Hillsboro council hears county eco-devo plan

Local ambivalence about the county’s latest economic development effort collided with the reality of city budget limitations during the July 5 special meeting of the Hills­boro City Council.

Russell Groves, the new board chairman of the Marion County Community Develop­ment Corp., said he was at the meeting “to invite the city of Hillsboro to join our mission.”

Groves was a Hillsboro appointee on the original exploration committee that developed the new entity in 2016 when county commissioners agreed to support the effort to the tune of $165,000 per year for five years.

This past May, MCCEDC presented the plan to the city of Marion, which agreed to contribute $44,500 annually for the next five years, and to the city of Peabody, which agreed to pitch in $25,000 annually for five years.

Before his presentation to the Hillsboro council, Groves acknowledged the committee should have communicated more effectively with the city.

“I need to offer you, the leaders of Hillsboro, an apology,” he said. “Whether by personality conflicts or poor decisions by our board, we have failed to approach you respectfully and ask for this conversation.

“This isn’t how neighbors should treat each other,” he added. “We did not intend to give offense, but I am personally sorry if we did so.”

Cooperative vision

Groves said MCCEDC is committed to retain and grow employment locally and attract new and diverse businesses.

He said the group is promoting the importance of trades education in county schools, citing the need for people who can build homes, repair cars and other services “to replace an aging workforce and infrastructure.”

Groves said local students are leaving the county after high school graduation; one of the goals of MCCEDC is to provide jobs locally that will “build the family component” and increase population.

Groves said the county-wide entity will support economic development efforts initiated by city directors Anthony Roy in Hillsboro and Randy Collett in Marion, both of whom were present at the meeting.

Following Groves’ presentation, city and business leaders in attendance were invited to ask questions.

Darrell Driggers of Con­tainer Services Inc. said his business has been advertising for five to eight job openings but can’t find people to fill them.

Groves said one of MCCEDC’s strategies would be to advertise job opportunities beyond the local county market to tap areas with “chronically unemployed” who would move to the county.

Driggers also asked how MCCEDC differs from the economic development department formerly headed by Teresa Huffman.

Groves said the previous model was a “one-person department” while MCCEDC is “truly about a board of directors with an executive director.” He projected finding a qualified person would likely command a salary of $70,000 to $75,000, plus benefits.

City Administrator Larry Paine said he would want to see a business plan for MCCEDC before the council would makes a decision about financial support.

Council members expressed appreciation for Groves’ presentation.

“I’m not ready to make a decision, but I have a better feeling now than before,” said Councilor Bob Watson.

Mayor Delores Dalke added, “You’ve given us a lot to think about. This sounds different than a month ago. This is a big difference.”

Groves said he wasn’t looking for an instant decision. If Hillsboro would decide not to participate in MCCEDC, “We can do it without you, but we can’t do it as well.”

Budget challenges

The proverbial “elephant in the room” during the MCCEDC presentation was the city’s 2018 budget proposal. The meeting agenda included a review of Paine’s initial draft, which would require a mill levy of 54.355, compared with the 2017 mill levy of 42.826.

“Presently, I do not have any funds allocated in the 2018 budget to fund this activity,” Paine said regarding the MCCEDC funding request. “My preliminary budget calculations would indicate that a tax levy increase would be required to fund the request—about (an additional) 2.5 mills.

In addition to MCCEDC’s funding request, Paine said he still had to find a way to incorporate other significant expenditures, such as $75,000 for the new radio system for Hillsboro police and fire.

Dalke said she would oppose any mill increase in the 2018 budget. She said a city’s mill levy is increasingly a factor people use to decide whether to move to a community.

Dalke said Hillsboro may have the third lowest mill levy in Marion County, but the city also is competing with larger cities with lower mill levies, such as Newton and McPherson.

Paine reminded council about the Kansas Legisla­ture’s “tax lid” provi­sion in 2015, which states that a municipality cannot increase its mill-levy greater than the consumer price index without calling for a local election.

Paine said the impact of the tax lid gives city councils “no capacity to handle what we need to handle.”

After reviewing the initial budget draft, the council voted 4-0 to set a public hearing for 4 p.m. Aug. 1 in the city council room.

In the meantime, Paine will be revising the budget numbers to reach a satisfactory level.

Other business

In other business, the council:

• voted 4-0 to accept a recommendation from Anthony Roy to participate in a K-State Extension’s First Impressions Program.

Hillsboro will be partnering with Council Grove; “visitors” from each town will visit the other city with a critique form that K-State Extension will use to develop a report. The critique includes the downtown area, retail options, education, health care, infrastructure and other factors.

• voted 4-0 to approve a Chamber of Commerce request to close the 100 block of North Main Street from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 25 for a community block party to welcome new families and Tabor College students to the community.

• adjourned into a Public Building Commission meeting to consider refinancing the bonds used to finance the Family Aquatic Center. Com­mission members approved a recommendation from Dalke that the city continue to pay the bonds as currently scheduled in the repayment schedule.

• heard from resident Davis Eller about electrical outages during public comments. Eller compiled a list of 10 outages that have occurred since the first of the year. Eller asked if the city could do anything about them.

Paine said the few extended electrical outages have been due to Westar issues; the occasional “blips” that occur are largely unavoidable.

• heard city engineer Darrin Neufeld, with EBH & Associated, suggest amending Resolution 2017-05, the sidewalk master plan approved at the July 5 special meeting, by increasing its Kansas Depart­ment of Transportation grant request from $450,000 to $628,000 as a precaution in case of price increases for concrete and electrical.

If accepted, the higher amount would increase the city’s share to $125,600, given the 80-20 split.

The first project on the master plan is an 8-foot-wide lighted sidewalk along the former railroad bed from Main Street east to Indus­trial Road, then north to the new hospital.

Neufeld said KDOT may ask to complete the project over two years instead of one.

• heard city attorney Josh Boehm report that he is initiating action regarding the fire-damaged house in the 300 block of Eisenhower Street. The fire occurred in February.