Mystery business’ dominated local conversation

The unsolicited prospect of a Fortune 500 ?mystery business? coming to Hills?boro ignited not only months-long speculation about the identity by concern, but ignited debates once the identity became clear.

In between, city leaders and organizations took on a variety of significant initiatives that were challenging, too, but with far fewer challenges from the public.

January

After four years without a review, the Hillsboro City Council increased rates for the city?s four primary utilities. The average residential bill will increase by around 15 percent per month, depending on usage.

February

Hillsboro Community Found?a?tion board members presented grant checks totaling nearly $16,000 Feb. 14 to 13 area public-service organ?izations and causes. The presentation occurred during halftime of the Hillsboro High School boys? basketball game against Hesston.

March

The Hillsboro coun??cil approved the sale of 3.7 acres in the Hillsboro Heights sub?division March 4 to a holding company looking for development sites for an unidentified Fortune 500 parent company that sells fuel, groceries and pharmaceuticals. The new business likely would employ 20 to 30 people.

A group of youth and adults from Mennonite churches in Hillsboro and Topeka escaped serious injury March 14 when they were involved in a two-vehicle accident on the way to a retreat in Colorado. Five youth and three adult sponsors were from Hillsboro.

It took some last-minute hustle and a couple of special meetings, but the city of Hills?boro purchased a used pumper fire truck at a cost of $198,100. The 2004 Pierce four-wheel-drive pumper truck was acquired through Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus in Union Grove, Ala. Fire Chief Ben Steketee said if built new from the ground up, the truck would cost around $600,000.

April

Local and state leaders responded with condolences to news of the death of Hills?boro resident and former Kansas House representative Don Dahl, 69, in an ultra-light aircraft accident April 18 just a few miles from his hometown.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran told members and guests at the April 17 Hillsboro Kiwanis Club luncheon that if Congress is going to accomplish anything of significance for the future of the country, members of both parties need to get to know each other as people rather than adversaries.

The Hillsboro coun?cil agreed in principle at its April 22 meeting to a proposal that would open the municipal airport as a base for aerial spraying operations. Mike Kleiber, owner of Ag Service Inc., said using the local airport would reduce flying time and the expense for producers who want fungicide applied promptly to area fields.

May

The Hillsboro council approved an ordinance at its May 6 meeting prohibiting motor vehicles, or parts of motor vehicles, from being parked on front lawns?except for a temporary reason such as unloading passengers or property. Vehicles must be parked on an ?improved parking space,? as defined by ordinance.

Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke confirmed in late May that the city received a letter from the land agent withdrawing the offer to buy land for a Fortune 500 company in Hillsboro Heights.

June

Workers with Miller Construction of Newton began $22,000 worth of repairs on the Jacob Friesen Flour Mill in Hillsboro. The mill, a precise replica of the one Jacob Friesen built in 1876 southwest of town, was constructed by Richard Wall with help from Paul Friesen from 1992 to 1994.

The 25th edition of the reality television series ?The Amazing Race? featured a team with a Marion County connection. Adam Dirks, who was raised in Durham and attended Hillsboro schools and Tabor College, and wife Bethany Hamilton of Princeville, Hawaii, was one of 11 teams to race around the world in pursuit of $1 million on the series. The couple finished third.

After drawing six participants in its debut a year ago, the 2014 Hillsboro Youth Adventure drew 11 seventh- and eighth-graders for the second edition. The event involved students in a variety of hands-on activities related to city services. It was co-sponsored by the city of Hillsboro and Families And Com?munities Together Inc. as a way to strengthen the bond between youth and their hometown.

July

The Hillsboro coun?cil accepted the resignation of Councilor Marlene Fast at its July 1 meeting and appointed David Loewen to fill the remainder of Fast?s two-year term as a representative from the East Ward.

Less than two months after withdrawing the option to purchase 3.7 acres of city-owned property in Hills?boro Heights for an unnamed Fortune 500 company, the same land agent submitted an identical purchase agreement for the same property. The council decided at its July 15 meeting to send a modified version of the agreement back to the agent as a counter-proposal.

The council approved a contract for $11,000 with EBH & Associates to prepare specifications for repairing the city?s smaller water tower, located near the corner of Ash Street and Grand Avenue. The tower was accepted for the National Historic Register in 2011, making the project eligible for $90,000 in grant funding with the city picking up the remaining $46,300.

The Hillsboro coun?cil voted 3-2 at a special meeting Tuesday, July 29, to accept a revised contract to purchase 3.7 acres in the Hills?boro Heights commercial development. Land agent Ben Haw?kins previously stated he is acquiring the property on behalf of an unnamed Fortune 500 company that intends to establish a business that will sell gasoline, groceries and pharmaceuticals.

Angling for a legal way to keep a Wal-Mart from locating in Hillsboro, a delegation of nine citizens led by five local business owners left the Aug. 19 city council meeting mostly with disappointment and frustration.

August

The council approved the 2015 budget with an expenditure budget of $6.87 million. It will require a mill levy of 40.366 on a local property valuation of $16.12 million. That compared to a 2014 budget with an expenditure budget of $6.87 million and a mill levy of 40.299 on a local property valuation of $16.28 million.

Christmas Day arrived Aug. 13 for the Hillsboro Fire Depart?ment, as it finally received the 2004 Pierce fire truck it had anticipated for more than five months.

An Aug. 31 storm with significant rain and high winds blew off the steel roof of the 1926 water tower that is listed on Kansas Register of Historic Places. The roof landed on a nearby building owned by The Lumberyard, causing damage there as well.

September

Standard & Poor?s Finan?cial Service notified the city of Hillsboro last week that it had upgraded the city?s bond rating from an A- to an ?A with a stable outlook.? A city?s bond rating affects the interest rate it must pay when it takes out bonds for capital improvement projects.

The board of directors of Hillsboro Com?munity Foundation launched a fall fundraising campaign with the goal of celebrating its 10th year of operation by increasing total endowment funds to $2 million. With just over $1.61 million in endowed funds currently, the ?10 and 2: Driving Into the Future? campaign would need about $390,000 to achieve its goal.

Predictions of rain were the biggest concern as the 45th annual Arts & Crafts Fair in Hillsboro drew closer. As it turned out, local law enforcement estimated that between 40,000 and 45,000 people turned out for the day when abundant sunshine and temperatures creeping into the 90s proved to be the biggest challenge.

The Hillsboro coun?cil tabled action at its Sept. 23 special meeting regarding a contract it received to purchase property in Hillsboro Heights that is already under contract for the construction of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. The group submitting the contract was identified as United Partner?s, with local businessman Jon Hefley serving as the signer for the group.

October

Two Hillsboro residents who have been active locally in resisting the arrival of a Wal-Mart store in Hillsboro, challenged city council members and city officials during the Oct. 7 meeting regarding their handling of the situation. Mark Pan?kratz and Jon Hefley, a co-owner of The Lumberyard, addressed the council.

At its Oct. 21 meeting, the council received an apology from one of the two residents who took the council to task at its Oct. 7 meeting. Hefley said he was sorry for the way his co-presenter shared information during that meeting.

November

The Hillsboro City Coun?cil approved resolutions during its Nov. 4 meeting that called for a public hearing to receive input from citizens whether four private properties in town should be razed because of ?dangerous building conditions.?

The Environmental Protection Agency announced that the city of Hillsboro is among a handful of cities that will receive training and technical assistance to help water utilities bolster their climate-change resilience and readiness. Hillsboro was the only community in Kansas to be selected, and one of only two cities in EPA?s four-state Region 7 chosen to receive up to $30,000 in professional assistance.

Olde Towne, one of the more historic buildings in Hillsboro?s downtown business district, is getting a new lease on life, thanks to efforts of two business owners. Marie Kessler, owner of Kessler Kreations, and Gary Reimann of McPherson, owner of the building, want to rent Olde Towne as a venue for parties, meetings, rehearsal dinners, special events and other public events.

December

Workers with Crossland Construction Co. Inc. began work on the lot in the Hillsboro Heights development where the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will be located. Company officials have said the store should open this spring, weather permitting.

 Workers with Crossland Construction Co. Inc. were at work Monday, Dec. 8, on the lot in the Hillsboro Heights development where the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will be located. The construction project began the previous week. Company officials have said the store should open this spring, weather permitting. The way the ?mystery business? suddenly surfaced, then disappeared, then resurfaced became a source of speculation through the year, not only in Hillsboro but all of Marion County.  Free Press file photo
Workers with Crossland Construction Co. Inc. were at work Monday, Dec. 8, on the lot in the Hillsboro Heights development where the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will be located. The construction project began the previous week. Company officials have said the store should open this spring, weather permitting. The way the ?mystery business? suddenly surfaced, then disappeared, then resurfaced became a source of speculation through the year, not only in Hillsboro but all of Marion County. Free Press file photo
Hillsboro council members took the first step toward developing a cash reserve policy for the city?s four utilities by agreeing unanimously at the Dec. 16 meeting that having such a policy is important. At an earlier meeting, City Administrator Larry Paine made the case that having sufficient cash in reserve was a sound business practice in the event of a natural or mechanical emergency. The reserve funds could be used to continue basic city services: electricity, water, sewer and refuse removal.