The city of Hillsboro is continuing to move ahead with a proposed plaza in the uptown area after city council Monday unanimously authorized Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin to pursue funding options, plans and specifications for the project.
The approval to proceed came at the recommendation of the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee, which recently held a public meeting on the topic.
Prior to the vote, council members Rebecca Wilkin and Bill Alexander asked about the status of the building housing the Armintrout law office, and how the structure impacts the plaza project and future parking plans.
Council President Lee Koogler said that ultimately the Armintrout building is a “necessary cog in the wheel.”
Ann Morris, chair of the property committee, and committee member Dick Donley said additional parking options will be secured to make up for the spots lost if Gov. Trimble Place is closed, although Donley noted that most of the spots are taken up by public officials and other parking options already exist.
Mayor Drew Hastings said the parking questions should be addressed “as part of a master parking plan” for the city.
At the public meeting on the plaza a couple of weeks ago, Morris said the total cost of the plaza is $177,448, and that $78,000 would come from an anonymous donation to the city, another $25,000 from private contributions through an online fundraising account, and possibly $75,000 from the city, which is already in the city budget. Donley said a fundraising campaign could be undertaken similar to what was done for the YMCA years ago.
Law Director Fred Beery said Monday’s council action stops short of actually authorizing the plaza to be built, but instead empowers the safety director to proceed with the next steps.
Council also approved Todd Wilkin’s request for a transfer of $10,000 for renovation of the city park on Railroad Street, which Wilkin said he and Street Department supervisor Randy Barr have been planning since July, when Wilkin said he noticed a large group of youngsters playing kickball at the park, which has fallen into disrepair over many years.
Citing a growing number of schools that are taking a similar approach, Wilkin said the project will include stenciled play areas for various games ranging from kickball to Wiffle ball. He said the city is installing new lights and resurfacing portions of the park.
Wilkin said the total cost of the project will exceed the funds approved by council, but a donor has indicated a willingness to make up the difference. He said city officials are also considering placing a fence around the facility to deter vandalism, which has been a problem at the park.
A street project brought praise from a local resident on Monday, when Sherry Young personally thanked the mayor, the safety director and others for blacktopping her street, Terrace Avenue, a short stretch of road off Springlake Avenue.
Young said Wilkin is “a man of his word,” and said she was grateful that the work was finally done after “many mayors and many administrations.” Donley said he has seen the street since the work was finished, calling it “very nice.”
In his report, Hastings said city income tax collections are up 8 percent this year. “Make of that what you will,” he said. He said the city has obtained about $3 million in grants in the last three years, accounting for much of the work residents have seen around the city.
“A lot of what gets done goes back to grants,” said the mayor.
Hastings said he recently was the guest speaker at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s policy conference at Salt Fork State Park, attended by state lawmakers from around Ohio. He said he spoke with a number of legislators and “got some things on their radar” in regard to Hillsboro projects, including building a hotel in the uptown area.
Hastings said the city is pursuing Ohio New Markets Tax Credits, which provide “an incentive for investors to fund businesses in low-income communities” that are “traditionally underserved by private sector capital,” according to a program description, which added that $10 million in tax credit allocation authority is available each year.
Council approved changes to the city’s employee handbook as recommended by Wilkin, who said city officials “received input from the employees of the city by way of the employee relations committee.”
He said the current manual “is outdated and in pieces” and the revised legislation and updated manual “will clean up the old and make sure all employees are guided by the same manual,” whether they are part of the city’s one remaining union, the Fraternal Order of Police, or non-union.
Wilkin also reported that the city is changing its insurance enrollment period to Oct. 1 due to laws that become effective in January in connection with the health care reform act.
Wilkin said the city received one insurance bid from Neace Lukens and a letter from CBIA, with Lukens coming in with the lowest and winning bid. He said insurance will remain with Anthem.
“The interesting news is that the pricing we received from Anthem is a rate hold on the premiums,” said Wilkin. He said he asked Cherri Pitzer, who has worked in the auditor’s office for more than 25 years, if she could remember an insurance company coming back with a rate hold.
“Her answer was ‘no,’” said Wilkin. “This is great news. We can continue to provide the same high level insurance at no additional cost to the city or the employees.”
Wilkin also noted that a new mural in town pays tribute to the Hillsboro Indians. He thanked Dan Pierce and the Hillsboro Elks, Chad Abbott of Chad Abbott Signs, Jane Tissot of Tissot’s Home Center and Harley Maines of Maines Tin Shoppe for their work and partnership on the project.
Wilkin said, “You may have noticed in years past that the Streets Department barn roof was in bad shape. For maintenance purposes the city budgeted the necessary funds to paint the roof this year. The city was awarded a grant through the Hillsboro Elks and utilized the funds to paint the ‘Hillsboro Indians’ mural onto the Street Department barns.”
The barns are near the high school football field, and the new rooftop artwork is visible from West Main Street. Koogler said he had noticed them when attending a recent football game, saying they look “very good.”
In other business:
• Wilkin reported that the traffic light at Oak and West Main Streets, which has been on flashing mode for 60 days, will be removed permanently, in line with an Ohio Department of Transportation traffic study.
• Wilkin said that work has begun on a right turn lane at Pizza Hut on North High and Harry Sauner Road.
• Work on the pedestrian bridge on North High Street is scheduled to begin this week, said Wilkin.
• Hillsboro is in the running for a planning grant to create a bike trail from the North High Street and Northview intersection to Shaffer Park, said Wilkin.
• Sign variances were approved for Southern State Community College and the East Main Flagway.
• Per a request from festival chair Michael Bradford, the dates for the 2016 Festival of the Bells were approved – June 30 and July 1-2 – with the festival placed in the Street and Safety Committee for further discussion.
• Council approved the annual resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the budget commission, authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying them to the county auditor.
• Council approved an ordinance designed to amend and remove unnecessary redundancies from the Hillsboro Code of Ordinances.
• Donley commended Wilkin for his work as the safety and service director, and thanked Wilkin for his “service to the city of Hillsboro.”
• And Donley accepted an appointment to a reentry task force after council member Justin Harsha said his schedule would not permit him to continue with the group.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.