Council may open airport to aerial sprayers

The Hillsboro City Coun?cil agreed in principle at its April 22 meeting to a proposal that would open the municipal airport as a base for aerial spraying operations.

Mike Kleiber, owner of Ag Service Inc., said his company would like to use the local airport because it would reduce flying time and the expense for producers who want fungicide applied to fields in the area.

Ag Ser?vice has contracted the aerial services of Tyree Ag Inc., based in Kingsley. The planes have been flying the past three years out of the Marion airport, which has a runway that is 600 feet shorter than Hillsboro?s runway.

The shorter runway impacts the takeoff operations of the firm?s pilots, City Admini?strator Larry Paine reported.

Paine said Hillsboro currently has a provision in the city code that prohibits aerial spraying operation from using the airport. The ban was initiated after a spraying company damaged the runway and grounds by not following appropriate procedures.

Paine said core drilling by engineers has indicated the Hillsboro runway can handle planes weighing up to 12,500 pounds. A plane fully loaded with fungicide would weigh less than that, according to Tim Tyree, Tyree Ag owner, who was present at the meeting.

The proposal had been reviewed by the Airport Board. Chairman Lyle Leppke suggested that the city consider a one-year trial period.

In response to questions from the council, Tyree said the fungicide would not pose a chemical threat if a spill would occur. He also said planes could veer away from residential areas upon takeoff.

The only inconvenience to residents, Tyree suggested, could be noise as planes take off and land.

Mayor Delores Dalke suggested that the city ask aerial spraying companies to apply for a city permit to use the airport?much like contractors do for housing projects. That way, she said, the city could deny companies that have an unsatisfactory performance record.

Kleiber said timing could be an issue. If it were to start raining for a few days, the need to apply fungicide would develop quickly. But in lieu of that, the council likely will take action to repeal the current ordinance and approve a new one at the next meeting.

If it would happen to rain sufficiently before that meeting, planes could use the Marion airport again as they have the past three years.

Rescue truck

The council authorized Paine to solicit competitive bids for a heavy-duty pickup cab and chassis as part of a plan to replace the rescue truck currently used by the Hillsboro Fire Department.

The Fire Advisory Board, comprised of representatives of the surrounding rural townships and the cities of Hillsboro and Lehigh, had endorsed the proposal at an April 16 meeting.

The proposal estimated the cost of a cab and chassis at $35,808, with additional costs of $5,600 to rebuild the rest of the ?new? rescue truck for a total expense of $41,408.

The department?s vehicle replacement schedule had indicated replacing the rescue truck in 2019 at a cost of $25,000. But with the recent purchase of a pumper truck for just under $200,000, the city could replace both old trucks and still be under the $250,000 that had been allocated to replace the pumper truck alone.

The city was given the current rescue truck by Marion County EMS after many years of operation in Florence. The truck was in bad repair at the time, but ?excellent mechanics? who happen to serve with the Hillsboro Fire Depart?ment had gotten the truck into operating condition.

Even so, the current rescue truck is near its maximum weight limit and all the appropriate tools that should be on the truck are not yet loaded, Paine said.

?I?d rather have a better rescue truck if I ever needed a rescue truck,? Mayor Dalke said.

Health insurance

The council expressed interest in a Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan through Group Benefit Specialists that would cost the city $6,000 less per month than the plan it currently has through Mid?west Public Risk.

Bruce Helm, representing GBS, told the council the cost comparison had surprised him because a year ago BCBS was significantly more expensive than the quote the city had accepted through MPR.

Helm speculated that BCBS may have lowered its premiums this year to meet the legal requirement that insurance companies return 80 percent of their premium revenue to clients through medical claims.

Helm said the city did not need to be concerned that the BCBS quote is a ?low-ball? offer for one year, with inflated rates coming the next year. That would violate state law.

?If they raise their rates, they?d have to raise them for the entire state pool, not just you,? he said.

With the anticipation of lower the premiums, Helm and Paine suggested the council designate a portion of the savings as a contribution to the employee flexible saving account. Employees can withdraw funds from the account to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses.

The council decided to seek feedback from employees before taking action on the proposal at the next council meeting.

Other business

In other business, the council:

? approved a new water contract with the city of Peabody that will raise the cost per 1,000 gallons of water from $1.48 to $1.85. A surcharge of $2 per 1,000 gallons will be applied if Hills?boro is required to deliver more than 50 million gallons to Peabody during a calendar year. Peabody?s traditional use has been around 40 million gallons a year. The new contract, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2015, allows rate adjustments to be made each year.

? heard resident Martin Fenton, 411 W. B St., inquire whether he could use an electric fence to keep rabbits out of his garden. Paine said he would need to research the question to see if the issue is addressed in the city code.