Usage to affect utility bills

GREG LOWER

The City of Chanute will match donations to make up funds that would have come from the cancelled Operation Soupline, commissioners decided Monday evening.

This month would have been the 39th year for the event, which raises funds to help with utility costs for people in need. Instead, it was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Martha McCoy with Operation Soupline met with commissioners Monday to request $20,000 from the city to make up for the lack of fundraising. The request is about 80 percent of what the event usually raises.

Three-fourths of Operation Soupline funds provide one-time assistance with utilities annually to people in a six-mile radius of Chanute. The rest of the funds provide other emergency assistance, such as prescription medication or rent costs. Operation Soupline assists about 150 households totaling approximately 500 people per year.

Commissioner Tim Fairchild said Operation Soupline is a work of mercy, but he was unsure about the government stepping into the role.

“People should love their neighbor,” he said. “It’s a personal acceptance of a challenge. It’s what makes us Chanute.” 

Commissioner Phil Chaney said it seems weird for the city to fund a program that assists its own utilities.

“We’re just paying ourselves,” he said.

Mayor Jacob LaRue said $20,000 was a lot of money for the city. The city has budgeted $148,000 to outside agencies and LaRue said suggested a match instead of the full amount.

“You do five, we’ll do fifteen,” Fairchild said. “I’ll put that on the table.”

The commission voted to pay a three-to-one match of up to $15,000 until the end of the year.

Commissioners also discussed funding for the annual Fourth of July celebration, but said they needed more information on the current status of the situation.

With the departure of organizers Larry and Kristi Pierce and the cancellation of the 2020 event because of COVID-19, commissioners discussed how the 2021 event would be staged. Ruthann Boatwright of Main Street Chanute and Jane Brophy of the Chanute Area Chamber of Commerce & Office of Tourism provided a written plan as their respective boards consider taking over the effort jointly. The Chanute Regional Development Authority was also approached about partnering on the event, but opted to decline.

City Manager Todd Newman said he would be fine with the city’s involvement in set-up. Fairchild said he would investigate the status of the Fourth of July account, which is at Commercial Bank where he is president.

Pierce had discussed hiring bands for the 2020 event during fundraising and commissioners thought a payment had been made for the pyrotechnics, which might roll over to this year.

Chaney and Fairchild also discussed the possibility of a tournament in conjunction with the fireworks and other activities.

LaRue proposed having fireworks at Artist Alley, perhaps launched from Katy Park so they would be over Main Street, in addition to a Fourth of July display.

In other business, Newman reported that a Kansas Department of Transportation project on US-169 will begin work March 1. The project will begin one mile south of Earlton to the Chanute 35th Street exit, and the second phase will be north to the Allen County line.

Newman said KDOT officials will meet with the Neosho County Commission March 2 and the Chanute City Commission March 8.

He also reported on discussions about a railroad quiet zone involving the crossings on Main, Ash and Walnut streets. The project could cost from $800,000 to $1 million.

Newman and commissioners expressed their gratitude to city employees for the way they helped get the community through the recent snowstorm and electrical issues. City workers received shout-outs for snow removal and services like trash pickup.

“It was nice to get up early in the morning and your house was warm,” Fairchild said.

Newman said industrial businesses in the community cut five megawatts from the city’s base electrical load by shutting down when they were asked to do so to avoid rolling blackouts in the city. City Attorney David Brake said Ash Grove Cement took 20 megawatts off the load.

Chaney said a lot of work went on behind the scenes. But he also expressed concerns about the impact on utility bills, and said he would like to see something to lessen the blow, such as spreading out payments.

Before the meeting, Newman said about half of the city’s electrical purchases are at a fixed price and half fluctuate with the market. The city also used stored natural gas to lessen the fluctuation of market prices, and Newman said both electric and gas prices have declined.

But utility customers can still expect to see increases, in part because of the intense cold and increased use per household. Chanute reached its second coldest-ever low during the recent cold snap.

Commissioners also approved agreements on industrial revenue bonds for Orizon Aerostructures and approved resolutions to declare properties at 1006 N. Garfield, owned by Robert and Elaine Kauffman; 1113 N. Garfield, owned by Benjamin Cunnings; 1614 S. Edith, owned by Michelle Huffman; a vacant lot south of 1108 N. Lee, owned by Cody Hoke; and 1612 S. Evergreen, owned by Ellen Gaffney, in violation of city code.

 

 

 

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