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Townships ask city to consider fire district

Council wants time to study

Staff writer

Representatives from several township boards asked Hillsboro City Council on Tuesday to consider working with the townships to form a fire district.

The proposed fire district would include all of Lehigh, Liberty, and Risley townships, part of Menno, Gale, and Wilson townships, and the cities of Hillsboro and Lehigh. The group planned to speak with Lehigh City Council about the proposal, as well.

Currently Lehigh, Liberty, Risley, and Menno townships work together to contract with the city for firefighting services. The city provides a fire station, gear, insurance, maintenance, manpower, and some vehicles, while the townships provide several vehicles and pay fees to the city for firefighting services.

Over the past 16 years, 52 percent of Hillsboro Fire Department’s calls have been within the city limits and 40 percent have been rural calls. Over the past seven years, the gap widened to 56 percent compared with 37 percent.

Menno Township Board member Dwight Flaming said replacing fire trucks is the biggest difficulty facing the townships regarding fire protection. They cannot finance replacement equipment without having a central entity as the financial agent. In particular, a pumper truck from the 1970s needs to be replaced, but none of the townships can finance it.

In the past, the city was the financial agent for those purchases, but that put extra liability on the city, so that system ceased.

Flaming said the townships calculated a replacement schedule for vehicles, and if about $27,000 were set aside annually, it would work. If formed, the fire district would be a taxing entity with its own elected board.

If all of the townships and both cities joined the district, that would be a little more than one mill of property taxes. There would still be expenses of fire station maintenance, payroll, and individual equipment, however. City Administrator Larry Paine said the city budgets about $62,000 annually for the fire department.

Flaming said he would encourage everybody to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of forming a fire district before making a decision. He said the townships would urge the creation of a study group to examine those issues, with representatives from the townships, cities, and fire departments.

If the municipalities agree to form a fire district, the boundary would need to be set and an agreement drafted, then the proposal would go to Marion County Commission for approval.

Flaming said the target date for completion would be July 1, 2012.

“We’re beyond the ‘notes on a napkin’ stage of this,” Flaming said. “We’re committed, as township boards, to doing it right.”

Mayor Delores Dalke requested time to examine the issue in more detail.

Sidewalk grant application OK’d

The council approved applying for a Safe Routes to Schools grant from Kansas Department of Transportation, contingent on USD 410 approving a 50 percent cost share for any costs not covered by the grant.

Phase one would pay for development of a plan for improved sidewalks, up to $15,000. Phase two would pay for actual construction of the sidewalks, up to $250,000.

If $250,000 isn’t enough to fund the entire plan, the city could complete the plan in increments, Paine said.

The area around Hillsboro Elementary School has insufficient sidewalks, Paine said. They are too narrow, and lead to students walking in the street. The district dropped a bus route in town this school year because of state budget cuts.

“If you don’t think it’s a problem, go down there and watch it tomorrow afternoon,” Dalke said.

Warranty proposal tabled

The council requested more time to consider a proposal to endorse a water and sewer line warranty company.

United Service Partners would provide the city a 12 percent royalty for the city’s endorsement of the program. The city would also provide a list of utility customers for the company to market to.

Dalke and council member Marlene Fast expressed concerns about the company’s claims that a local plumber would respond to any call within an hour.

City resident Gari-Anne Patzwald said she saw the program as a positive. She and her husband budget $3,000 each year to replace their sewer line in case it fails, because several neighbors’ sewer lines have failed in recent memory. Patzwald said the program could be the difference between staying in Hillsboro and selling their home.

The council asked Paine to get input from cities that participate in the program.

In other business:

  • With the council’s approval, Dalke declared May 1 through 7 Public Service Recognition Week.
  • The city was tentatively awarded a grant from Kansas Department of Transportation for airport planning. The city’s share of the cost for the plan would be 10 percent.
  • Resolution 2011-05 was approved, changing the council members approved to sign city checks, based on the council’s recent reorganization.
  • The city’s website, http://www.cityofhillsboro.net, has a new layout.

The next council meeting will be May 17.

Last modified May 5, 2011

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