Residency shouldn’t be a question

    HARLAN – Ken Weber is the first to admit he has a home in Avoca.
    But he also has one in Harlan.
    Weber’s actual residency has come into question in recent weeks as Harlan residents come to grips with higher than normal utility bills due to February’s unprecedented extreme cold via a polar vortex that swept through the entire Midwest.
    Residents are questioning that if Weber, the chief executive officer of the Harlan Municipal Utilities, lives in Avoca, he’s not experiencing the same higher utility bills as the rest of Harlan.  And that’s not fair.
    The short answer to that question, Weber says, is he is, just like everyone else.
    “My mailing address for employment is 1608 Willow Street, Harlan, Iowa, 51537,” Weber explains.
    His Iowa driver’s license and voter registration list the Harlan address.  His vehicle is registered in Harlan, and the Internal Revenue Service has recognized his residence in Harlan since 2016.  
    He has had HMU utility services since purchasing the home in Harlan.
    “From every definition I have found for establishing federal and state residency, any combination of the above qualify for establishing legal residency,” Weber said.
    “The primary reason for not changing all of this earlier was due to my interest in the AHSTW School District,” he went on to explain.
    “I wanted to retain my voting rights in Pottawattamie County since my daughter is on the AHSTW School Board and three of my grandchildren are enrolled at AHSTW.”

Harlan supporters
    Weber gets why residents are upset with recent utility bills.  The polar vortex was hard on communities from Texas to the northern border of the U.S., with many municipal and investor-owned utilities still dealing with the aftereffects of millions of dollars in increased power bills.
    Harlan has no choice but to pass on those costs to its ratepayers, but is working with residents to spread out the costs through the end of June, and is searching for state and federal assistance that would eventually be provided back to ratepayers, said Weber.
    But he wants residents to know that he’s also a Harlan resident and shares in the higher bills.  As per his HMU employment contract, he has to own property in Harlan and be an HMU customer, but instead of actually living here, he has to be able to respond within 15 minutes, which he can.
    He and his wife are huge Harlan supporters, he says, having traded in town since moving to Avoca in 1979.  They buy their groceries at Hy-Vee or Fareway, utilize the hospital services, purchase prescriptions, auto loans, gas, gifts and car washes in town.
    “Until our dog passed…his food and vet services came from Harlan,” Weber said.
    They buy farm supplies at Bomgaars and Nelson Farm Supply, all the family shoes from Bauer’s, have a family membership at the wellness center, and are social members at the country club.
    “Our favorite places to eat out are Mi Casa and the Harlan Golf and Country Club,” Weber said.  “Our grandchildren’s favorite place to eat is the Harlan Pizza Ranch.  The few times I buy breakfast is at Milk and Honey.  The few times I eat lunch it is usually Subway.”
    They spend time in Bellevue, NE for Scouts and watch the grandchildren in sports, as well as spend time at the farm.
    Weber supports the Shelby County Wellness Alliance and personally he incorporated and funded C.A.R.I. for economic development efforts in Harlan and Shelby County.  He supports the Harlan Community Schools STEM program.
    “I don’t know what else I could be doing to demonstrate my commitment to HMU and the City of Harlan,” he said.

Progress
    Weber said he hopes residents will come to realize that HMU is a wonderful municipal utility with dedicated employees.  HMU is forward thinking with many upgrades and plans for the future.
    Among them:
    •  Electric System has been upgraded, eliminating old expensive to operate overhead system to new more reliable underground distribution.
    •  Broadband has been updated to fully digital Fiber Optics -- competitively priced, more reliable, increased data capacity.
    •  Water System improvements are ongoing. After years of operating problems HMU believes it has identified and is resolving the original operating deficiencies at the Water Treatment Plant.  
    Both Elevated Storage Tanks now have regular maintenance programs in place.  HMU also just received a draft report for Raw Water Resource Improvements, and in the meantime HMU is facing the unexpected impacts of drought on current water supplies.  Plans are in place to continue with a multi-year review of the water distribution system.
    •  Gas System capacity has been restricted for years.  Weber has discussed this in various Chamber, City and HMU Board meetings. The only viable alternative is to upgrade the NNG Branch Line serving Harlan. NNG has quoted $3.5 million as the cost to HMU. With the payment of the recent extreme weather bill, the natural gas reserves will be nearly depleted.    

 

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