City credits tree trimming for avoiding outages

Hillsboro City Admini?strator Larry Paine told the city council during its Dec. 1 meet?ing that the city?s proactive tree-trimming program was a big reason the town escaped major electrical outages during the Thanks?giving weekend ice storm.

Paine said city crews responded to 51 separate outages around town from Saturday night through Monday, Nov. 28-30, but almost all of them were the result of falling tree bran?ches knocking down secondary lines running from the city pole to the residence.

?On the primary lines, we didn?t have any problems like that?and that?s because we do tree trimming around them,? he said.

?I know we get a lot of crap from time to time from citizens about cutting the trees around those (primary) lines, but this week we were able to keep lights on and electricity going to everybody?s house because we kept those lines clear.?

Paine suggested that local homeowners consider a similar strategy for the lines that bring electricity to their houses: ?Property owners need to keep their secondaries clear.?

Mike Duerksen, electric department supervisor, told Paine the city?s north and west circuits did lose power for a brief time over the weekend.

?At this point he doesn?t know why,? Paine added. ?There was no problem?they went back and kicked the breaker back in and it held. It wasn?t related to any lines down.?

Paine said many residents who called in to report outages failed to heed the recorded instructions on the city?s phone line to contact the on-call city crew member directly.

Instead, several callers dialed the mayor?s residence and several others left messages on the city hall recorder that weren?t processed until office staff returned to work Monday morning.

?One thing we know is that the mayor does not respond to snow and ice emergency electric outages?and we don?t want her to do that,? Paine said with a smile.

Electric rates

The council heard that electric rates in Hillsboro will remain the same for the for now, thanks to lower natural gas prices nationwide and a cooler than normal summer in 2015 that lowered the city?s peak demand.

Mark Chesney, executive director of the Kansas Power Pool, which supplies electrical power to Hillsboro and Marion and 29 other cities in the state, updated the council on the these and other factors that have lowered KPP?s wholesale cost of power.

Paine said the city?s electric rate schedule had been based on earlier cost projections that indicated a $2 million expenditure for electricity that ended up costing about $1.7 million.

?While we didn?t spend as much in purchases, we didn?t make as much money on the revenue side either,? Paine said. ?There was some overall adjustments, but at least at this point it looks like revenues will exceed expenses.?

Paine said the difference between revenue and expenditures will be used to enhance the financial reserve fund for the electric utility, which the council established this spring.

?I told the council it would take some time to get from where we were to where we need to be,? Paine said of the reserve-fund goal. ?But there?s a step that we?ve made.?

Budget amendments

Paine reviewed the six funds from the 2015 budget that the city is seeking to amend. A public hearing is planned for 4 p.m. Dec. 15 at city hall to receive citizen comments or questions about the amendments.

Budget amendments are a procedure cities routinely use to avoid audit violations that could otherwise occur when actual expenditures in a fund exceed projections approved by the council up to six months prior to the start of the budget year.

The amendments do not affect the local mill levy, which remains locked in at the level approved by the council prior to the start of the budget year.

The six funds to be amended are:

? Special Highway, which includes street maintenance;

? K9 Unit, which was discontinued when the city?s canine officer moved out of town and the drug dog was decommissioned;

? Equipment Reserve, which was affected when the city purchased a box-blade tractor for the street department and a tandem-axle dump truck for general use;

? Withholding fund, to accommodate a higher-than-expected unencumbered cash balance;

? Meter Deposit, which is a downpayment some residents make to have their utilities hooked up; the deposit is returned by the city when utility bills are regulary paid;

? Fire Equipment Replacement, which the city established a couple of years ago primarily to pay for equipment going to the fire department; there were carryover expenses from 2014 for the city?s rescue vehicle that amounted to additional cost.

Other business

In other business, the council:

? approved Mayor Delores Dalke?s appointment of Amy Simmons to another term on the Hillsboro Hous?ing Authority, and Marion Regier to a first term on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Regier succeeds Kyle Ceder?berg, who has completed his eligibility.

? authorized payment of $67,824 to Miese Construc?tion of Wichita, which completed the project to reroute some waterlines around the city?s water tower on the Tabor College campus.

The job initially had been projected to cost $98,000.