Ron Mellick on Thursday evening stood out as the lone Hays City Commissioner voting against a proposal for a huge iconic Dennis Schiel mural on the Sternberg water tower as a way to promote Hays to travelers on Interstate 70.

Mellick’s “no” vote at the regular meeting of the Hays City Commission was to protest the fact his fellow commissioners only approved a letter of support, instead of committing money.

Specifically, Mellick would like to see the city put $96,750 into the project from the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau budget.

“We have that money in there and it wouldn’t wreck the CVB budget either,” Mellick explained after the meeting. “It’s in their reserves. City staff said we can do that and it wouldn’t ruin their budget by any means.”

At the city’s work session last week, the commissioners encouraged Hays artist Schiel to pursue a grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan, to paint the city’s Sternberg water tower with the city’s signature branding logo, three Old West figures who aptly represent the city’s frontier history.

The full cost of the largest version of the mural, which would measure 170 feet by 170 feet, would be $268,500. Schiel is asking the city to contribute $96,750. He would raise about $37,500 locally, and seek a matching Hansen grant of $134,250.

At last week’s session, Mellick said “I believe we need to go big or go home.” On Thursday evening the other commissioners, with the exception of Shaun Musil, echoed their support for that.

All but Mellick, however, stopped short of committing money.

“We have civic groups in the city that adopt different city parks, and each year they come to us wanting us to match their money to do improvements within the city parks. And we do that,” Mellick said, citing an item on the evening’s agenda for $50,000 in playground equipment at Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex, matched by $50,000 from Hays Recreation Commission.

“I wonder how many of these things would have happened if we’d only gotten a letter of support from any of these entities?” he asked. “I’ll be voting ‘no’ on this tonight. Not that I don’t want to see this happen, but frankly I’m embarrassed that Mr. Schiel is going to Dane G. Hansen with only a letter of support from us and no financial commitment.”

Commissioner Sandy Jacobs, Vice Mayor Henry Schwaller IV and Mayor James Meier all voiced support for the project, indicating the impressive mural would be a unique I-70 destination attraction for the city, but said they want Schiel to pursue other financing options first.

“I agree with ‘Go big, go home.’ Destination. Like it. Yeah, do it, I’m all for it, and support it 100 percent,” Meier said. “I’d just like to know what other options are out there before we write a check.”

Doing the math, Mellick said, the mural is a better value than the billboards on I-70 the city currently spends money on.

“A 10-by-30 sign that we have on I-70, a billboard, by the time you pay for the wrap four times, and you would rent it at $4,200 a year for 20 years, you come out with $86,000 over a 20-year period,” Mellick said. “And that’s for 300 square feet. This is 11,370 square feet for 20 years, and we’d be putting in $96,000.”

Schiel’s work is world class, said Schwaller, and the mural’s content speaks to the history of the Hays community. There would be nothing like it in the Midwest, he said, agreeing it’s worth the money, unlike the billboards.

“They’re awful, and over time they’re very expensive,” Schwaller said. “But this (mural) is something that is very clear. It says exactly who we are. It doesn’t say ‘Eat. Stay. Dine,’ or whatever, ‘Shop.’ This is Hays. It’s what we’re about. From an artistic standpoint, it’s phenomenal. It’s also great from a promotional and destination standpoint, and that’s why I support it.”

Musil said that while he likes the project, “I don’t think that we should be funding it.”

The largest mural design would include William Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and George Custer, as well as a railroad steam engine, a buffalo and the words Hays America, Est. 1867.

The 1-million-gallon water tower hovers over I-70 next to Sternberg Museum, 3000 Sternberg Drive. It was recently remediated and repainted. Schiel’s mural would take about two seasons to complete, painting from April through October when the weather is warm enough for paint to dry, he has said.

It would be the latest for Schiel, who also has painted 150 years of military service as a 10-by-50-foot mural on the north side of the VFW building at 22nd and Vine streets, and a 35-by-60 foot Hays icons mural on the side of the Fox Pavilion on Main Street for the 150th anniversary of Ellis County. Those murals were commissioned by the Hays Arts Council.

Mellick, however, said the water tower mural would have a better chance with Hansen if Schiel had a financial commitment from Hays.

What of the other commissioners? “They say they support it,” Mellick said. “But you know, money talks. If we got a letter of support from the civic organizations or Hays Rec, would we have been impressed with them not matching our money?

Also at the work session, the commissioners presented 2018 Employee Service Awards.

Recognized for five years of service were: account clerk Rachel Albin, police officer Evan Cronn, firefighter Lyle Pantle, communications officer Rachel Kraus, water plant operator A.J. Hill, and water plant operator Lance Koerner.

Recognized for 10 years were: Director of Finance Kim Rupp, administrative assistant Bobbi Pfeifer, administrative assistant Jamie Salter, stormwater operator Eric Borger, communications officer Kyla Jorgensen, GIS specialist Eamonn Coveney, maintenance worker Toby Alexander, and communications officer Brian Meis.

Recognized for 15 years were: administrative assistant Amy Leiker and convention sales manager Janet Kuhn.

Recognized for 20 years were: Fire Captain Aaron Ditter, executive assistant Andrea Windholz, police lieutenant Tim Greenwood, police sergeant Jason Bonczynski and refuse equipment driver Jason Knipp

Recognized for 25 years were: water production and distribution superintendent Tim Luck, Chief of Police Don Scheibler, IT technician Karen Randa, and plant operator Shawn Swift.

Recognized for 35 years were: plant operator Mike Kline and parks technician Ron Rice.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved the low bid for new playground equipment for the southwest set of fields at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex. The plan for a pour-in-place fall zone and a foul ball canopy is budgeted for $100,000, with half of that each from the Hays Recreation Commission and the city of Hays.

• Approved the purchase of new uniforms for full- and part-time officers of the Hays Police Department. Low bid from Southern Uniform & Equipment, Carthage, Mo., and GT Distributors, Austin, Texas, totals $45,011.61 for a new style shirt, pants, outer ballistic vest carrier system and high-gloss duty leather gear. The poly-wool blend is more durable, the outer ballistic vest carriers are more comfortable and easier to get on and off, the under shirt is made of a wicking material, and the pants have six pockets for more storage, according to the police.

• Approved renewal of a health insurance contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield for $1.78 million for 2019, which is 2.46 percent lower than 2018 based on the city’s expected enrollment and low utilization. Employee costs would remain the same as 2018.

• Approved an amendment to the city’s airport consultant Master Services Agreement with Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co., Kansas City, Mo. The new amendment allows the city to meet FAA requirements for an approved engineer for airport plans, applications and project development.

• Hired Burns & McDonnell for engineering services to purchase new snow removal equipment for the Hays Regional Airport. The contract would be for $18,060 from the city’s Airport Improvement Fund, 90 percent of which would be reimbursed by the FAA. The FAA has notified the city it will pay for a new truck, 16-foot plow and spreader.

• Approved an agreement to repair the terminal apron at the airport with panel replacement and drainage improvements, with the FAA reimbursing 90 percent of the design and construction costs. Design services by Burns & McDonnell would total $91,490. Construction would cost $582,110.