Reorganization deadline pushed back

Charter ordinance group will finish in February

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

A committee that will recommend any changes Iola may make to its charter ordinances will complete its work by the end of February.
Ray Shannon of Iola’s Charter Ordinance Committee told Iola city commissioners that the group will not be able to meet the city’s earlier deadline of Dec. 31.
The group plans to provide commissioners at least two proposed sets of charter ordinances that will establish such things as the size of Iola’s new city council and timing of elections.
The committee has been meeting weekly, Shannon said, “and after 100 or so trips around the table, we know we won’t be able to make (the December) deadline.”
It will be up to the city commissioners to decide which, if any, charter ordinances to approve.
In April, Iolans voted to do away with the existing three-member city commission in favor of a larger governing body. If no new charter ordinances are adopted, an eight-member city council, plus a mayor, will be seated in April 2011.
Shannon said the charter ordinance committee will host public meetings either in December or January to gather citizen input.
The city commissioners’ goal is to provide ample time — 60 days — for any protest petitions to be filed, if and when the new charter ordinances are enacted. A valid petition would force a citywide vote on the new ordinances.
Having the new charter ordinances done by April would provide enough time for an August election if valid petitions are filed. If no petition is filed, the ordinances become law after 60 days.
The committee’s extended deadline, “doesn’t bother me a bit,” City Commissioner Bill Shirley said.
Commissioner Craig Abbott asked Shannon whether the committee had discussed whether a city manager should replace the city administrator’s position in the new government.
“It’s not within the scope of what we’re supposed to do,” Shannon replied. That decision will be left to the city’s elected officials, Shannon said.

IOLA POLICE Chief Jared Warner told commissioners that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program would be scaled back in the 2010-11 school year.
The program, which had been open to fifth- and sixth-graders in USD 257, will be pared only to fifth grade, Warner said.
Warner also spoke about a planned driver improvement program for anyone 55 and older; a citizens police academy, hosted in conjunction with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department; an officer reading program, in which Community Resource Officer Mike Ford reads to local preschoolers; and the continuation of bicycle rodeos and the Hooked On Fishing, Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) fishing derby.

BRIAN Donovan, a lieutenant with the Iola Police Department, was fired, as was Kim Laymon, who worked in the Street and Alley Department.
Donovan had been with the department for 13 years. His duties including supervising several officers on the night shift. He also administered fund raisers for Kansas Special Olympics and the annual Torch Run.
City Administrator Judy Brigham told the Register that Donovan was fired following an internal investigation. No other reason was given.
Laymon, who had been with the city for less than 10 months, was let go due to “violating city personnel policies.”

BRIGHAM was directed by commissioners to formally reply to a request from Russell Stover Candies to consider lowering its utility rates.
Russell Stover executives told commissioners in October that utility costs in Iola were substantially higher than what they paid for their plant in Abilene. The difference is so significant, they said, that Russell Stover may “be placed in a position where production decisions are based on electricity and natural gas pricing.”
Iola’s rates are higher because the city has for years used a portion of its utility reserve fund to supplement the city budget in order to keep property taxes low. Brigham said that if the city were to end those transfers, utility rates could be lowered, but property tax levies could more than double.
The ad valorem tax levy for Iolans is 38 mills today. Without the utility transfers, the figure would be close to 78 mills.
“I don’t know any other options,” Brigham said. “We would need to either cut services or increase the property tax mills.”
Brigham said she will continue to look for potential savings for all local industries, businesses and residential consumers.

IN A RELATED matter, commissioners spoke privately with energy consultant Scott Shreve about whether the city should remain a part of the Kansas Power Pool or break away from the consortium to enter a solo agreement with Westar to purchase wholesale electricity.
The city still is awaiting a formal proposal from Westar.
No decision was made following the private discussions.