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Henry: it's time to 'dress up' the square!

The Oskaloosa Independent of Oskaloosa, Kansas

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Oskaloosa City Council

Judy Henry has been to the courthouse squares in both Holton and Iola and was impressed by what she encountered, so much so that she thinks the City of Oskaloosa should get busy immediately and do what it can to "dress up" the business district surrounding the Jefferson County Courthouse.

"You need to look at your square and say, 'We could do so much more here,'" Henry told Mayor Eric Hull and City Council members John Norman, Amy Robbins, Vince Newman and Ken Newell during the council's meeting last Thursday evening at City Hall. "Put on a pair of fresh eyes."

Henry encouraged the group to make the square more "warm and inviting" and said grants to do that very thing were available through the Kansas Department of Transportation. She went on to report that the City of Rossville had obtained a grant to improve the appearance of the public square there.

Henry pointed out that Westar Energy's decision to modernize the lighting around the square within the next few months created a golden opportunity for the city to put in "additional lighting" to further enhance the look of the square. Later elaborating on the idea, she indicated that she would like to see Victorian-style light poles installed at appropriate locations, poles from which decorative flags as well as the American flag could be hung.

It was Henry's belief that a more attractive square would lead to increased business activity in the downtown area and make non-residents of the community more likely to want to move here. But the image the square currently projects to visitors is "lacking on an invitation," she said.

"We need something like a Pride group here," Robbins told Henry in assessing the situation as she sees it.

"I'm not going to lead it but I'll be part of it," Henry replied.

Norman suggested to Henry that the city was not getting the support it needs from the local Chamber of Commerce and the business community in general to be able to undertake the project she has in mind. He also noted that the city was "pretty stretched" financially already and that it would be rather difficult to ask citizens to pay more in taxes just to have some fancy lights around the square.

Newell argued that it was up to the business community and not the city to take the initiative in pursuing improvements to the square because the business community ultimately had more at stake in the matter.

Alana Kasparek, who finished the summer as the manager of the municipal swimming pool, gave the council a report on the 2015 season. According to her, the facility was "really, really busy on the hot days" and "fourteen-year-olds in this town really want to work," a reference to the young teenagers who were willing to serve as swim aides for only $4 an hour in compensation.

Kasparek, who took over for Corby Lockwood roughly halfway through the season, reported that a total of 121 students participated in the three sessions of public swimming lessons that were offered this year and that 23 private lessons were given. She said she donated the money she received for private lessons back to the operation of the pool.

Kasparek told the council that during the season, 17 10-day passes and eight family passes were sold and that nine parties were scheduled. This reporter asked her how much revenue the pool had generated this year, but she indicated that she did not have with the figure with her and referred the question to City Clerk Patty Hamm. Hamm informed me the following morning that the figure I was after was $17,097.79.

In response to a question posed by one of the council members, Kasparek said she had enough lifeguards at her disposal to adequately staff the pool but that doing so became something of a challenge toward the end of the season. "The beauty of the summer is, she (Lockwood) hired good kids," she remarked.

Kasparek, who managed the pool in 2013 and previous years, informed the council that the facility needed one new rope and some buoys as well. She also said lounge chairs were on what amounts to her "wish list" for next year. She did not commit to being the manager in 2016, however.

"We're extremely happy that you came in and bailed us out," Hull told Kasparek. "Thanks for the opportunity," she replied.

The council unanimously approved a proposal that $1,250 be added to the budget for the Public Library to help support the operation of the facility this year.

The purchase of a water softener for use at City Hall was unanimously approved by the council. The water softener will essentially replace the one bought last month from Oskaloosa Lumber but which was never installed because its hydraulic fittings were not big enough to work with the water line leading into the kitchen.

The city spent $479.99 for the WaterBoss the lumber yard handles but will have to shell out $856.29 to acquire the bigger system from online dealer USABlueBook.

The council voted unanimously to sever the city's relationship with TMHC Services Inc., Topeka, which has been charging the city $45 a month to randomly test city employees for possible drug and alcohol use. According to City Attorney Lee Hendricks, the current handbook for city employees does not contain a policy pertaining to testing for drugs and alcohol, an apparent oversight he plans to address within the near future by incorporating a policy into the handbook.

It was the general feeling of the council that in the future, all new employees should be subjected to testing as a condition of employment and that additional testing should be done any time an employee is involved in any kind of an accident on the job.

On a 4-0 vote, the council approved the issuance of a cereal malt beverage license to Chunkie Dunkers 'n North-side, 308 W. Washington. The license will enable the establishment to sell 3.2% beer to customers for consumption on the immediate premises.

Four other businesses in town, Oskaloosa Thriftway, Route 92 Quick Shop and Bait, Gambino's and Casey's General Store, also have a cereal malt beverage license.

The Police Department's August Activity Report indicated that Chief of Police Paul Bolinger and the other part-time officers working with him handled a total of 71 calls during the month, including three pertaining to a theft, three about a suspicious vehicle, two about a suspicious person, two regarding criminal damage to property, two relating to a domestic disturbance, and one about illegal dumping.

Officers also made one arrest for a suspended driver's license and issued 11 warnings and three citations to motorists.

"We're still busy with reports," Bolinger told the council when the time came for him to address members of the governing body. "My folder's growing and growing with reports."

The police chief also told the council he and other officers expected to be busy over the Labor Day weekend since a motorcycle rally at Perry Lake planned for the holiday weekend seemed likely to bring numerous bikers through town at some point.

Olin Dalaba, who owns property near the intersection of Elm and Hamilton streets, briefly appeared before the council to talk about the appearance of a shed and a house at that location. During the discussion that ensued, he indicated that he would be tearing down the shed, which the city finds objectionable, but fixing up the house. He said he would be working on the exterior of the house this fall to make it more presentable but delaying work on the interior until sometime next year.

The property at 403 Cherokee owned by Wayne Mathena and the property at 611 Cherokee belonging to George Radcliff were discussed at some length by the mayor, the council and the city attorney. "Tell me what you want to do and I'll do it," Hendricks said at one point, having already reviewed for the benefit of the council the legal options currently available to it in trying to get the two men to comply with the city's property codes.

In the end the council unanimously decided by way of separate votes to proceed with the course laid out for it to follow in resolutions it has already approved.

The city clerk informed the council that Dwayne DePriest, the buyer of the vacant lot at 605 Delaware, was planning to drop by City Hall the day after Labor Day and leave a check for the city. DePriest purchased the lot, the site of the former City Hall, for $1,000 and reportedly intends to build an office there.

On a 4-0 vote, the council approved the issuance of a permit to Westar Energy so the Topeka-based utility company will have direct access to the light poles along Jefferson Street between Liberty and Delaware streets, the 300 block of Jefferson also being part of K-92. Those poles and the poles on the other three sides of the courthouse square have been targeted for replacement.

The mayor informed the council that King's Construction Company Inc., Oskaloosa, would begin working on the planned street improvements the following Wednesday (Sept. 9) and that Hamm Inc., Perry, would be starting on the same project the next day (Sept. 10).

The mayor and council spent several minutes looking over a proposal from Light Works Inc., Weston, Mo., to provide access to electricity around the courthouse square so power will be available to vendors and others during the annual Old Settlers Festival and for other events. The matter is under consideration at this time because the new light poles Westar Energy will be installing around the square at some point will not include built-in electrical outlets.

The estimated cost of the proposal, as presented, is $65,000. Newell objected to the timing of the project. "We should've started this a long time ago," he commented. And Newman took issue with the city's priorities, saying he would rather see it spend the money on street repairs.

The mayor was supportive of the proposal, pointing out that the design was such that the system could accommodate increased demands for power in the years to come. But he also conceded that the proposal could be "shrunk" if needed to minimize the cost.

Hull informed the council that the city had received a note from Oskaloosa Lumber thanking the city for the temporary use of its forklift in the wake of a fuel fire that damaged the lumber yard's forklift.

The council and mayor met for a total of 20 minutes behind closed doors with the city attorney and the city clerk. Because the city attorney was present, the justification given for the executive session was the attorney-client privilege recognized in the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Ten minutes of time was initially requested for the closed-door discussion, but when that proved to be insufficient, an additional 10 minutes was requested. No binding action was taken when the meeting reopened to the public.

Councilman Eric LeRoux was unable to attend the meeting, which ended shortly after 9.

Threshing bee draws near

The 58th annual McLouth Threshing Bee sponsored by the Heart of America Antique Steam Engine and Model Association will be held Friday, Sept 18 through Sunday, Sept. 20 at the threshing bee grounds. More information about the event will appear in next week's issue of the paper.

Copyright 2015 The Oskaloosa Independent, Oskaloosa, Kansas. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: September 10, 2015

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