Hillsboro looking at massive raw water increase

Hillsboro

HILLSBORO—Hillsboro residents may be looking at a marked increase in water rates, as the contract between the city and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is set to expire at the end of the year.

In the city administrator’s report, Matt Stiles said the community is looking at a significant increase in raw water costs.

The current contract is a 40-year, fixed-rate contract. Annually, we spend approximately $15,000 on raw water purchases. KDHE’s current contracts similar to ours are variable rate contracts, which is what they will propose to us. The current rate for raw water. according to KDHE. is 460% higher than what we currently pay. Under those rates, we would see a raw water cost jump to $69,000 annually,” read the report submitted by Stiles.

At the meeting, Stiles said he was unsure if the city had “a whole lot of negotiating room” as KDHE “is the only game in town, unless you drill wells.”

Stiles said he will be examining rates on the capital and operational end for any savings or negotiation prospects.

However, in his report, Stiles wrote, “Rates will need to be adjusted to accommodate the anticipated raw water rate increase.”

Council is working its way through nearly 50 city job descriptions to bring them up to date with task descriptions, any certification requirements and salary and benefits information.

An example of the need for a job description update is the aquatic facilities manager was not required to be CPR certified. Changes and adaptations will also be made to areas like dress code policies and prohibiting tobacco use on city property.

Stiles said the residency requirement for employees of the city is no longer practical, though he still advocated for working hard to hire within the community.

Rather than ‘we have to hire Hillsboro people,’ that would be a preference and we would encourage people to maintain residence, but each department would have its own residency policy,” he said.

The city will also be examining its call-out policy, as well as how it distributes accumulated vacation time for new employees.

The council moved to adopt Triplett Woolf and Garretson LLC’s Kimberlyn Gilchrist as the city’s attorney. Hillsboro already utilizes the firm as its bond council. The city prosecutor is handled separately from other city legal business and would be an additional cost.

Engaging with Triplett Woolf and Garretson in this way is advantageous to the city in multiple areas,” Mayor Lou Thurston said, citing the hospital as an example of positive work the firm has undertaken for the city.

The council is entertaining options for concrete crushing. The material is used for road patching and primarily for alleyway maintenance.

It saves us money and we can do offsets with contractors so we don’t have to truck in material,” Stiles said.

Stiles added, on occasion, contractors and homeowners have requested to purchase the crushed concrete for various projects.

The council is planning a special meeting in the coming weeks to reexamine the city’s strategic plan. Stiles said “COVID put a damper on” the plan’s progress.

I recommend a workshop session for a more in-depth look. The big thing is to assign work. Everything needs to have a place and a home, for accountability,” he said.

The council recessed its meeting and convened a meeting of the Hillsboro Land Bank to discuss selling a 625-square-foot parcel of property near the old post office building. The discussion was tabled at the previous meeting.

Stiles said Vibe, the company requesting the property, imparted “a sense of urgency” to the sale. Stiles said he “didn’t think moving equipment would be a hindrance for the sale or lease” of the space. The proposal before the land bank was to sell the small parcel for $5 per square foot—$3,125, which would be allocated to the land bank’s operational costs.

There is a similar situation with the old hospital. They have a cabinet in there, and we have pushed to get them to take it out because it draws a lot of power,” Stiles said.

He added the city has been requesting the removal of the cabinet from the former hospital building for a while.

The land bank requested the sale of the land to be tied to the removal of the equipment from the former hospital building.

The land bank closed its meeting and reconvened into city council. The council then went into an executive session for the purpose of discussion of non-elected personnel. No action was taken following the executive session.

The electric meter reading project was approved to move forward. The projected cost of the meters is $187,530 that will be paid over 10 years with an interest rate yet to be determined.

Stiles reported the KDHE loan project the city completed “was approximately $500,000 under anticipated levels. This would potentially allow the water department to complete additional improvements under a new KDHE loan without increasing the debt service or debt load from its previous budgeted levels.”

Stiles said he would like to evaluate the possibility of more capital projects on the water system and leverage the currently low interest rates. However the city is currently under no obligation to make any moves.

Barkman Honey’s wastewater is causing challenges with the city’s lagoons. The company accounts for about 1% of the city’s flow but 40% of its lagoon load. Stiles said there are also smell issues when sludge builds up in the lagoons. Stiles said the city is in conversation with Barkman Honey to address the issues.

Stiles said he would like to reexamine insurance.

It drives me nuts how we do insurance now,” he said.

Stiles said the Community Plaza project is moving forward, and he is “excited about sharing with the community when we get it done.”