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Hoisington City Council considering creation of fire district
CDBG funding to hinge on city challenge of Census survey
Hoisington city offices. - photo by Veronica Coons, Tribune staff

HOISINGTON - In its efforts to find a way to pay for a new fire truck, the City of Hoisington will seek to follow the example set by neighboring Claflin and begin working towards the creation of a fire district. The move would create a broader, more stable pool of funding by distributing the cost equally to all townships and cities in the district, City Manager Jonathan Mitchell said. Discussion of the potential creation of a fire district was added to the agenda at the start of the meeting.
Mitchell noted that Claflin has been part of a fire district since the 1950s, and consequently has been able to continuously update equipment without concern of one or more member townships opting out of a pool if a needed increase was too much for its limited budget. Hoisington, on the other hand, provides most of the funding for its fire department, but asks each township outside the city limit and the city of Susank to pay into a pool each year for fire protection. The city of Hoisington carries the heaviest burden, he said, despite the fact that the majority of calls handled are from outside the city limits.
Currently, the city is looking at coming up with nearly $350,000 in order to purchase a new fire truck. It currently has $56,000 available in the Special Fire Department Equipment Fund and $152,000 in the shared township fund. The additional funding could come through a lease purchase, but the option is still challenging, as it could clean out the departments reserves, and the majority of future funds collected for years to come. That would leave the department without adequate reserves when other equipment needs to be replaced in the future, Mitchell said.
Currently, townships pay into the fire protection fund from their limited budgets, so there is a risk if Hoisington asks for too high an increase, a township may have no choice but to pull out. Once established, a fire district can levy up to 5 mills through property taxes over the entire district.
“Townships and cities would no longer have to write that check,” Mitchell said. “They could allocate that money to other uses.”
It would take time, however, to get a district in place. Support would have to be gained from within the department, and then in the townships. Once secured, those wanting the district would go to the Barton County Commission and make their case. Once approved, a budget would be set, and the soonest the district would operate under its new funding would be 2018. That may be too long to wait for a new fire truck, one council member pointed out. Mitchell countered that if the funding could be secured, maybe the department could find a way to put off the purchase until then.
Mitchell also wondered aloud, if the funds set aside for the fire department would likely be transferred to the fire district once approved, perhaps the debts of the fire department would also be transferable, and if so the department could move forward with the purchase of a truck. The City Attorney, however, urged caution and that more research would be needed before he could confirm this would be possible. The council members did urge Mitchell to look into the possibility further, and bring back his findings to the next meeting. The fire department is expected to also have bids for a new truck ready to present at that time.

CDBG requirements changed
Mitchell asked council members to approve a letter challenging Census income findings for the city at Monday’s city council meeting . This is important due to new regulations by the Kansas Department of Commerce. Cities with income ranges similar to Hoisington’s will need to request a waiver allowing them to challenge the results with a survey. The challenge is necessary in order for the city to continue to qualify for CDBG funding, which is needed in light of the continuing need to comply with an Administrative Order from the EPA for non-compliant wastewater treatment facilities. In order to qualify, the city must show that more than 51 percent of the community is low-to-moderate income. The current data suggests only 29 percent of the community falls into that range.
According to the draft of the letter, the major reason for the challenge is incomes and demographics have changed dramatically in Hoisington since the 2010 Census was taken. Many local employers have reduced staffing, and even the amount of hours worked in order to weather the two-fold effects of the current agricultural and oil related downturns in the economy. On top of falling incomes, the population has gone up in Hoisington, mostly among families in the low-to-moderate income range. A major indicator of this is the rise in enrollment in the school district, up 128 students or 19 percent since 2009. The percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch has also gone up, from 45 percent in 2009 to the current 58 percent.
The city would seek CDBG funding in order to complete work to the existing wastewater treatment facility, including the west side lift station. The city attempted to seek grant funding for this project last year, but due to survey errors that came to light, the city opted to withdraw its application intending to make another attempt in 2017. When the administration began laying the groundwork for the new application, it was learned the state’s requirements had changed, prompting the proposal to challenge the survey. The council agreed to sign on and allow Mitchell to request the waiver.

Charter Ordinance for elections tabled
Because two council members, Karen Van Brimmer and Chris Smith, were not present at the meeting, the council opted to table a vote on the final approval for Charter Ordinance No. 14 until a future meeting. The ordinance would change the timing of elections to coincide with the revised statutory mandates and would also change the composition of the City’s governing body in the future. Beginning in 2017, candidates would be elected at large, and in 2018, they would be elected by district.
Robert Bruce, who was recently appointed to fill his position when Brian Wilborn moved out of his district, stated that he was not in favor of at large representation because districts provided better representation. Mitchell explained that the compromise had been arrived at by a divided council prior to his appointment. The City Attorney pointed out to adopt the ordinance, a supermajority of six yes votes was needed. Bruce’s objection would have left a maximum of five, so Mayor Clayton Williamson tabled the vote until the next meeting.

City Manager report
During his City Manager’s update, Jonathan Mitchell shared that paving of the main line of Main Street is expected to begin on Oct. 17, and the project is on track to be completed at the end of the month. Council members asked who will be responsible for the damage being done to Sixth St. from large trucks who are not following the detours and using the side street instead. Damage noted are widening and deepening potholes and curb damage. The city will be responsible, Mitchell said, but noted that it is a temporary inconvenience.
The Sonic Drive-in plans were available to view at the council chamber Monday night, and Mitchell says the groundbreaking will take place Nov. 2, and the goal is to be completed by Feb. 14. It is yet to be determined if the lot will need to be built up or is high enough as is.
The new EMS vehicle is being repaired, and Osage, the dealer, has provided the service with a temporary vehicle for the next few weeks. The repairs are covered by warranty.
Two applications have been received for the electric distribution superintendent position. The deadline for application is by the end of the day Friday, Oct. 14.
All paperwork required of Rotomix, KDHE and the railroad has been submitted to the state. The city has not received any further feedback, Mitchell said.

Other items of discussion and actions taken included:

Discussed needed improvements at the City’s water plant. A power outage in September resulted in damage to one of the Variable Flow Devices at the plant. Another VFD was already functioning poorly, so the staff would like to replace both at this time at a cost of $30,005.40. Funds will come from the Water Emergency and Depreciation Fund, and after deductible and depreciation, the city is anticipating an insurance settlement of between $3,000 and $4,000.
Discussed replacing the City’s wastewater vac truck. The City of Great Bend is replacing a second vac truck, built in 1995, and approached staff about purchasing it for $85,000. The city is also looking at trucks available through dealers in Kansas City, the City of Ellsworth, and others of good value which may cost less but may also require some upfront repairs. The cost of a new truck is between $350,000 and $400,000, which is cost prohibitive for a city the size of Hoisington at this time, Mitchell said. Mitchell will travel to Kansas City and report back to the council at the next meeting.
Formalized the agreement between the City and A&F Enterprises for heating and air conditioning upgrades for the municipal complex. The proposed draft includes the addition of air conditioning to the gymnasium for an additional $48,633.31, which the council agreed on at an earlier meeting in September.

A 10-minute executive session listed on the agenda was removed at the start of the meeting. The next regular meeting of the Hoisington City Council will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 24 at the Hoisington Municipal Building.