Council opts to raise utility fees, not tax levy

The Hillsboro City Council approved at its Aug. 4 meeting a budget for 2010 that will keep the property-tax rate the same as it is this year: 40.134 mills.

To achieve that, though, residents will be paying a higher base rate for electricity and water.

The per-month base rate for electricity will increase from $5 to $9 and for water from $26 to $27.

Mayor Delores Dalke had suggested the increases during a July 28 council work session as a strategy for eliminating a shortage of about $60,000 in the published budget drafted by City Admini?strator Larry Paine.

She said the advantage of raising utility fees rather than the mill levy is that all households contribute to the city budget, not just property owners.

The proposed increases, which have not been officially approved by the council yet, will generate around $71,000 a year, according to Paine.

He said the increases will be put into effect in November, which means residents will begin paying the higher fees in their January billing.

Until Dalke suggested the utility strategy during the work session, council members seemed at an impasse in their effort to avoid a mill-levy increase.

The council discussed four areas of the city?s general-fund budget for possible adjustments. The areas were museums, the aquatic center, the golf course and the industrial fund.

Two areas, museums and the aquatic center, received particular attention. The two entities will combine for a negative budget impact of about $120,000 in 2009?the equivalent of nine mills, according to Paine.

The museums are allotted $61,233 in the 2010 budget, and have a track record of generating minimal revenue through admission fees, Paine said.

Meanwhile, the aquatic center is allotted $203,228 on the expense side for 2010, with revenue generated by admissions and concessions projected to fall almost $60,000 short of that number in 2009.

Dalke said in the past the city had subsidized the old pool to the tune of about $15,000 a year. With the new facility, the subsidy had increased to about $45,000 in 2008.

Council members agreed it would not be realistic to expect either entity to be a break-even proposition, but they did authorize Paine to explore strategies for reducing the losses being incurred.

Paine indicated he would implement changes during 2010, even though the budget line items would remain at the levels proposed.

Prior to the start of the council?s Aug. 4 regular agenda, a public hearing was conducted for the 2010 budget. No input was offered.

Once in the regular meeting, the council approved the budget unanimously, well ahead of the Aug. 25 deadline.

CG&S to rent city ground

The council approved a contract to lease 38 acres of city-owned farm ground to Coopera?tive Grain & Supply at an annual rate of $75 per acre.

The ground, located at the corner of U.S. Highway 56 and Kanza Road, to the immediate north of the city?s new sewer lagoons, had been farmed by Victor Jost, who had notified the city of his intention to release it.

CG&S plans to develop the ground for a marketing venture, creating plots to display agriculture crops developed with the company?s seeds, chemicals and other inputs, according to Kevin Suderman, a CG&S employee.

?We see this as the best sales opportunity we?ve had in a while,? he said.

Suderman, also a member of the city council, had removed himself from voting on this issue, citing a conflict of interest. But he did help to explain the venture to the other council members.

Because the proposed use is a marketing venture rather than traditional farm production, Suderman said, CG&S submitted a bid that is about 50 percent higher than the going rate for farm ground.

Paine said CG&S plans to pay a full year?s rent ($2,850) up front by Sept. 15. The Hillsboro-based business will take immediate possession of the ground, and will make sure the acreage continues to comply with Farm Service Agency program requirements.

Golf carts on streets?

In response to an inquiry from Paine during his report, the council agreed to review the current regulation that bans the use of motorized carts on city streets.

The issue arose because of a request from Tabor College to receive permission to cross D Street with its work-site utility vehicles in order to more conveniently service both halves of the campus.

Mayor Dalke said the city council had banned the use of vehicles such as golf carts and ATVs several years ago to keep the city in compliance with state law.

But the legislature recently changed the law to allow access to such vehicles if the local city government agrees to it.

Council members expressed empathy for the college?s situation, but noted that if exceptions were made for work-site vehicles, requests would soon come to allow golf carts, too.

Police Chief Dan Kinning told the council he preferred that the city continue the ban, citing safety and administrative concerns.

The council agreed to have the issue placed on its agenda for fuller discussion at a future meeting.

Other business

In other business, the council:

n affirmed Paine?s plan to have Dale Dalke, street supervisor, certified by the Kansas Department of Trans?por???tation as a project inspector.

KDOT will cover the cost of inspections during the upcoming Ash Street improvement project, which will be funded by federal stimulus dollars.

Because Dalke?s certification process would not be complete before the deadline for submitting the project plans, Paine also was authorized to start a request-for-proposal process to secure an outside inspector.

That person would likely work in tandem with Dalke on the project once he is certified.

n approved a bid of $36,222 from Foley Equipment of Wichita to purchase a portable generator for the sewer department.

Mike Duerksen, department supervisor, said the generator will be used to keep the system?s 10 lift stations running during power outages in order to avoid sewage backups in residential basements.

The Kansas Department of Health & Environment requires a generator backup.

The expense of the generator will be included in the funding provided by the Rural Develop?ment Administra?tion for the sewer-lagoon project.

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