CHETOPA — Still reeling from huge energy costs during the February cold snap, the city of Chetopa took steps last month to rebuild its budget.

The Chetopa City Council during its March 16 regular meeting agreed to add a 0.00829 kilowatt per hour fuel adjustment to city utility bills for the next two years. The city owns and operates its own electrical utility but buys its power from the Kansas Municipal Energy Association.

During the extremely cold temperatures of mid-February, many natural gas well heads froze, curtailing the supply in a time of great demand and in turn driving up the price of natural gas. Chetopa had to pay KMEA over $500,000 in February. Only about $42,000 of that was for actual energy used, with the remaining being charged to the city for the cost from the Southwest Power Pool to obtain the natural gas used for KMEA’s electricity generation.

The council approved a $250,000 loan agreement from a state utility low-interest loan program during the March 16 meeting.

To pay back the loan, city employee Debbie Darnell presented the council with three options. Besides the fuel adjustment, the council discussed absorbing the cost or adding a surcharge of $7.73 per month for two years. The council approved the fuel adjustment unanimously. Council members Gary Bryant and Jaunita Kepner were not present.

City Clerk Toni Crumrine said the city staff budgeted about $500,000 for the electric utility for the entire year, so the amount spent in February depleted the budget. The state loan will help fill the gap, but the city council agreed that loan payments need to be recouped through higher customer bills.

Because the fuel adjustment is based on the amount of electricity used, the additional amount added to each customer’s bill will vary widely. Crumrine said a customer using 1,000 kilowatts in a month would pay an additional $8.29.

The council also agreed to have council members Geraldine Castle, Linda Seaman and Ernie Wulf and Mayor Tammy Bushong meet with utility customers to create payment arrangements for their high bills on the evening of March 18. That date was set for people who could not go to City Hall during regular business hours.

One customer, Steve Coonen, attended the March 16 meeting to voice his displeasure with the February utility billing.

 

Sewer line project

In another matter, the council heard from Bruce Boettcher of BG Consultants and Carey Spoon, grant administrator, concerning the city’s upcoming sewer rehabilitation project.

The city plans to reline cracked sewer lines in an effort to reduce the infiltration of stormwater. The stormwater inundates the city’s wastewater treatment plant with more water than it can handle. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment expressed concern over the number of bypasses at the plant in June 2020. At the time, the city had reported 15 bypasses over the course of a few months.

Boettcher and Spoon discussed a request from the Osage Nation for a cultural resource survey in Chetopa before the project begins. Crumrine informed the council that she had talked to Laura Moore, city of Parsons community development director, about the request. Crumrine said Moore told her that Parsons had a similar request several years ago but received a variance that allowed the city to avoid a survey. The council asked Crumrine to request documentation on Parsons’ variance.

Boettcher also discussed a proposal from Mayer Speciality to inspect the city’s sewer lines with a video camera at an estimated cost of $128,633. The council approved the agreement and also agreed to pay BG Consultants $2,900 for its services on the sewer project.

In other business during the March 16 meeting, the council:

— Heard from Water Plant Supervisor Mike Tyler that Maguire Iron will repaint the bottom part of the water tower at the company’s cost. Tyler also reported that the roof over the computer room at the water plant is leaking. The roof over the brick building next to the plant also is leaking. Also, Tyler said a truck assigned to the water plant is in poor condition. Someone offered to buy it for $2,000, but the council rejected the offer.

— Agreed to renew the city insurance with EMC Insurance at a cost of $93,295, with possible adjustments after a review. The insurance increased by $10,502 from last year. The council questioned Kim Riddle with Bill Thompson Insurance about the coverage of vehicles, and she planned to get more information on what coverage each vehicle had.

— Agreed to bill Jessica Karnes for only the city’s cost of water involved in a leak at her home.

— Granted permission to Will Howell to use the Elmore Park ballfield for a tournament the first weekend of June or the end of July.

— Agreed to allow Debbie Yost to buy flowers for the park from 4-H members and for city staff to buy hanging baskets from 4-H for the city complex.

— Approved an emergency condemnation for a structure at 217 N. 13th that partially burned.

— Instructed city staff that any purchases needed for day-to-day operations did not need prior council approval. There was some confusion about what could be purchased without approval.

— Agreed to give Patty Wilkinson until June to remove a vehicle from her property.

— Agreed to allow the Public Safety Emergency Services to place an antenna and repeater on the water tower with the stipulation that it would be removed if it interfered with city equipment.

— Approved the purchase of a replacement Wi-Fi router for Veterans Park.

— Heard from City Supervisor Bryan Midgett that the city’s jet rodder truck couldn’t clean a sewer line. He had contacted Mayer Specialty for a price quote but then was told that the city of Parsons cleans sewer lines for another city, so he contacted Parsons to clean the line.

— Approved the purchase of a chainsaw for $340.

— Met in executive session for 10 minutes to discuss nonelected personnel.

— Heard that Debbie Darnell had contacted another company about removing the old library windows and that she was waiting a quote.

— Approved a building permit for Tabatha Rumbaugh and Brock Pease for a 20-foot by 30-foot carport/lean-to at 121 S. 16th.

— Approved a spring cleanup for April 9-19.

— Agreed to donate $50 to the Chetopa Chamber of Commerce for the Easter egg hunt.

— Approved Labette Health Chetopa Clinic and the Oswego Clinic and Express Care as the designated worker’s compensation medical providers. In reviewing the safety policies and procedures manual, Crumrine realized that both of the designated medical providers listed in the manual are no longer in business.

— Accepted resignations from Martha Ridgeway and Martha Walker from the museum board.

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