A few bumps on the road to progress

The 12 middle school participants in the second annual Hillsboro Youth Adventure shared a pizza meal with Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke. ?I think it was fun for everybody, but I think they also learned a whole lot about the city and what makes it work,? Dalke said of the all-day event. Free Press file photo
The 12 middle school participants in the second annual Hillsboro Youth Adventure shared a pizza meal with Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke. ?I think it was fun for everybody, but I think they also learned a whole lot about the city and what makes it work,? Dalke said of the all-day event. Free Press file photo

Mayor Delores Dalke acknowledges that 2014 provided some bumps in the road that leads to community prosperity, but she fully expects a smoother year in 2015.

?I?m just happy to be in Hillsboro, and I?m happy to see that even though once in a while you hit a bump, you keep on going and don?t give up,? she said. ?That?s the way I feel about it.?

Most of the bumps were of the financial kind. The closing of three key businesses?Quick Flick/Radio Shack in summer, Heartland Foods as the year ended and the pending closure of Alco Discount Store in early 2015?had a psychological and financial impact on the community, but the financial impact is yet to be measured.

Until city government discovers to what extent the closures will affect sales tax revenue, Dalke said the city is limiting expenditures in 2015 to necessary services.

?For right now, we?ve stopped all other expenditures and all salary increases, because we don?t know what?s going to happen with sales tax,? she said.

?We do have a little over $600,000 in our capital improvement budget, and we will be able to use that money for some things, but not day-to-day operations? that?s where we?re really going to have to cut back.

?We?ve been so fortunate,? Dalke added. ?Up until this past year, every year our sales tax has gone up. This last year it didn?t.

?We can?t keep spending money acting like it?s all going to be OK, because we don?t know that. Until everything gets settled, we have just stopped everything except absolute essentials.?

Wal-mart project

Another major development in the community was the announcement that Wal-mart would be building a ?neighborhood market? in the community?a development that was greeted with a mixed response.

?I think we kind of ended the year with a lot of questions about what was going to happen with the retail site out in Hillsboro Heights, where Wal-Mart is building,? said Dalke, who described the store as ?more or less a grocery store with gas pumps.?

?It?s been one of those things that some people are very much against, and other people can hardly wait for it to open,? Dalke added. ?Neither side wants to give in to the other. I don?t know that there?s any middle ground.

?I think what?s going to happen is that store will open and people will decide if they want to shop or they don?t want to shop,? Dalke said. ?Nobody?s going to be forced to go there, but it?s going to be one more option for people here, particularly since Heartland Foods decided to leave.?

Business closures

Dalke said the city is addressing some of the economic unknowns by becoming involved in recruiting businesses to fill the Heartland Foods building, as well as the Alco Discount Store building when it closes its door early this year.

The mayor and the city?s economic development director, Clint Seibel, have been taking a leading role in the recruiting process.

?We are hoping that somebody will come along and want to use that building,? Dalke said of the Heartland facility in Hills?boro Heights. ?It?s way too good of a building to sit there empty.

?I?ve been in contact with the person who has it listed, so I think if we can just find somebody to go in that, it will be great.?

The city has had additional help in regard to the Alco building.

?It?s a little different because of the ownership of it,? Dalke said. ?It?s a major corporation that owns it, not Alco. They are either willing to sell or rent it again?probably more in favor of renting it because that?s why they own all those buildings.

?Hopefully, we?ll get somebody in there, and this time next year we?ll say, oh, isn?t it wonderful that they?re all filled?including the building downtown where Radio Shack was.?

Additional developments

Beyond the economic front, Dalke listed several other notable developments in the city during 2014:

? Utility rate increase. ?We did have to increase the water and sewer utility rates because they were not high enough to be paying their way,? Dalke said. ?It seemed like a big increase, but we hadn?t made an adjustment in four years.

?We have said we?re not going to do that again, but it is time to be looking at it. You don?t hear us increasing them, because who wants to do that??

? Establishing a city-rural fire advisory board. ?Now, all of the townships around us, plus Hills?boro (and Lehigh), are part of the same fire board,? Dalke said. ?That led us to purchase a good used fire truck this year as well as a new rescue truck, which we needed.

?We could have never done that, just Hills?boro on its own. With the townships cooperating, and the city providing fire protection for the townships, it all made sense to do it.?

? Hillsboro Youth Adven?ture II in summer. ?I think the kids enjoyed it and I sure enjoyed meeting with them,? Dalke said. ?I think it was fun for everybody, but I think they also learned a whole lot about the city and what makes it work.?

? David Loewen was appointed to fill an unexpired term on city council. ?I think he?s doing a wonderful job,? Dalke said ?He thinks things through thoroughly and comes up with ideas. We?re very fortunate to have him on the council.?

Prospects for 2015

Dalke said she expects 2015 to be an exciting year for the city, including the likelihood of two major facility projects.

?Tabor?s going to begin building its arts center, and that will be exciting as it gets started,? Dalke said. ?And it looks like, if things come together, that the hospital should begin building, too.?

A new facility for Hills?boro Community Hospital has been a goal since HMC/CAH Consolidated Inc. acquired Salem Hospital as a for-profit venture in 2008.

Dalke also said the turning lanes project along U.S. Highway 56 at Adams Street is received a guaranteed ?go? from the Kansas Depart??ment of Transpor?tation, despite state budgets challenges.

The same is true for the Safe Routes to School project, she added.

?We should have a lot of things actually going on this year, even though right now you can look around and say, ?Oh, this isn?t right,?? Dalke said. ?But I think this should be a pretty exciting year for us, really.?