Hillsboro council seeks to work with the county on emergency response building

HILLSBORO—Tuesday evening, the Hillsboro City Council moved quickly through a full agenda, which included police forfeitures, the extension of a mask ordinance and further discussion on the potential for a City of Hillsboro and Marion County EMS shared building.

John Huebert gave a brief update on asset forfeiture procedure due to a change in state law. Huebert reported physical property can be used for department use or sold at auction. One exception is firearms. Any seized firearms must either be reserved for police use only or destroyed.

City Administrator Matt Stiles presented an extension of the mask ordinance until March 23. Stiles noted the recent surge in cases. He also noted the city continues to track COVID-19 related expenditures in the event more aid is released by the federal government.

The extension of the face mask ordinance was approved 3-1, with councilwoman Renee Gehring voting against.

Council approved the final reimbursement request for the KDHE water project.

Stiles recommended the city review its city engineering service. He said the current engineering firm, EBH, does not have a “formal arrangement” with Hillsboro.

Stiles recommended to “take it out and look at other firms and make sure we’re not missing out on something.”

Stiles advocated creating a formalized arrangement with a firm and creating “financial guardrails” when it came to what services the city could expect to be charged for. Mayor Lou Thurston agreed, adding “timely response guardrails” would also be a priority for any formal relationship with an engineering firm.

No action was taken on the issue.

Stiles presented the possibility of working with Kansas Power Pool to update electric meter reading with an automated metering structure, which would allow for staff to “push a button in the office and it reads everything in town. It would be a huge time-savings.”

However, the with a price tag of $279,000, Stiles said it would be an untenable expense.

However having a remote meter reading—like that already installed water meter reading—would be a safety measure for “situations with animals, dogs, and not being able to get up to the house.”

The remote reading system, Stiles said, would be a “middle step” between walking to individual homes for meter reading and fully automated, in-office reading. The system would come with additional data features. With estimates ranging from $110,000 to $187,000, the upgrade would be more affordable than the fully automated system. With financing through the Kansas Power Pool, the project would not add to the city’s long-term debt, according to Stiles. He said after the Jan. 21 Kansas Power Pool board meeting, more precise information would be available.

Stiles presented further discussion on either a shared emergency services facility or a standalone facility for Hillsboro and Marion County emergency services.

A proposed location in the former Hillsboro Dollar General building was met with hesitation by the council, as repurposing the building would not only take it out of the tax base but obviously preclude it from again being a retail space generating revenue.

A second location, off of Ash Street, would be new construction of a purpose-built facility, and the city had the option to provide in-kind work in hooking up utilities and creating an apron for access to the building.

Mayor Lou Thurston said the reason for the partnership was for two reasons.

One, we want it located in the right place, and we believe firmly [off of Ash] is the right place for that type of service operation,” he said.

Thurston noted the land is currently not in use and has been suggested by Hillsboro’s own fire chief as a prime location for a station. Thurston said Chief Ben Steketee has analyzed response times throughout the city from the location. It is also one of the safest locations for response vehicles to enter and exit a facility.

We feel there’s value located together; there’s a reason the ambulance has been in our fire station for a long time now. There’s a benefit for interaction and communication between responses […] We maintain the position of supporting Marion County EMS,” Thurston said.

He added a new facility would be a positive message to the current residents of Hillsboro and potential homeowners, as well.

Thurston said he would rather approach Marion County in the spirit of collaboration.

Here is where we believe is a better location for it and design a building that is purpose and designed to be exactly what it it should be and kit it out and equip it appropriately,” he said.

He added, in the next four to five years, it would be the city’s hope to have an EMS facility of Hillsboro that would meet the needs of Steketee’s crew and equipment.

The council quickly convened into the Public Building Commission to pay a $7,176 invoice from Vogt Construction for work on the former hospital building “to prepare it for Tabor’s potential use.” Fire doors were installed, which will allow for greater use options and separation from Salem Home.

In the annual land bank meeting, Stiles reported Hillsboro has 66 properties evaluated at approximately $1.4 million. No action was taken in land bank issues.

Stiles gave an administrative report letting the council know per discussion last month regarding solar power, a statute already is in place.

Country Side Feed is planning a substantial expansion and will be approaching the council for a tax abatement on the $8.2 million capital project that will both retrofit and expand the business’s footprint. It is expected seven new jobs will be created.

Stiles said, after a rough 2020, the strategic plan will be revisited.

Staffing issues and personnel will be addressed at the first council meeting in February.

Stiles reported the potential for a community childcare center in the west wing of the former hospital building.

It was reported the fiber Internet project has ramped back up, and the project is anticipated to be completed in April.