City to consider Westar

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Westar representatives will visit Iola in September with figures that may determine whether the city re-turns to purchasing wholesale electricity from the utility giant.
For the past two years, Iola has purchased wholesale electricity as part of Kansas Power Pool, with the thought that 40-plus cities acting as a single customer could attract lower rates from utility suppliers. For decades prior to that, the city purchased electricity from Westar. Whether the move to KPP was beneficial is still not clear because both KPP and the city have been unable to secure comparative rates from Westar.
Westar representative Bill Burnell told city commissioners at their regular meeting Tuesday that he will provide a contract proposal from Westar, as well as a statement of what Iola would have paid for electricity had it remained with the company, to them in September.
Some history:
For more than 20 years, Iola dealt exclusively with Westar, and in so doing maintained some of the lowest electric rates in the state. The lower rates were possible because Iola had the capacity to generate its own electricity when de-mand peaked.
That tide began to shift in 2005 when Westar began assessing “base demand charges” in addition to electricity used. With energy markets growing increasingly volatile, Westar greatly reduced Iola’s discount for being able to generate its own power.
The city opted to end its contract with Westar in 2007 after receiving the utility giant’s “final” contract proposal, a 20-year pact that would have included no discounts at all for local generation. The only benefit would have been that Westar would have paid the city for some generation, Scott Shreve, Iola’s energy consultant, told commissioners.
“And honestly, their offer changed four times in eight months,” Shreve said.
Since 2007, Iola has purchased electricity through KPP.
Commissioners, frustrated in recent months with high electric rates charged to the city, have asked Shreve and City Administrator Judy Brigham to investigate whether it would benefit the city to return to Westar. That led to Tuesday’s meeting, at which Burnell said Westar’s contract proposal likely would mirror its last pact with the city. “We’ve kept all of our customers under their existing contracts,” Burnell said.

IOLA WILL negotiate with two local wireless Internet service providers, Nautilus Commercial Data Systems and KwiKom, for both companies to keep and maintain antennas on city water towers.
The Nautilus antennas have been in place for years. In exchange, the city receives free Internet access from Nautilus at City Hall and other city offices throughout town.
KwiKom, a newer company, offered much the same pact with commissioners earlier this year. The proposal led to a brief discussion about which companies should be allowed access to the water towers.
Commissioner Craig Abbott, in proposing separate deals with both firms, noted the city would be best served if both had a presence in town. If one is allowed access, then so should the other, he said.
Mayor Bill Maness and Commissioner Bill Shirley agreed.
Because the city already receives free access via Nautilus, the city will ask KwiKom to provide free access for laptop users in designated “hot spots” such as Riverside Park and around the downtown business district. In exchange, KwiKom will maintain antennas on water towers along Miller and Montana roads on opposite ends of town.

FORMER commissioner Lee Gumfory, who has spearheaded cleanup efforts on city property west of the Neosho River bridge on U.S. 54, said work is essentially finished.
Picnic tables should be on site any day, Gumfory said, and he hopes to see some grass planted this fall.
“And we did all of this at very little cost to the taxpayers,” Gumfory said.
Several groups assisted with the work, Gumfory said, including Allen County Road and Bridge Superintendent Bill King and his crew, Iola city employees, Payless Concrete, D of K Vaults, Jack McFadden, John and Mitch Sigg and New Klein Lumber.
Next, Gumfory said, the city needs to decide whether to designate the area as a park. If so, he has a name: River Bridge Park.
Commissioners were noncommittal, other than to suggest — tongue in cheek — that Gumfory erect a sign designating the area as a park.

BECKY ROBB, speaking on behalf of the Allen County Fair Board, said the new community building under construction at Riverside Park directly to the south of the Baby Barnyard is so close that visitors to the barnyard can see nothing but a brick wall to the south.
To make the area more appealing, Fair Board members suggested that murals be affixed to the community building’s north wall. Bill Wilson, art instructor at Marmaton Valley USD 256, will paint sheets of plywood to be hung on the building at each year’s county fair.
Ideally, local businesses will purchase one or more of the sheets. If so, the mural will feature that business in some capacity.
Commissioners heartily agreed. Abbott even offered to sponsor one of the murals.
Commissioners then noted that while weather delays and other factors impeded construction of the building, the work should be about finished.
“They said it pushed them back two weeks,” Abbott said.. “That was two weeks ago.”
In a related matter, commissioners approved a request to allow alcohol at any private function in the new community building as well as the Recreation Community Building. Alcohol already was permitted for functions at the North Community Building as well as the New Community Building destroyed in the 2007 flood.
The measure passed, 2-1, Mayor Bill Maness opposed.

AFTER reading a recent Register editorial imploring public bodies to better record their regular meetings for more accurate record-keeping, Maness suggested the city purchase an audio recorder to do just that.
The recorders will not replace the official notes recorded by City Clerk Roxanne Hutton.
The vote to purchase the recorder passed 2-1, Abbott opposed.
With little fanfare, commissioners ratified the city’s 2010 budget after no taxpayers questioned the spending plan.
As reported previously, the budget is supported in part through an ad valorem tax levy of just more than 37 mills, a levy consistent with the past few years.
The city eschewed a mill levy increase because of its capacity to transfer funds from its electric fund reserves.