Brian McDowell/TribuneBernie Neyer confronted city commissioners Monday night for campaiging against his petition to end the utility franchise fee. “I don’t pay my taxes for you guys to do any campaigning on any issue,” he said.

Brian McDowell

Tribune Reporter

Two pieces of mail that will soon be sent out to Chanute residents by the city turned into topics of discussion at Monday night’s City Commission meeting. One is a survey on the city’s plans for a high-speed fiber optic network. The other, which will be sent out with utility bills later this month, inspired a local resident to accuse the city of using taxpayer dollars to campaign against a citizen-driven ballot initiative.

Interim City Manager Sam Budreau addressed these mailings during his statements to the commission. The survey will determine how many Chanute citizens would be interested in being connected to the city’s proposed new fiber network, which was unanimously approved by the city commission earlier this year. It asks residents how likely they would be to take Ultra High Speed Gigabit Internet Service at the price of $40 for residential inside of Chanute, $50 for residential outside of Chanute, and $75 for a small business.

Budreau made it clear that this was just a survey and not a service commitment.

“It should give us a better look at what the take-rate for this would be within the city of Chanute,” Budreau said.

This data will be compiled by the city throughout the month of September. It is recommended that this survey be returned either by mail or in person with utility bills. The survey can also be taken on the city’s website.

The other city-sponsored mailer will be sent out in response to a petition passed out by Chanute resident Bernie Neyer that would drop the franchise fee from utility bills. The wording of the question on this petition has been sent to the county  to  officially  be  placed  on  the  Nov.  4 ballot. The franchise fee is set aside specifically to pay for the replacement of equipment and do projects authorized by the city commission.

The mailing from the city points out that the cost of utilities here is lower than in surrounding communities.

 The city manager said Chanute has saved gas customers $2 million over the past five years and electric customers about $1.2 million over the past five years.

“Those are all because of the actions the governing body has taken, along with staff, to try to reduce the cost factor to our customers,” Budreau said.

The city’s mailer asks that the public think about buildings in the community and maintenance of property they own before deciding how they will vote on this item in November.

During the Public Comments section of the meeting, Neyer objected to having his taxes pay for such overtly political activity.

“I don’t pay my taxes for you guys to do any campaigning on any issue,” Neyer said. “I don’t think that’s right. I don’t know if it’s legal, but it sure shouldn’t be.”

In his remarks, Neyer also publicly accused the commissioners of mis-characterizing his petition, conspiring to raise property taxes, and misquoting Shakespeare.  He closed his public comment by challenging all of the commissioners to a public debate on this franchise fee issue.

According to Budreau, any cost to taxpayers for these mailers is very minimal, because they’re included in utility bills that were already going to have to be mailed out to residents.

Assisting county rejected

Towards the end of the meeting, remarks by Commissioner Tim Egner caused a stir. He explained that Chris Conklin, who produces local content for TV-5, is asking for $200 a month from the Neosho County Commission to offset the costs of televising their weekly meetings in Erie.  Egner said it was good for local citizens to be able to view these proceedings, and so he proposed that the city come up with the funds to continue airing the meetings.  Other commissioners rejected the idea, with Commissioner Kevin Berthot expressing fear that such a move could create bitter feelings between the city and county commissions. Efforts are being made to repair the often-frosty relations between the city and county, and Berthot feared that such a move could potentially make things worse.

During the meeting, the commissioners offered unanimous support to a number of proposals. These included acceptance of a $424,000 bid from UCI for the Raw Water Intake Structure, a big concrete vault in the Neosho River to prevent zebra mussels from entering the city’s water system.  If zebra mussels get into the water system, they attach themselves to the insides of pipes, tanks and strainers, and multiply very rapidly. They clog pipes and shrink them down until they are unusable.

 Brian Spano, operations manager for the Wilson Company, said that zebra mussels have been seen in the area, but have not been seen at the site of Chanute’s intake structure. He couldn’t say 100 percent that Chanute’s water supply would remain totally mussel free with this project, but this plan would introduce a chemical to kill these pests in this system. This project would be funded by a KDHE loan, and was described as more cost-effective than other alternatives.

Talking pro baseball

Bob Lipp, director of the Kansas State League, gave a presentation to the commission about his plans to bring a professional independent minor-league baseball team to play in Chanute’s Katy Park. Upgrades that would be necessary to get the facility up to the league’s current recommended standards were discussed, as was the potential economic impact the team could have on the community.  The matter will be discussed and a contract with the city is expected to be signed at a future meeting. (See full story on Page 5.) 

Commissioner Jim Chappell has been advocating that a cloverleaf baseball and softball facility that could attract tournaments to the area be built on the site of the former Safari Golf Course, adjacent to Santa Fe Park. Chappell indicated that any success experienced by this proposed Chanute team would demonstrate the economic viability of such a project.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jane Brophy asked the commission for permission to use the hangar of the city’s airport and the grounds for next year’s Chanute Blues Blast on August 8, 2015.  This event is being planned early to assist in booking quality musicians and attracting the interest of area blues fans. The commissioners approved this 5-0.

Commissioners held a public hearing, and unanimously authorized Mayor Greg Woodyard to sign an application for CDBG Sewer Grant Funds and to set aside $960,000 in city funds for a project to maintain improvements in the city’s sewer system. If the city qualifies for the grant, it would be rewarded in 2015. Chanute would then have two years to complete the project.

In other business on Monday night, the city:

• Approved 5-0 both the Artist Alley Festival on Sept. 27 and the downtown Cover The Earth with Kindness event on Oct. 11.

• Approved 5-0 American Legion Post 170’s request for a Special Event license to sell cereal malt beverage at a beer garden at Artist Alley.

• Passed 5-0 a resolution to allow the city manager to request to exchange federal funds to offset costs of participating in the Safe Routes to School Project. Commissioners also unanimously accepted a $324,752.94 bid from Burlington Construction for this project to build sidewalks, improve them, and educate students to use them.  Woodyard said it will be funded by grant funds and the federal fund exchange and wouldn’t cost the city anything out of pocket.

• Approved 5-0 to use $22,000 out of the city’s budget to clean the city’s digester.

• Designated the properties at 1411 S. Highland and 1302 S. Central to be in violation of a Chanute municipal code.

• Heard a request to authorize a $5,000 from the alcohol tax fund for the Fire Escape, from the coffeehouse’s executive director Marilyn Harms. No direct action was taken on this, and it will be discussed as old business at a meeting in two weeks.

A work session for City Commissioners was tentatively scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m.

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