Wednesday, July 13, 2016

CORRECTION: Police and Civil Society

Officer Mark Haaga was mistakenly left out of the special thanks and appreciation in the post dated July 13, 2016 entitled "Police and Civil Society." He is no less appreciated and is a valuable asset to the Abilene Police Department. My apologizes for failing to include Officer Haaga on the post, and thanks to those who let me know so I could resolve the oversight.

Police Officers and Civil Society

Amid all the news and pundit opinion about law enforcement in this nation, I thought I would take a brief moment to share my thoughts on the police profession. Abilene, Kansas is by no means Dallas, Texas or Ferguson, Missouri. (Many would suggest that this fact is part of the attraction of living in a small, rural community.) Even so, law enforcement in any community, including Abilene, presents many challenges that have the potential of putting officers and the public in very dangerous situations.

It is easy to forget the reason why police departments were created in the first place. In ancient Rome, centurions took post at the gates and around the walls of the city to ensure that barbarians and raiders were held outside of Rome for the protection of citizens. As time went on, modern cities gave way to the need for the ability to protect society from criminals other than through prescription or volunteerism. Police departments throughout the nation eventually became professionalized and reformed into the departments we are most familiar with today.

Modern police philosophy originated under Sir Robert Peel's premise to "keep peace by peaceful means." For the most part, much of modern law enforcement is conducted under Sir Peel's concept of peaceful means. It is unfortunate that the media and the public has drawn focus on small sample sizes of incidents that has influenced an idea that police officers are inherently bad for society. Not everyone agrees with the idea that police are out to cause harm or that they cannot be trusted to protect society, but it seems that this mindset is becoming more prevalent with each news story.

How many positive police stories are not reported for every negative police story you see in the news today? I don't know the answer to this question nor do I think anyone else does either, although I would bet that if I had the means to discover the answer the ratio would favor good law enforcement over what is being frequently reported today.

It is true that bad things sometimes happen to innocent people, but rarely is the police officer's perspective shared with the general public in a way that truly captures the plight of law enforcement. A police officer has only a few seconds to make a life-or-death decision in situations where the officer's or another's life may be at risk. Placed in a similar situation, I would venture to guess that many untrained civilians would have a difficult time making the decision and then struggle to cope with it afterwards.

This is not to suggest that all incidents involving police officers should favor the authorities. Police are people and can make mistakes of judgment too. It is, however, to suggest that the job of police officers is a dangerous and often stressful career that deserves more respect that it is presently receiving from the public. We live in a civilized society, in part, because of the work our law enforcement officers do to protect and serve our communities.

Police officers are on patrol 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. During their patrol, each of Abilene's police officers makes considerable sacrifices to protect and serve the community. Officers may not get to attend their kid's' activities and games. They may not get to share regular meals with those they love. They may miss the big game on television, or a birthday party, or a special life moment that only happens once before it's gone forever.

I wish to share my deep appreciation for Abilene's police officers and the work they do each day to keep Abilene safe. They sacrifice much to make our community a great place to live, work, and play. Thank you to Abilene's dedicated officers in blue:  Matt Badalucco, JJ Caranza, Mark Haaga, Kris Kobiskie, Karman Kupper, Kevin Landers, Mike Mohn, Skylar Reynolds, Joe Schrader, Jason Wilkins, Ricky Williams, and Shane Wilson.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

3 Things to Know

This week's three things to know:
  • Commission Vacancy - The City Commission is accepting Statements of Interest from qualified electors to serve in a vacant seat on the governing body arising from Commissioner John Ray's recent resignation. Interested persons may complete a Statement of Interest and return it to the City Clerk by 12:00 pm on July 5, 2016. The official press release may be found on the City's website. The City Commission will review the Statements of Interest at a Special Meeting scheduled for 4:30 pm on July 5, 2016. The meeting will be held at City Hall.
  • NW 11th Street - Utilities work has begun on the NW 11th Street Project. Westar Energy, Kansas Gas Service, and Eagle Communications have been on-site working to relocate their infrastructure to accommodate the project. The Public Works Department has also been removing several trees. The contractor has started grading down to the subgrade so base preparation may begin soon.
  • Budget - The City Commission has started its annual discussions on the proposed 2017 Budget. The discussion at the June 21st Study Session focused on tax-levied funds. Four options were presented to the governing body to discuss. (The presentation may be reviewed using this link.) Most of the discussion centered on keeping the mill levy as low as possible, while still working to fund as many capital items as possible. The City Commission asked the City Manager to prepare a few options for the tax-levied budgets incorporating a two to three mill increase. The next meeting to discuss the budget will be the July 5th Study Session. Public information meetings on the proposed budget are scheduled for July 28th at 5:30 pm and August 4th at 7:30 am. Both meetings will be held in the Commission Chambers at the Abilene Public Library.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Proposed Kansas Property Tax Lid Position Paper

The City of Abilene believes that the property tax lid created in the 2015 Kansas Legislative Session should be repealed in its entirety. The rationale behind this position is that local government decisions, including revenue and taxation decisions, should be made by locally elected officials who are closest to the citizens that are affected by these decisions. Local government officials are positioned in a manner that allows them to know the desires of the citizens they serve, and they are able to convert these desires into policy decisions that affect the progress of the entire community.

If the lid stays, the exemptions provided in state law should be preserved in order to provide local government officials with the ability to flexibly respond to the needs of the community.

A floor amendment was passed by the Kansas Legislature at the end of the 2015 Legislative Session. The amendment did not have a bill, hearings or debate. It called for a property tax lid on municipalities based on a projected $5.8 billion savings for the citizens of the State of Kansas dating back to 1997. The approved amendment carried an implementation date of July 1, 2018 and eight categories of exemptions to include: a) costs for new infrastructure or improvements to existing infrastructure to support new improvements to property exempt from taxation; b) bond and interest payments; c) taxation resulting from expiration of property tax abatement; d) increases in road construction costs for approved road projects; e) special assessments; f) judgments levied against the city or expenses for legal counsel or defense of legal actions against the city; g) new expenditures specifically mandated by federal or state law; or h) increase in property subject to taxation as a result of new construction.

Local governments that increase the mill levy to generate property taxes at a rate greater than the increase in the Consumer Price Index must submit the proposed increase to the voters in an election prior to the increase becoming effective.

On January 11, 2016, Senate Bill 316 was introduced on the floor of the State Senate, which would move the implementation date to July 1, 2016, and remove several of the exemptions to include: a) costs for new infrastructure or improvements to existing infrastructure to support new improvements to property exempt from taxation; b) increases in road construction costs for approved road projects; c) judgments levied against the city or expenses for legal counsel or defense of legal actions against the city; and d) new expenditures specifically mandated by federal or state law. The proposed amendment would also require municipalities to reduce budgets if the proposed increase exceeded the CPI.

Since 2005, the revenue generated by property taxes for the City of Abilene has exceeded the Consumer Price Index. If property tax revenue is adjusted to reflect the currently allowed exemptions and special situations, however, the City’s property tax revenue has closely followed the CPI except for a budget increase in 2015. Part of the argument for the benchmark of the CPI is that local governments have increased property taxes at a rate that greatly exceeds the CPI. Over the last ten years, the City of Abilene can explain significant increases to the mill levy because of special situations as discussed below.

In 2005, the City Commission approved a five mill increase to finance much needed improvements to E. First Street, a major farm-to-market route in Abilene. The $2.2 million project repaired a street that was significantly deteriorating due to weathering and heavy truck traffic over the years. Without an increase to the mill levy, the City would not have had the resources to finance the street project. The five mills generates property taxes of about $260,000, which is the amount of annual debt service for the G.O. bonds issued to finance the project. As presently written, state law would allow the City to do the E. First Street Project without considering the CPI requirement.

The City has also had to increase its mill levy in recent years to maintain its credit rating amid a single-family development that became delinquent on property taxes and special assessments. In 2010, the City of Abilene issued $4.0 million of its G.O. bonds to finance public improvements for a residential subdivision. When the development stalled and the property owner elected not to pay special assessments, the City Commission decided to increase the mill levy by about 4.5 mills in order to pay the annual debt service on the development. Failure to pay the debt service would have resulted in a credit rating downgrade, and would have caused problems for the City’s ability to access the credit markets for future projects.

As Figure 1 demonstrates below, without these two projects the City of Abilene’s mill levy would closely align with the CPI. This is to suggest that locally elected government officials can take into consideration the implications of budgetary decisions and make such decisions in the best interests of the community. Over the previous ten years, the governing body of the City of Abilene has approved prudent budgets that meet the needs of the community without greatly exceeding the CPI.

Figure 1

The present statute and proposed Senate Bill 316 makes it very difficult for the City of Abilene and other municipalities throughout Kansas to effectively govern the affairs of their communities. While providing voters with an opportunity to vote on proposed property tax increases seems worthwhile, it erodes the ability of a governing body to make decisions members were elected to vote on. In addition, the CPI does not take into account the various items that municipalities purchase that differ from consumers (such as asphalt). Increases in the cost of these items at a rate greater than the CPI would require the governing body to seek the approval of voters or face cutting public services in order to absorb the increased costs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Police Chief Survey

The City Manager invites residents of Abilene to provide input into the recruitment and selection of a Police Chief. Please use the link below to complete a short survey to share your thoughts on this important position. The survey will be open for input until 5:00 on March 11, 2016. The City thanks your for your time and consideration.

Take the Survey

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Police Chief Mark Heimer Announces Retirement

Police Chief Mark Heimer announces his retirement from law enforcement after serving for over thirty years in the profession. Mark served as Police Chief for the City of Abilene for nearly six years and oversaw the successful reorganization of the Police Department into a more efficient and effective law enforcement team. His management style and experience brought much innovation to the Abilene Police Department. Mark’s last day with the City of Abilene will be February 26, 2016.

“Mark has contributed greatly to the City of Abilene and he will be greatly missed,” says Mayor Dennis Weishaar. “He has facilitated the transformation of the Abilene Police Department into a very professional and modern police department and has prepared it for the changes that will occur in law enforcement in the future.”

“Mark’s decision to retire was unexpected but I respect the decision and appreciate all he has done for the community,” says City Manager David Dillner. “It is very apparent to me that Mark greatly enjoys serving the citizens of Abilene and that the decision to retire was by no means easy for him,” says Dillner. “Mark has been a great leader for the community, the department, and the organization. He has also been a good friend to me personally. On behalf of the City of Abilene, I wish him the very best as he begins his next chapter in life.” 

City Manager David Dillner intends to appoint an interim Police Chief to serve until such time as a recruitment process may be organized and completed. The decision will be forthcoming and is expected prior to Mark’s retirement.

“The position of Police Chief is no doubt one of great importance to the community as the leadership and direction of a Police Department is essential to public trust,” says City Manager David Dillner. “The process for recruiting a Police Chief will involve much public dialogue and input in order for Abilene to find the right person who will be able to continue Mark’s legacy of leadership.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Flint and Lead in the Public Water Supply

Several residents have contacted me recently concerning the City's public water supply and the potential for contamination similar to Flint, Michigan's water contamination challenge. There is no doubt that what is happening in Flint, Michigan is truly an unfortunate situation. I can't opine on what is causing the problems with lead in Flint because I do not know the specific nature of the lead contamination. It could be a naturally occurring phenomena with the Flint River or it could be caused by contamination from man-made processes. 

From what I have read it seems that many of Flint's water mains were made of iron and service lines to residences were made of lead. The City of Flint was not properly treating the water with an anti-corrosive agent, which allowed the protective barrier in the water mains to break down and ultimately led to the leakage of iron and lead into the public water supply. 

The City of Abilene's older water mains are constructed of ductile iron and newer mains are constructed with pvc pipe. The City's water is not extremely corrosive and so we do not experience the issues that have come up in Flint. In addition, the City has been replacing ductile iron mains so as to reduce the total amount that are in use. Replacement of the entire inventory of ductile iron will take many years, but is a process that modernizes the City's water infrastructure. 

The City of Abilene's water supply is tested regularly to determine if it complies with various federal and state requirements to include monitoring of lead and copper. Lead in drinking water is primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. The City is responsible for providing high quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components that have been installed over the years. Modern components are installed with pvc pipe and other safe materials in compliance with changes in industry standards and plumbing codes.

Throughout the period between 2012 and 2014, the City's water supply tested within acceptable levels for lead and copper. The Action Level, or the concentration of a contaminant that, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements for lead and copper is 1.3 parts per million (ppm). The City's range for copper during the reporting period was 0.016 to 0.28 ppm, or significantly below the Action Level. In addition, the City had no sites that tested over the Action Level. Data for 2015 has not yet be reported in the City's annual Consumer Confidence Report.

With respect to lead and arsenic, the City's tests did not identify a measurable quantify of either substance and so these contaminants are not reported in the Consumer Confidence Report. This is good news to the public that the water utility serves.

The City is required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to test for a variety of contaminants and byproducts each year. The City takes many tests each year to ensure compliance with federal and state mandates for safe drinking water and has been under the maximum contaminate levels for each contaminant. 

The City would gladly test your water if you or someone you know is concerned about the level of lead in the water. You can also minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for thirty seconds to two minutes before using water for drinking or cooking when your water has been sitting for several hours. Other information on lead in drinking water may be found

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Abilene Highlands and the Land Bank

As we approach a new year, I thought I would take a moment to discuss an issue that I have been working on since my arrival in Abilene about five years ago. The Abilene Highlands subdivision has been a topic of concern for the City as it seeks to craft a solution to the stalled development. There seems to be an opportunity that will hopefully allow the development to gather momentum despite the fact that the situation is far from resolved.

The Land Bank will take possession of the real estate known as the Abilene Highlands by the end of this week. The City has been in negotiations to have the property donated to the Land Bank for several months, and an agreement was reached last month that will allow the City to take ownership of the development. The property owner will no longer be liable for taxes or special assessments on the property.

The property will not have any special assessments or property taxes assessed against it as long as the property is held in the Land Bank. The City Commission will have the opportunity to forgive past delinquent special assessments or may decide to reamoritize the specials so the City may recoup its money at some point in the future.

The ultimate benefit to the City is that the property may be offered as an opportunity for development. Taxpayer liability will be reduced to the extent the City is successful in conveying the property to developers/builders that develop the property.

The City has also been negotiating a land exchange agreement with the partners of the Cedar Ridge development in Abilene. Cedar Ridge, LLP came to the City with a proposal to develop a part of the Abilene Highlands following a town hall meeting to discuss options for the development.

The Cedar Ridge proposal is to donate the undeveloped Cedar Ridge, Phase II to the Land Bank and exchange it for land located within the Abilene Highlands. The benefit to the City is twofold:  1) the City does not need to extend public infrastructure to serve Cedar Ridge, Phase II and thus not incur additional debt; and 2) the supply of developable lots in Abilene will not increase.

Cedar Ridge gets the benefit of having an area that already has infrastructure so construction may begin as soon as practicable. Cedar Ridge is also seeking tax credits through an affordable housing program administered by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. The entire transaction is contingent upon tax credits being awarded to Cedar Ridge; without the tax credits the transaction will not be completed.

There is still a considerable amount of work to be done before this transaction may be finished. The agreements need to be finalized between the parties and approved. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation needs to consider the merits of the project for tax credits. The prospect of development occurring at the Abilene Highlands, however, may be on the brink of reviving this once and future development opportunity in Abilene.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

City Names Michael Player as Tourism Director

The City of Abilene has named Michael Player to the position of Convention and Visitors Bureau Director. Glenda Purkis, the current Convention and Visitors Bureau Director, has announced her retirement on December 26, 2015 after a successful career of thirty years in tourism. Glenda served as Abilene’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Director for nine years. 

The City Manager received input from an interview committee comprised of various stakeholders and interests throughout the community that interact often with the the Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

Michael comes to the City of Abilene with experience in marketing and public relations. He also has experience in digital media and event planning. Most recently, Michael has been a successful entrepreneur where he started his own advertising agency that specialized in digital media.

“Michael has a tremendous personality and his experience will add a great amount of value to the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” says City Manager David Dillner. “Michael will bring a different perspective to tourism promotion in Abilene that will no doubt allow Abilene, and its many attractions, to thrive in a very competitive environment.”

Prior to accepting the Convention and Visitors Bureau Director position, Michael was the founder and president of MVP Marketing, LLC, where he spent twenty-six years building a successful marketing business. He also served as the president and managing member of Universal Financial Systems, LLC. Michael has served in an academic capacity as an adjunct professor with the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he taught at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management and has also served as an adjunct professor at MidAmerica Nazarene University’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

He earned a Master of Science degree in Human Relations and Business from Abilene Christian University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Marketing from the University of North Texas.

Michael’s first day with the City is expected to be December 28, 2015. His initial assignments will include coordinating the upcoming Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Chisholm Trail, rebranding the City’s marketing efforts, and developing and implementing a comprehensive marketing plan to promote Abilene and its attractions to the world. Michael will also undertake a review of the various business lines managed by the Convention and Visitors Bureau to include trolley operations, operation of the Visitor Information Center, and the CVB’s website and social media platforms.

“The City is especially grateful to Glenda Purkis for her dedicated service to the City of Abilene and the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” said City Manager David Dillner. “Glenda has contributed much to Abilene’s tourism industry over the last few years and will be greatly missed. The City wishes her all the best as she begins her new adventure in retirement.” The City is hosting a retirement reception for Glenda on December 16, 2015 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at the Civic Center. The public is invited to attend.

Monday, October 26, 2015

City to Close NW 3rd Street for Halloween Activities

The City of Abilene, Kansas will close NW 3rd Street from Mulberry Street to Pine Street from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturday, October 31st to ensure a safer environment for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Residents living in this area are requested to use alleys and side streets to enter and exit the neighborhood during the street closure. Those wishing to visit the area for trick-or-treating may park along side streets or in parking lots in proximity to the neighborhood.

The decision to close NW 3rd Street comes as a result of heightened traffic volume because of the special Halloween ambiance the neighborhood organizes each year. To be sure, other neighborhoods of Abilene are still open for trick-or-treaters. The increased volume of pedestrian traffic on NW 3rd Street creates special circumstances that warrant a “safety first” approach to traffic. 

“The City would rather close the street down to vehicular traffic than have to manage an accident on a holiday that is meant to be fun and exciting for the youth of the community,” says City Manager David Dillner. “The intent of closing NW 3rd Street is to protect young Abilene residents in a neighborhood that draws considerable volumes of trick-or-treaters.”

The City Manager is authorized under Section 5-403 of the City Code to make regulations affecting traffic when determined necessary for safety purposes. The Public Works Department will post street closure and detours signs for the duration of the closure.

Even with the street closure, children are still encouraged to partake in Halloween activities safely. Children should be accompanied by an adult and should follow other acceptable safety practices.

Questions regarding the street closure may be directed to City Manager David Dillner at (785) 263-2550.