contracts with member cities. Holter also recommended voting no to this.

The rolling 20-year agreement made more sense, he said, given in all likelihood no termination clause. But every five years it could decide to continue for 20 years.

Holter said for future councils, he didn’t want to lock them into a 40-year term.

CEO Mark Chesney will be asking pool members to modify their purchase agreement to “full boat” language.

On the flip side, he did say the pool has saved the city a considerable amount at $176,000 in energy adjustments.

“Once we get through this, the city of Marion will be only one of two voices in a room of 23 (cities represented), but I represent the council and city,” Holter said.

The other city in agreement with Marion, he said, is one of the smaller cities with no city administrator.

Heitschmidt said: “Being a minority isn’t a bad thing.

“We are talking about savings today, but we will have no control over decisions tomorrow with bonding. It is a bad decision with a board that has all the control.”

The change, Heitschmidt added, is tying the city’s hands.

“I am concerned what the leadership looks like in the future,” he said.

Long-term projects

Marty Fredrickson, streets director and building inspector, provided a list of proposed projects ranging from 2016 through 2018.

The list included storm sewer improvements at specific locations, drainage improvements at Willards and Fourth streets, street improvements around the city, water line and wastewater improvements, striping Main Street, street sweeping, East Park and Industrial Park.

Heitschmidt said the only category he didn’t see on the list was downtown alleys.

Fredrickson said he would get that on the list.

Other business

In other business, the council:

• discussed and approved the Fair Labor Standards Act exempt status personnel policy changes. The city will still take compensatory time, but are documenting it in the event of questions down the road.

• heard from Christian Pedersen, electrical supervisor, who will be attending a Kansas Municipal Utilities ribbon-cutting Nov. 29.

• heard Holter report that Dianne Novak, county commissioner-elect, came in Monday to discuss city operations; she pledged her support to the city.

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