Beloit City Council Weighing Options For Big Changes

After the official agenda of Tuesday night’s Beloit City Council meeting was completed in about 10 minutes, the work session was dominated by discussion on the voter mandated change-over from an eight member council to a six member council along with combining the city’s current four wards into two.

There will be three council members from each of the two wards moving forward after it is determined how to make that happen. The council is considering which of the current four wards to combine to create two. It appears the city is leaning toward combining Wards 1 and 2 to form a New Ward 1 and combining Wards 3 and 4 to create a new Ward 2. Ward 1 would consist of everything south of Main St. and the areas east of Mill St. but south of 8th Street. Ward 2 would consist of the areas north of Main St. and west of Mill St. as well as all areas north of 8th.

The council is also efforting to determine how to use or change the election cycles to reduce the council from eight members to six in a way that is the most seamless and simple while being fair and effective. Three options for reducing the council were presented by Rabe. The general consensus of the council was an option which would create four year terms. The three seats in each ward would be elected every two years and staggered over the election cycles in 2017 and 2019 to fit the new six member format. There would be a limit of two terms or eight years for each member.

Another option was presented by Councilman Andrew Grabon where the terms would be six years with elections for one of the three seats from each ward coming up every two years. The six year option is the most simple as there would be an equal number of seats in each ward up for election at the same time, one in each ward every two years. City Attorney Katie Schroeder said she would prepare paperwork for both of those options.

Councilman Tony Gengler opened the meeting commending local law enforcement on the job they do and specifically cited the stolen vehicle incident near Dairy Queen two weeks ago involving the woman who was just “Trying to get back to her home State of Denver.” Lee McMillan complimented the city crews for the work they did to keep everyone safe and the power flowing during the ice storm over the weekend. Matt Otte and Lloyd Littrell echoed those statements.

City Administrator Jason Rabe said the city had 22 calls over the weekend. Most of those were for service issues between homes and their supply poles for electricity.

Chief of Police Dave Elam thanked the public for driving safely during the inclement weather and slick conditions. He said there were just three minor accidents over the weekend due to ice.

Mitchell County Community Development Director Heather Community addressed the council saying that grants via the Dane G. Hansen Foundation and Solomon Valley Community Foundation, in the neighborhood of $55,000, were currently available. Applications are due by February 1. Contact Hartman at the Beloit Area Chamber of Commerce or stop by the office on the ground floor of the Porter House for more information.

Hartman said recent past funds received by the city have been applied to AAD (Automatic External Defibrillator) devises for city which have been placed in the police cruisers and other city vehicles. They also received a grant for upgrades around walking bridge over the Solomon River on the north side of Chautauqua Park. Hartman said the funds paid for cleanup and lighting improvements.

The council approved the consent agenda consisting of the approval of minutes from January 3 and accounts payable expenditures since December 31, 2016 of $346,321.

The council then passed an ordinance to officially form a Healthy Eating Active Living (H.E.A.L) Committee. The members will include Stephanie Simmons who is the Mitchell County Regional Medical Foundation Director, City Administrator Jason Rabe, Councilman Andrew Grabon, USD 273 Superintendent Jeff Travis, Mandy Fincham for NCK Aware, Jesse Benedick of the Beloit Planning Commission and Jeff Zimmer and Chad Lorenz as Citizen’s At-Large.

The HEAL Committee was first presented to the Beloit Planning Commission in the fall of 2015. Last fall the concept was presented to the city council and approved. The committee is tasked with developing active transportation and healthy lifestyle plans and programs. They are also looking to develop funding strategies and pursue grants to help fulfill their mission. There is no upfront cost to the city in forming the committee, but there may be potential project requests and requests from the city for assistance.
Those future requests may be financial or in the form of work to be performed by the city, but any of those would first have to be approved by the council.

In his report, City Administrator Jason Rabe said discussion and planning continues on how to approach the Little Red Schoolhouse. They are determining what improvements are needed and prioritizing those while determining and considering costs. He said the Kansas Department of Labor came through the city’s electrical department and did a survey recently. The KDL was reviewing an emergency action plan to assess issues in need of address. The city has asked for an extension to complete the needed work.

The pilot study to test Waconda Lake as a future water source for the city has been completed Rabe said, and they are tearing down the equipment this week. Rabe said they wanted to make sure they are getting the calculations on their current treatment system compiled and correctly formatted and submitted to the state before moving ahead with the documenting and submitting of the results of the pilot testing.

Discussion continues on the West Side Park. Mr. Rabe has asked vendors for a rendering of a new layout for the park showing possible new equipment and other upgrades for the park. He suggested the idea of holding an event where vendors present renderings of their ideas for the park and having kids come in and somehow vote on which proposal they like best.

Also during the meeting, Mr. Rabe discussed his initial work on putting together a City Improvement Plan. He is using a process that proved successful at his previous job in Iowa to help plan, finance and complete projects in a prioritized manner. There is an upcoming seminar he encouraged council members to attend in Bennington on city improvement. Once projects are identified and cost projections assessed, the city council and department heads will hold work sessions to determine what projects should be completed and when. The plan would then be continually referenced and changed according to the most pressing needs of the community.

Rabe also discussed ongoing planning in regard to Circuit 14 of the electrical distribution system in the city. He said upgrades to this circuit will apply to future circuits as well. The plan is to eliminate the substation on Walnut Street which is old, miss-sized and creates line loss.

Line loss is power which is lost through the process of traveling along power lines much in the same manner as water evaporates and dissipates into steam when boiled leaving less of the original amount available for use. The more efficiently the power grid can hold electricity as it travels through the city circuits, the more cost effective and cheaper for consumers the power would become over time. The plan would replace existing poles, lines and transformers as needed to achieve the desired level of efficiency.

Rabe said the current line loss rate is between 14 and 18 percent. Some line loss is simply unavoidable. However, the proposed improvements would reduce the line loss to below 10 percent with a goal of eight percent. The project would cost the city about $500,000 over the next three years, but would create overall savings to the city and its customers over the long term.

On the Safe Routes to School Project the city has held two informational meetings with residents along 12th Street and 4th Street who would be impacted by the plan. The plan would put new sidewalk, where needed along those routes. There are close to 40 easements from property owners which need to be obtained to complete the project. About half of them have been finalized and City Attorney Schroeder continues to work on obtaining the rest.

Rabe also said he is meeting with Pavers Inc. on January 24th to discuss the delayed East Main Project as they continue to wait on Kansas Gas Service to complete the necessary work they must do to allow the project to begin. The original goal was to have the project completed by Memorial Day Weekend, but that is now all but impossible. Rabe said it may not be completed before wheat harvest due to the continuing delays.