Tuesday, September 20, 2016

City Council Hears Public Concerns and Discusses the Utility Building Project

The September 19 Baldwin City Council meeting was called to order at 7 P.M. Opening with public comments, Brian and Susan Pitts, Baldwin City, stepped to the podium, to address the higher then normal utility bills that recently showed up on peoples mailboxes.Brian acknowledged it wasn't the fault of the new franchise fee, as some had originally blamed in Facebook postings.
Brad Smith holds up a sample of the
new city utility bill.
Photographer Kevin Surbaugh
His biggest concern is the late fee. Ten percent for a late fee is exorbitant, he told the council. Pitts felt that the fee needed to go away. Maybe replaced by a flat fee, like other companies use.  For him, that ten percent this month, would amount to about $50. "No credit card company would charge that much," he said, "that is just exorbitant." He also felt that the city should let the public know of each billing cycle, so that residents like him and his wife could plan ahead, by saving back in May, June, July and August to pay for extended billing cycles in September.  Issues which the Utilities Committee will look into.
Toby Abel spoke next, he addressed the council about his desire to see e-billing and the ability to view his utility usage online. Brad Smith, Baldwin City Finance Director, mentioned that the city already offers e-billing as an option. In addition Smith explained, that if a resident goes to the "pay my bill" section of the city website, they can also see their usage online. He also took the opportunity to show off the new paper bill that will replace the current postcard in October or November.

Photographer Kevin Surbaugh
The council then heard about the 3.2 million utility building project. A plan that has been in the works  for the last couple of years, in which time the costs have increased, to replace the current deteriorating building downtown next-door to the library.
Existing verses Proposed Program Areas
Existing Office Space: 2,280 square feet
Existing Storage Space 6,976 square feet
Ideal Program Square Footage
Office Areas 4,390 square feet
Vehicle Storage Areas 13,888 square feet
The proposed new building, would be built to be expandable in the future. The costs are already accounted for in the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) and will not cause an increase in taxes or utility rates. They would be financed with 20-year bonds in 2018 at the conclusion of construction, with payments starting in 2019.
The council approved the project, witch Christi Darnell and Kathy Gerstner casting the descanting votes. The city expects to break ground in 2017.

In other business, the council
  • Approved an agreement with Value-Net, which is a third party entity working with RG Fiber to offer TV service in Baldwin City. 
  • Unanimously recommended  that city staff draft a resolution to change the months of "sewer averaging" from October, November and December to October, November, December, January, February and March.  Currently sewer bills for the year are based on the average of the water bill for three cold weather months. The new plan would expand that to six months, that are still typically outside the yard watering and swimming pool months. 
  • Unanimously approved the street overlay project for 2016. The projects are funded by gasoline taxes allocated to the city for these repairs by the state of Kansas.


  1. Why can't our city leaders operate in an honest, open manner? Part of the reason is that the voters rarely pay attention to what is happening at city hall until it is too late, and we've had deceptive, sneaky city leaders for quite some time.

    While the proposed city maintenance building may or may not be needed, I won't comment on that now. It very well could be a great addition to city services and employee moral.

    What is deceptive to residents is the manner in which our city leaders handled this issue to "fool" taxpayers with the premise that the building comes free of increased taxes or increased fees. It's presented as essentially a cost-free project built into the capital plan. Don't look, nothing here to see.

    Had the city decided to properly put the maintenance building issue to voters on a bond issue, it likely would have failed because voters are skeptical of city hall's integrity and tired of extremely high taxes in this city with little to show for it.

    So what do they do? They sneak in a 5% franchise fee on utility assets that are already mostly owned by city residents to fudge a way to pay for the new building and bypass voters. Voter memories last about 5 days, but following up the franchise tax immediately with a new multi-million dollar building can't be dismissed as folly. It does though eerily appear to be an end-run around honest government and democratic principals.

    Looks like that $15000 that the city council voted to take from the utility marketing fund account and give to the Baldwin City Economic Corporation (a private enterprise) to pay salaries might just have been better used to lower rates instead.

  2. As a taxpayer and voter, I elect city council members and a mayor who take an oath of office to represent everyone's interests for the city and wisely administer our tax dollars. City government officials, elected, appointed, or hired, have a "legal" and fiduciary responsibility to act in the "best interest of those that elected them". Failure to act in a legal, ethical, or best-interest mindset leads some politicians to recall or worse, prosecution.

    It is not a voters or taxpayers responsibility to constantly use their time to look over the shoulders or monitor the city government. These city officers know their fiduciary role. We vote for them to represent us wisely and openly so we don't have to catch them at sneaky acts because they know we wouldn't approve otherwise. We instill in them our trust to act on our behalf without pulling deceptive acts to fool us to benefit "insiders" or favored business people.

    Separately, if I recall, the mayor gave her friend, Peaches Madl, $6000 from the city tourism budget over 12 months ago to buy or retain that trolley for city tours she was conducting. Somehow the trolley has been absent from the city of almost a year. We would be right in asking where our taxpayer money went. Perhaps as a newspaper with investigative responsibilities, you could provide us with a complete answer from the mayor and Peaches?


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