Several owners and managers of multi-unit apartment and housing complexes voiced their opposition Monday to a planned change in the way Hillsboro charges water customers who live in those dwellings, saying the change is not fair or affordable for renters or property owners.
But city officials backing the change said it is a move to ensure fairness in the city and make sure everyone pays the same minimum bill.
The issue involves the minimum water bill currently charged to most city residents and an effort to apply the same minimum to users who live in multi-unit dwellings that are served by just one or two water meters, rather than a separate meter for each unit.
City officials who support the change say that rather than requiring owners to undergo the expense of installing meters in each unit, the new method – charging an extra $18 per unit – will mean everyone in the city is paying roughly the same minimum bill.
Representatives of various apartment and housing complexes agreed that the increase was a burden on renters who are already struggling to make ends meet and an unfair mandate on rental owners often operating on small profit margins.
Local property manager Robyn Coomer said that people who rent the dwellings she manages are “the working poor, but they’re working.” She said charging separately for each unit was not necessarily fair because six people could be living in one household, compared to six users in separate units.
“I don’t think this is fair,” she said.
Julie Wise, executive director of Highland County Community Action, which manages Highland Heights, provided income statistics in Highland County and said an extra $18 a month “is a lot of money” for tenants. She also asked for clarification as to whether the change applies to businesses as well as residences, and was told that it did.
Diane Salen, who works for the parent company of Treewood Apartments, said Treewood already pays the city an amount which works out to more than the minimum bill, which is included in the rent.
“We’re not rolling in money,” she said. “This $18 makes a difference.”
Melinda Slife of Fairfield Homes and Nancy Couser of Millennia Housing joined others in making similar points about the added costs to renters or property owners and what they considered the unfairness of the change, along with describing other services they said they may not be able to provide for residents if the change is enacted.
Residents of Lilly Hill condominiums, the senior housing complex on the east side of Hillsboro, also said the increase was unfair, with resident Sherry Moore saying the complex provides its own infrastructure services as well as snow removal, and only depends on the city for police and fire protection.
But Becky Wilkin, whose Utilities Committee is recommending the amended billing structure, said in response to concerns expressed about the income levels of many renters that those impacted are not the only low-income people in the city. She said she disagreed that “because they’re in a multi-unit, low income residences that no one else is in the same boat.” She said she has had to make adjustments at her home to better manage her own water usage.
Mayor Drew Hastings and council member Tracy Aranyos said the current billing system is unfair to thousands of other Hillsboro residents who have long paid the full minimum each month. Hastings compared it to a pizza business that provides the first pizza for $10 and the second for $5, saying a lot of people are paying for the $10 pizzas “so others get theirs for $5.”
Hastings said he took issue with “making us look like bad guys picking on the poor.” He said the city is “capturing” a segment of water users who have “never been captured before.” He said about 600 units in the city “have been lucky enough not to pay it for years and years and years.” He said similar efforts are being made across Ohio.
“Part of good governing is to find disparities and remedy it,” said Hastings.
Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin explained the city’s billing method, and said that once everyone is being billed equally, the city hopes to examine whether the minimum bill can be lowered for all users, and whether the city can provide residents with a third straight year of a moratorium on previously-scheduled rate hikes.
In the meantime, said Wilkin, the rate change “might be a way of raising awareness to efficiency” of water use. He said, “The users of your buildings have an impact on our system. Right now, they’re not paying for that impact on our system.” The ordinance, which officials have said will mean an extra $120,000 a year for the city, had its second reading Monday.
In another matter, council voted 4-3 to adopt a recommendation by the Finance Committee to delay for 60 days the third reading of a resolution to purchase a storage building and the Armintrout building from John “Buck” Wilkin.
As reported last week by The Times-Gazette, the committee met last Thursday, with Donley recommending the delay due to the unknown potential cost of a judgment against the city in favor of former city employee Kirby Ellison. Donley and committee member Bill Alexander voted to recommend the delay, with council member Ann Morris voting against.
On Monday, Donley, Alexander, Wilkin and Justin Harsha voted to delay the purchase, while Morris, Aranyos and Claudia Klein voted against the delay. The city on Friday asked an appeals court to reconsider the Ellison decision.
In other matters, council:
• Learned from Todd Wilkin that Capt. Jeff Murphy is retiring from the Hillsboro Police Department after nearly 27 years, after serving as a patrol officer, undercover drug officer, sergeant and now captain. “He will be sorely missed, but we wish him the best,” said Wilkin.
• Learned from Wilkin that Jim Herdman is retiring from the water treatment plant after nearly 22 years, with Wilkin thanking him for his service and joking that he was the 2004 recipient of the “Pot Stirrer” award, and “he has worn that crown for many years.”
• Learned from Hastings and Wilkin that the city has hired Phillip Lutton as a full-time code enforcement officer, with Wilkin saying that Lutton has six years of code enforcement experience in Fayette County, and noting that the city has gone from 10 property cleanups in 2012 to 145 last year with just part-time enforcement efforts.
• Went into executive session on the wastewater treatment mediation, with Wilkin saying in open session that he would be in Dayton on Tuesday in mediation with engineer CH2MHill on the subject.
• Heard a request from Nicholas Beatty about a permit for a food truck in Hillsboro. Beatty said the red tape currently required does not provide the expediency necessary to successfully operate the business. Council approved a variance for Beatty to get started, with Morris abstaining.
• Heard local resident Barb Cole question why a scheduled Community Enhancement Committee meeting prior to the council meeting was held so quietly that members of the audience in attendance were not aware that it was under way, with Klein, the committee chair, responding that she did announce the meeting had begun, but people were busy talking, adding that no public comments were being taken anyway, with Cole questioning that, too. The meeting was to approve changes to a yard sale ordinance and present it for a first reading.
• Heard Morris, Aranyos and Klein urge the mayor to begin work on the uptown plaza, with Morris asking for a timeline of progress, Aranyos asking for “something to happen in the next 30 days,” and Klein saying, “We need to show citizens we’re moving on with the plaza,” as well as on the disposition of the Colony theater.
• Heard Hastings report that Kevin Barreras has resigned from the Planning Commission after about 12 years of service, with the mayor saying “he will be missed.”
• Heard Alexander report that his Civil Service-Employee Relations Committee is working on revising discrepancies in pay ordinances and working with the city’s Civil Service Commission.
• Heard Harsha report that he and police Chief Todd Whited had met with the Festival of the Bells Committee to discuss potential changes with the festival, although little is expected to change this year.
• Unanimously passed a resolution amending the city zoning map to change zoning of 261 W. Walnut St. and 957 N. High St. from “Residential A” to “Residential B.”
• Passed as an emergency a change to the sign ordinance that eliminates fees for replacing existing signs with similar signs, although sign review is still required. Harsha cast the lone vote against suspending the rules, but voted for the ordinance.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.