In a “State of the City” address delivered Monday at a meeting of the Highland County Tea Party, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings said that city finances are strong, the real estate market is healthy, and he continues to believe in making improvements to the uptown area.
But he also said that “the state of the city is a lot like the state of the nation – just like Trump, there are people who will do anything to see someone fail.”
Hastings opened with those remarks after Tea Party President Gary Furnish welcomed attendees to a meeting of what he called “Deplorables Anonymous” – referencing an oft-repeated campaign comment made by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton about Donald Trump’s supporters – and introduced Hastings by saying, “He is our Donald Trump.”
Hastings said he has believed in uptown Hillsboro since long before he became mayor, describing how he began purchasing property in town in 2006, five years before his 2011 election. He said he is sometimes criticized for advocating uptown improvements that some say would benefit his properties, but said, “I would focus on our uptown if I didn’t own anything uptown.”
Hastings said that popular regional shopping malls like The Greene near Dayton and Easton Towne Center near Columbus “are patterned to look like a quaint small town,” adding, “What they are is small town replicas. They want to be what we already are.”
He said it’s important for Hillsboro’s appearance to be impressive to visitors who, when they drive through town, should say, “This seems like a nice town, I wouldn’t mind living here.”
The mayor said that Hillsboro should take a regional attitude toward economic development. He said the Wilmington Air Park has advantages that Hillsboro doesn’t, such as being situated near an interstate highway. But as jobs come to the air park, employers turn to Highland County to supply the workforce, he said, a fact he said has been confirmed to him by Clinton County economic development leaders.
Hastings touted a number of street and infrastructure improvements that have happened and more that are being planned for 2017 and 2018, and again expressed enthusiasm for House Bill 233, an Ohio legislative initiative designed to help small towns refurbish their uptown districts.
When he asked for comments or questions from the audience of nearly 40 who were in attendance at the Hi-Tec Center, topics included street repairs, traffic flow, drug problems and a proposed uptown plaza.
Hastings said that despite suggestions to the contrary, an uptown plaza adjacent to the courthouse “doesn’t benefit me.” He said that the “legal issues” that dominated 2016 – referring to an investigation and trial in which he was acquitted – held up several projects, but regarding the plaza, “We’re going to figure out a way to do it.”
He said a feasibility study has been completed on a new hotel in the uptown area, which “we really could use.” He said one prime site for such an entity is the former Highland Enterprise Lumber site on West Main Street.
Hastings said the drug problem is a serious issue, and questioned the policy adopted by some first responders to carry Narcan in an effort to revive overdose victims. He said Narcan ends up being used “on the same four or five” people, and as long as that’s the case, “why get off of drugs?”
• Promised to meet with officials at Highland District Hospital regarding the hospital’s new pain management clinic.
• Urged someone to run for city council in the Southeast Ward, since Tracy Aranyos is moving out of the ward and seeking re-election at large.
• Touted an upcoming sidewalk project that will create a walking path to Southern State Community College, saying, “I don’t understand how we got formed in 1807 and still don’t have sidewalks” in key areas around town.
• And took suggestions on traffic flow, cleaning up trashy properties and fixing potholes.
In addition to Tea Party members and visitors, council members Tracy Aranyos, Claudia Klein and Ann Morris attended Monday’s event.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.