On Hand Development urges Council for decision on community center

Posted November 15, 2013 at 11:22 am

The Miller City Council held its first meeting of the month November 4.

Several items were discussed and handled quickly.

Liquor licenses were approved for Turtle Creek, Hi-Lite, Hondah, Tucker’s SuperValu, Rexall Drug, Redneck Paradise and Sommer’s Bar.

Building permits were approved for Tiffany Hofer, to build a garden shed, and SuAnne Meyer, to remove a garage.

The Council approved appointment of Mayor Ron Blachford as City representative for NECOG (Northeast Council of Governments). Blachford had formerly been a representative to NECOG for the County.

The Council also approved an airport agreement with the Department of Transportation for rehabilitation of the runway and apron, extension of taxiways and a new access road at the Miller Airport. Total estimated project cost will be $100,000, with 90 percent of the project to be paid by federal funds. State share will be five percent, and local share will be five percent.

The Council again discussed utility assistance for certain entities, specifically Hand In Hand Daycare, McWhorter Museum and Helping Hands. The matter had been tabled at the previous meeting.

Electric Department head Bill Lewellen said churches, the library, Friendship Center and some other organizations receive “breaks” on electric rates, which amounts to about $14,000 in lost revenue annually.

The museum and daycare, which had previously received credits, were not figured in to the coming year’s budget, and Helping Hands was a new request.

Mayor Blachford recommended giving utility credits, rather than writing a check, for the months October through March, and to make sure requests are received before the City budget is prepared next year. He also recommended that the organizations involved provide a financial statement for the City.

Hand In Hand Daycare has previously received $125 utility credit per month for six winter months. McWhorter Museum receives $133.33 per month throughout the year, and that was included in the budget. However, an extra $25 credit for winter heating for six months had not been budgeted.

Helping Hands had not received credits, but Gina Ortmeier, who is in charge of the store, said clientele comes not only from Hand County, but neighboring communities. Food, clothing and other items are given to customers at no charge. Ortmeier said, “A hundred dollars a month would help.”

Councilman Tony Rangel made a motion to provide assistance for the museum and daycare as had been provided previously, and to include Helping Hands assistance for six months. The motion carried.

Council members approved the first reading of Ordinance #648, which changes the municipal electric rate.

Bill Lewellen said rates charged to the City will be increasing: NorthWestern Energy by $31,000; Heartland by $17,000; and debt service by $2,000. He said residential customers will see an average increase of $6.00 for electric charges.

Changes will be:

Residential – $15 per meter plus kWh increase from .0696 to .0745.

Commercial – $5.00 per meter plus kWh increase from .0906 to .0969.

Large power – $8.00 per meter plus kWh increase from 13.53 to 14.48.

Municipal electric – $1.00 per meter plus kWh increase from .0974 to 1042.

Street lighting – .0402 to .0430.

An important portion of the meeting involved a presentation by Amy Howard, On Hand Development Corporation executive director. She and several members of the board of directors were present to ask the City to “take a leap of faith with us” regarding the former elementary school facilities, and development of a community center.

Howard said OHDC is asking the City to take ownership of the former elementary school campus, and On Hand offered a proposed agreement, which would go through December 31, 2014.

The proposal outlined responsibilities of the City: own the property; secure all insurance policies; take care of snow removal and lawn care; provide trucks to aid with destruction phase.

OHDC’s responsibilities would include: reimbursing City for utility costs; reimburse for internal maintenance costs; reimburse for insurance costs; keep a calendar of use; and pay for destruction of unwanted buildings, and kitchen construction.

Howard said, “We’ll do our homework. But the school is being very generous, and this is an excellent opportunity.”

Council members raised some questions, including about insurance. The City insurance would not cover activities that take place at the community center, OHDC was told. Howard countered that many other cities have community centers, and they must have figured out how to deal with insurance coverage.

Howard said public opinion seems strongly in favor of having a community center, and the generous offer from the Miller School District to turn over the facilities for such a center isn’t likely to happen again.

Mayor Blachford commented, “This is just me talking, but I feel strongly that we need a community center, and one that we can afford.” Councilman Joe Zeller added, “I think this (proposal) is the best way we can get this done.”

Having a community center would not only help keep celebrations and other events local, it would increase revenue for area businesses, and in turn, generate sales tax.

Howard commented that the first step is that the City agrees to own the building/campus. “We’re trying to be good partners with the City,” she said, adding, “There is a very real possibility that this venture is going to make money. We won’t walk away from it in 2015.”

OHDC board member Travis Anderberg added that On Hand is also looking into fundraising activities, with profits to go toward the community center project.

Mayor Blachford suggested tabling a decision until the November 18 meeting. During that two-week interval, Blachford said council members could think about the proposition, get questions answered, contact community residents, etc.