Hillsboro opts to not renew mask mandate but still strongly encourages it

The Hillsboro City Council met on Tuesday, March 16, for their regular meeting. They discussed the mask mandate that is set to expire on March 23.

City Administrator Matt Stiles stated that numbers for COVID-19 infections are continuing to go down, and many people have been vaccinated. He asked if there was a need to extend the mandate or let it expire. Stiles reminded the council that the proclamation that residents should continue to wear masks still stood but would no longer be a mandate if that is what the council wanted.

“When does the state mandate expire?” asked Council Member Brent Driggers.

“I believe on the 31st,” said Stiles.

“I think I am OK with not extending it for now, but we may need to revisit it if the state does something different.”

The council voted to not renew the mask mandate.

Stiles informed the council that the electrical department is requesting the purchase of a 300 kVA Three Phase Pad Mount Transformer to replace the current live front transformer at the old Alco store.

“With Bomgaars coming in this spring, the opportunity to replace the transformer is ideal. The current transformer is a live front transformer, which is obsolete and potentially dangerous if someone is working on it,” said Stile.

The cost of the transformer is $11,500 and would be covered in the electrical operational budget. According to Stiles, the cost would be 100% on the city, as it was their initiative to change out the transformer. The board approved the purchase of the proposed transformer.

Stiles explained to the council that the February bill from the Kansas Power Pool (KPP) has come in. Due to the resources of KPP, Hillsboro and many other cities were able to maintain power when the temperatures dropped so low last month and many all over the country were without any power.

“KPP has been providing information each day this last week about the event and its impact. The core of it is that the bills that KPP received amounted to $42 million beyond what is normally expected due to the outrageous spikes in natural gas prices. Because of the generation that KPP was able to sell in the market, the credits reduced the bill amount to $17 million. While that is still high, it is manageable due to the fiscal responsibility of KPP,” said Stiles.

Stiles went on to explain that the city has sufficient financial resources to cover the increased surcharge for February billing. The city will then need to increase the charges for residential and business customers for a set time period to rebuild those resources.

“That flexibility will give the council an opportunity to consider the necessary ordinance to pass the surcharge forward,” he said. “We just need your approval to direct the city attorney to draft the necessary ordinance to create an electrical surcharge that matches the amount and duration of the KPP surcharge.”

The Free Press will have a more detailed article next week, giving more history on the KPP and Hillsboro’s relationship with the organization, as well as information on what residents can expect for charges.

Mayor Lou Thurston made the following board appointments:

Fire Advisory: Tony Hein – Menno Township (1 year)

Fire Advisory: Paul Penner- Risley Township (1 year)

Fire Advisory: DeLayne Herbel – Lehigh Township (2 year)

Fire Advisory: Cameron Gottwald – City of Lehigh (2 year)

Fire Advisory: Jared Jost – Liberty Township (2 year)

In other business, the council:

•learned that, as of Friday, March 12, all the employees of the city who wanted to receive a COVID-19 vaccine have received at least the first shot. Employees were vaccinated at either the Marion County Health Department PODs, at the Hillsboro Pharmacy or through a shot clinic from Hillsboro Community Hospital.

•received an update on the hiring process for the various open city positions.

“I’m reviewing applications received for our open positions. We received eight applications for the city clerk, eight for the front desk clerk, three for the sewer/water trainee and four for the golf superintendent. There will be interviews scheduled through the end of the month. The Golf Association will be reviewing and participating in the golf superintendent interviews. We are also moving forward with summer help hiring,” said Stiles.

•heard that Lloyd Davies, IT consultant, will be working on the city’s IT needs, given all the transitions in employees.

“Lloyd and I have developed a plan to manage those situations. We are also looking at adding some best practices to insure we aren’t unnecessarily vulnerable to cyber-attacks,” said Stiles.

The council will be having a strategic planning session on Wednesday, March 24, starting at 4 p.m.