City hall to move

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March 11, 2010 - 12:00 AM

LAHARPE — City Hall is moving to the former LaHarpe Elementary School building.
LaHarpe City Council members, in a 3-2 vote Wednesday, OK’d the move from the existing building on Main Street. The offices will move after necessary phone lines and Internet access are installed, Mayor Lloyd Wayne Turner said.
The vote reflected a spirited debate between Turner and Councilman Harry Lee Jr., who opposed the move.
“I hate for this to be a source of contention, but I’m concerned that we’re taking another business — City Hall — from Main Street, when we ought to be doing all we can to fill those empty buildings,” Lee said.
Council member Ivan Trester also voted against moving the city offices.
The other council members, Cynthia Carr, Gerald Clay and Ron Knavel Sr., weren’t as concerned with an empty building on Main Street, instead noting the more spacious school building.
The city acquired the building after USD 257 Board of Education members voted last summer to close the attendance center.
Since then, townsfolk have debated whether to use the building for city offices, a community center or private business. The city unsuccessfully appealed to Allen County to use the building for its new centralized ambulance station and 911 dispatch center.
In addition to City Hall, the building will be rented out for private functions, which will require a $50 clean-up fee, plus another $50 deposit.
Council members agreed to one exception for the fees — LaHarpe PRIDE Committee will be responsible only for the $50 deposit for a community dance Saturday evening.
Lee noted that LaHarpe PRIDE was formed at the city’s behest, and the group’s sole purpose is to find ways to improve the community. The deposits are refunded, providing the building is clean and in good shape when the users are finished.
Turner, who as mayor cannot vote, cited concerns about improper use of the building and suggested PRIDE be held to the same standards as any other group using the building.
Savannah Heard, PRIDE Committee chairman, told Council members that Barbara Chalker, the former Iola Area Chamber of Commerce director who now works with the Kansas Department of Commerce, will attend Monday’s PRIDE meeting to discuss grant opportunities for the city.
Lee also noted the Council has approved language for a citywide vote later this year asking LaHarpe residents to approve a mill levy that would fund a library in the old school building.
Council members also voted 3-2 to ensure the building is properly networked for city computers. Carr, Clay and Knavel voted in favor of the measure; Trester was opposed.
Lee said he supported the issue, but abstained from voting because he could potentially be a bidder for networking services. An abstention is counted as a “nay” vote.

ELECTRIC customers will see their electric rates rise starting with their May utility bills.
Council members approved 4-0 — Clay left the meeting early for a personal matter — to increase the rates over a two-year period.
Residential customers will see their monthly meter charge increase from $8 to $10 this year, then from $10 to $12 next year. In addition to the higher charge, the city will eventually do away with language that provides 80 kilowatt hours of electricity with the base fee. The base fee will cover 40 kilowatt hours with the new rate. Those 40 kilowatt hours will be eliminated when the rates are adjusted again in 2011.
For comparison’s sake, a resident who uses 500 kilowatt hours of electricity a month will see his monthly electric bill rise from $50 to $56 this year, then $62 in 2011.
Commercial customers will see their monthly meter charges increase from $11 to $13 this year and then $13 to $15 in 2011. Commercial customers who use three-phase electricity — capable of powering heavy machinery and industrial equipment — will see their base meter charge increase from $15 to $25 the first year and $25 to $30 the second year. The base fees for commercial customers also will no longer offer for any free kilowatts.
Council members also put in place a surcharge in case the cost of electricity rises above what the city currently is paying.

THE CITY will continue to investigate whether LaHarpe’s ordinances affecting fence building need to be rewritten.
As it stands, city zoning laws technically require any resident wishing to build a fence to first get a surveyor or engineer to ensure the fences not exceed the property owner’s land.
Code enforcement officer Mae Crowell asked whether she must follow the zoning laws to the letter or if she had latitude.
Lee said common sense should rule, but that cases in which fences are too close to the city’s right of way should be monitored closely.
City Attorney Chuck Apt, who also serves as Iola’s city attorney, said he would gather information from the Kansas League of Municipalities, as well as Iola’s fencing laws, to determine how LaHarpe’s new ordinance should be written.

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