Street project paves way for progress

Workers with Barkley Construction pour concrete along Date Street in Hillsboro in late April. The $400,000 project, which included portions of Cedar and Birch streets, was paid for largely with a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state.The most visible highlight for city government in Hillsboro in 2013 was another significant street project. But Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke said the possibility of getting new housing projects in the community in 2014 may have the most impact on the city?s future.

Last summer, workers replaced all of Date Street, a couple of blocks of Cedar Street and a small portion of Birch with the help of a $400,000 Community Develop??ment Block Grant.

?The way it was done was interesting,? Dalke said. ?We used what we had done (to replace) First Street as the matching money. That was done the year before, but they allowed us to use it for the match so we could do that.

?I think (the project) was one of those things that needed to be done for years,? she added. ?I was so pleased with that.?

Dalke added that as the city moves ahead, more work will be done on the remaining portions of Cedar and Birch, but likely not with the help of grant money.

As significant as that improvement project was, Dalke said she is excited about the prospect of one, possibly two, affordable-housing projects coming to Hillsboro in 2014.

One of the potential projects, which uses a tax-credit approach, surfaced already in 2013. The developer received the necessary tax credits for projects in other Kansas communities, but not Hillsboro.

?We were the next on the list,? Dalke said. ?We?re the ones they?re really working on this year. We are hoping we will be a part of that.?

The company is proposing to build duplexes that have three bedrooms, two baths and a single-car garage for each side.

?I think the housing thing is absolutely the most important thing that we can do right now,? Dalke said. ?We have worked so hard on bringing jobs to Hillsboro. Now we have several plants out (in the industrial park) working 24-hour shifts. Where do the people live who work out there?

?A lot of them can?t find a place to live in Hillsboro, so they?re not here. If they were here, their families would be here, too.?

Dalke said Hillsboro has done a good job of providing housing for seniors. What it needs is housing for young families.

?We?ve provided the jobs, now we need some place for them to live because wherever you live is where you spend your money.?

The second developer to show interest in an affordable housing project is privately funded and would build apartments.

?I think we have a good chance of getting at least one of those projects,? Dalke said, ?To get both of them would be absolutely wonderful.?

Other real estate

Another housing project that made it through the approval process in 2013 was an addition on the south side of the Carriage Hills subdivision by developer Darrell Driggers, a Carriage Hills resident.

Dalke said the original plat has been approved by the city?s planning commission, but recent changes to the plan will mean the plat will go back to the planning commission for review.

?Whether that project starts in 2014, I can?t say,? she said. ?But it is moving ahead.?

As a local real estate broker in addition to being mayor, Dalke has first?hand knowledge of the current housing market in Hillsboro. She said 2013 was a slow year.

?Houses did sell, they just didn?t sell with a lot of (price) appreciation,? she said. ?They kind of sold at a price where they would have been the year before, or the year before that. This year is starting out that way, too.

?The good thing is that so far in January we?re seeing this as being a really good market. We?ve had quite a number of houses that have sold now in January, and there isn?t much on the market in Hillsboro right now.?

Dalke said sellers shouldn?t expect a lot of appreciation on the value of their house again this year.

?You usually gain on your house the same amount as if you had your money in the bank,? she said. ?If you?re making 1 percent at the bank, that?s probably what you?re making on your house. It just works that way.?

Hospital project

Another real estate project on people?s mind in 2013 was the prospect of seeing HMC/CAH Consolidate Inc. building a long-promised facility to house Hillsboro Community Hospital.

Dalke remains optimistic.

?I think the most positive thing that has happened (within the past year) is that one of the board members has invested so much of his own money into the hospitals that they own,? Dalke said. ?Just recently, he invested another $6 million.

?If you?re going to write a check for $6 million and you?re on the board, you?ve got to be pretty much convinced that it?s going to be a working thing or you wouldn?t do it. And he had earlier invested $5 million in it.

?I can?t say when they?re going to start, but I do talk about it every time I see them or call them on the phone,? Dalke said. ?We are definitely planning that the hospital is going to be built.?

With the help of a city electrical worker, Ellie Weisbeck steps into the bucket of the city electrical service truck during the first Hillsboro Youth Adventure held in July.She said the city also is working with Salem Home about the possibility of buying the city-owned building currently shared by Salem and HCH.

?I think it?s going to work,? Dalke said. ?If it?s going to work this year, I can?t say.?

Other city highlights

Dalke cited several other city-initiated projects that carried impact in 2013.

Among them:

? The city completed the legal work necessary to qualify for a Kansas Depart?ment of Transpor?tation grant to create turning lanes at the juncture of U.S. Highway 56 and Adams Street. To qualify, the city needed to annex property along, and including, the highway.

?Everybody thinks that?s not a big deal, but it?s a very big deal,? Dalke said. ?It?s a lot harder than people think it is.?

She said for years residents have suggested the city undertake the project on its own.

?Well, you don?t just go do it because it is a federal highway, and when we finally got the grant, it was $750,000 to get it done. I think that?s just unbelievable (to qualify for state funding).?

? The city approved a fire-protection agreement with surrounding townships and the city of Lehigh.

?For years we were providing fire protection for all of these townships around here, and we really were doing it with hardly an agreement,? Dalke said. ?It took a long time, but we finally have a real agreement. Real money will be changing hands because of it.

?That?s exciting, and it should allow us to start buying some of the trucks that are needed.?

? Launched its first Hillsboro Youth Adventure in July, which exposed six middle school students to the behind-the-scenes activities and duties of city workers through a variety of hands-on experiences.

?I think the kids learned a lot, and they had a lot of fun,? Dalke said. ?I got to have lunch with the kids that day, and I really believe if we have those students go out with the applications for this year, rather than us doing it, we?ll have a much larger class.

?It was just a good thing to teach kids what?s going on in town. How many kids know how a backhoe works? These kids have been on one and actually got to run it.?

? The city received a check for $48,000 from the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the producers of the atrazine herbicide?even though the city dropped its association with the case before the suit was settled.

?If we had stayed in the lawsuit, we would have received many, many times that amount,? Dalke said.

As for its use, ?We ended up putting it into the capital-improvements program, to be used for whatever (projects) we have coming down the road. We don?t have to use it necessarily for improvements in the water department.?

? Recently, the city was notified it was approved for a state grant to reseal the airport runway. KDOT will reimburse the city 90 percent of the project, up to a maximum of $104,400, including construction costs and construction engineering.

?We?ve got to keep our runway up,? Dalke said. ?I know we don?t have that many planes coming in and out, but you have to have an airport.?

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