By J.R. SPARKE
HERINGTON—An 18-percent increase in the mill levy for Herington taxpayers drew considerably less attention than a lengthy discussion about whether or not to allow chickens and other species of fowl to be kept by residents when the Herington City Commission met in a regular semi-monthly session Tuesday.
David Ebersole of Herington was the only member of the public to speak during a budget hearing conducted during the meeting.
When he asked where the money was being spent, the commission referred him to the budget document and suggested he read it, if hadn’t taken time to do so prior to the meeting.
Commissioners then voted, 5-0, to approve a 2014 budget calling for a tax levy of 76.499 mills, which is a hike of 11.711 mills from 2013.
The increase comes in spite of expenditures expected to decline to $6,747,851, a drop of $117,279, and budget cuts among the city’s departments. The Herington Police Department was particularly hard hit with available funding to be slashed by $84,000.
During an Aug. 6 meeting, City Clerk Debbie Wendt said a primary reason for the need to raise the mil levy was the low level of carry-over monies from 2013. In past years, upwards of $300,000 had been available, but the amount had generally been pared down at the direction of commissioners.
A $331,113 decrease in assessed valuation to $10,646,613 created some of the financial woes.
However, City Manager Ron Strickland told commission members during an Aug. 6 meeting that he and Wendt had followed the governing body’s direction to keep the mill levy as low as possible.
None of the commission-
ers offered comments about the budget prior to a motion by Commissioner D.J. Neuberger and a second from Commissioner Beth Wade to approve the budget as presented. The motion passed unanimously.
Also passing 5-0 was a related ordinance authorizing the increase in the tax levy.
The budget discussion lasted approximately 10 minutes, while the one dealing with chickens and other fowl species took up a considerable portion of the meeting.
The fowl talk was a follow up to a discussion initiated during a June 18 meeting by Herington resident Ed Seastrom. He encouraged commissioners to change regulations which prohibit the keeping of chickens in residential areas.
Seastrom was among the persons who had earlier received a letter from the city directing them to get rid of their chickens due to a violation of zoning rules, which forbade the keeping of chickens in areas zoned as residential.
There was enough interest in the matter by the commissioners that Seastrom was granted an extension until Aug. 31 to continue keeping his chickens. That extension was informally extended during Tuesday’s meeting, based upon discussion among commissioners.
Herington zoning administrator Brenda Wildman said the current zoning regulation was not clear when it came to the keeping of animals inside the city limits.
Eric Gares, an off-duty officer of the Herington Police Department, was in agreement and urged commissioners to clarify the matter. The governing body was presented with two ordinances, both of which had been drafted by City Attorney Brad Jantz. The first prohibited the keeping of fowl inside the corporate limits of the city. The second would allow the practice.
However, commissioners did not vote on either proposed ordinance. Rather, they decided whether or not to allow the keeping of fowl and then have city staff work out general details of an ordinance pertaining to and defining what domestic animals are.
Commissioner Wade moved and Commissioner Fred Olsen seconded to prohibit the keeping of fowl. The motion failed when Commissioners Chuck Miller and Neuberger and Mayor Robbin Bell cast “no” votes.
A motion by Mayor Bell to allow fowl inside the city limits passed, 4-1. Commissioner Wade cast the “no” vote.
City staff was then directed to research the matter in preparation for a commission work session on a date to be determined.
In another zoning matter, commissioners declined to reconsider a request that would have allowed the Rock Island Church to relocate to a downtown business location.
Verl Ledy of Herington, who owns the building to which the church had sought to move, spoke to commissioners for approximately 20 minutes. He listed several businesses which had ceased operation since he had moved to Herington in 1977 as the franchisee of a new Ben Franklin variety story. He also talked about his extensive involvement in civic and community activities before and since his retirement 15 years ago.
Ledy said that involvement surely deserved reconsideration of the church relocation matter.
Commissioner Miller’s motion for reconsideration failed for lack of a second.
The governing body also declined to remove a demolition assessment on property located at 701 East Arnold St. Norman Falk of Herington is the owner.
Tom Biehler of rural Herington told the commission during the Aug. 6 meeting he was interested in purchasing the property if the assessment was waived.
A motion by Commissioner Neuberger to reduce the assessment to $2,500 as an incentive to Biehler died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Olsen noted the city had paid for the demolition and should be reimbursed, adding the governing body couldn’t continue a practice of waiving assessments and fees.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Bell was authorized to sign an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration for a $144,247 grant with monies to be used at the Herington Regional Airport.
In another matter, a reappointment and appointment to municipal advisory boards were made.
Glen Bayes was reappointed to the Hilltop Advisory Board. His term is to expire March 20, 2016.
Roger Boelling was appointed to the Library Board. His term is to expire April 1, 2017.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to appoint Lynn Otte to the Herington Housing Authority board. His term is to expire Dec. 31, 2015. Rick Freeman and Marella Diane Barton had also expressed interest in being appointed.
The governing body is expected to make another appointment to the HHA board in coming weeks.
It is anticipated HHA executive director Debbie Goembel will attend a future commission meeting to offer her input.
The Herington City Commission is next slated to meet on Tuesday, Sept. 3.