GREG LOWER

Chanute city commissioners heard budget requests from outside agencies at Monday evening’s work session, then discussed utility budgets including broadband fiber.

Finance Director Cory Kepley presented financial information on a possible three-member fiber utility department, based on 225 customers. 

Contractors are currently connecting broadband customers in two neighborhoods. One neighborhood has underground cables and has connected half of the households, which is all of the customers who said they wanted the service.

The second neighborhood, located roughly between 3rd and 14th streets from Plummer to Allen avenues, uses less expensive overhead lines. Currently less than 200 households are connected between the two neighborhoods, but other customers have asked to be added in the area with overhead lines.

Commissioner Phil Chaney said if the system cannot grow, it will hurt the whole project.

“We’ve kind of hit a wall now,” he said, adding that he did not think the rollout was well-planned.

But Commissioner Sam Budreau compared the situation to the early history of Chanute’s electrical utility.

“There’s no turning back now,” Interim City Manager Todd Newman said.

The proposal is for two maintenance people and an Information Technology staff person, who would join the city’s present IT employee.

“We’re in a whole new ballgame with IT,” Newman said.

Although maintenance employees might be able to connect customers to the overhead lines, a broader hookup plan may require contractors. Budreau is urging the commission to connect customers adjacent but outside the area of overhead lines.

Commissioners discussed other utilities and Commissioner Tim Fairchild said they ought to look at rates every year. Although Chaney said the electric and gas utilities seem super-healthy, commissioners discussed how to correct losses in the trash service budget and equipment needs.

“I would love to keep lowering rates, but these trash trucks don’t get any cheaper,” Chaney said.  “We need to look at where we’re at on all the revenue side.”

Kepley said gas supply costs have gone up, but a budget bump is just a safe cushion. The city’s gas storage is reportedly at 90 percent capacity.

Among outside agencies, Ruthann Boatwright of Main Street Chanute requested $32,000 in funding for 2021, the same as this year. Jane Brophy with the Office of Tourism, the services for which are contracted through the Chanute Area Chamber of Commerce, has requested $50,000, although last year’s request for that amount was turned down and tourism has previously received $44,000 in funding.

Brophy said the tourism committee is focusing its advertising on areas within driving distance of Chanute.

Conrad Froehlich, director of the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum, requested $50,000, which he said would be 27 percent of the current budget.

The museum was closed for two months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and Froehlich said attendance was down, but the museum has kept up contributions and endowments. The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday, 1-5 pm Sunday, and by appointment.

Froehlich said attendance during the past five years has been above the 10-year average. The museum received $40,000 and has accumulated funds over the past couple of years that it is now spending on renovations.

The museum is also requesting $20,000 from the county, which has not funded it in the past.

Brad Wilkinson with the Chanute Art Gallery said it is open from noon to 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday and the past two months affected it drastically.

The Chanute Historical Society is requesting $1,500. Jim Whaley said a core group has spent the past three to four months cataloging materials at the research center. He said the historical museum is in the process of revamping its displays with improved lighting, new cases and interior painting.

Eleanor Whaley with the Chanute Entertainment Series has requested that the city waive fees for the use of Memorial Auditorium. She said acts have notified her they will not be touring for the rest of 2020.

Mara Jordan with the Bit & Spur Saddle Club discussed a desire to connect electrical power to a new building at the rodeo grounds and to bring gravel to improve roads.

The commission will continue budget discussions at 5:30 pm July 6 in the Alliance Room of the Memorial Building.

 

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