Hillsboro City Council’s Street and Safety Committee will examine whether FRS Transportation’s recently-enacted shuttle routes in the city violate any regulations after mayor Drew Hastings suggested that the service might run afoul of the city’s taxi ordinance, with the mayor also questioning the growing influence of non-profit organizations on Hillsboro and Highland County as a whole.
But the executive director of FRS said Tuesday that the mayor was wrong in claiming that the service had not been discussed with city officials before being implemented.
While he said his comments were “not a diatribe,” Hastings spoke at length about FRS and other non-profits whose service expansions and projects “treat us like suckers.”
“If they can pull this off, I don’t blame anybody for pulling it off,” said Hastings.
Hastings was referring to a new shuttle route that began in December and makes 20 stops in Hillsboro as it transports people back and forth between the city and the Rocky Fork Lake region each Monday through Friday. The service costs only $1 per ride, and there are no income restrictions for passengers.
The shuttle came about as part of a Healthier Buckeye Council transportation grant designed to “help local governments collaborate with the private and non-profit sectors to reduce reliance on public assistance in their communities,” according to a program description on the FRS Transportation website.
Hastings said that the proliferation of non-profits such as FRS and others can mean they “dictate policy for the city.” He said FRS Transportation had revenue of $1.7 million last year, while, by comparison, Hillsboro had $1.5 million in water-sewer revenue.
“If someone tried to open a (competing) water company, we would be outraged,” said Hastings.
Hastings questioned how FRS could “lay out bus stops and not even touch base with the city,” calling it “a blatant disregard” for city officials and city planning, and saying the lack of communication was “insulting to me.”
But Joe Adray, executive director of FRS, said Tuesday that he spoke with former safety and service director Todd Wilkin about the FRS shuttle service back in September.
“I asked him, ‘Is there any problem?’” said Adray. “He said no. I asked, “Do I need to file anything? Do I need to take this before council?’ He said no. He said these are state and county roads, and there are no rules or regulations.”
Adray said the new route is certified by the Ohio Department of Transportation and is an authorized ODOT service. He said funding for the route only lasts through June, unless they reapply and are awarded more funding, or the route become self-sustaining through ridership or through city, county or business funding if the route is deemed beneficial.
“The purpose is to help people get a step up,” said Adray.
“It’s not a taxi,” said Adray. He said there is one shuttle covering each day with two drivers trading shifts, and there has been “low enrollment” so far from clients, which he said was expected at the start. He said the figure Hastings cited from 2016 in regard to FRS revenue comes from multiple counties and services.
Adray said he was disappointed in the mayor’s comments.
“It’s sad, because there are a lot of people working really hard to provide services for people who fall through the cracks,” including people who don’t qualify for public assistance but are under-employed and need additional help such as transportation. He said bringing people into Hillsboro contributes to the city’s economy.
Hastings said Tuesday that there is no record of Adray meeting with Wilkin, but added that communication between the safety and service director and the mayor’s office was not good in the weeks and months leading up to Hastings’ trial last November.
“So this if the first I’ve heard of it,” said Hastings, adding that it was never mentioned in a report to council or in staff meetings.
Lee Koogler, council president, placed the matter into Justin Harsha’s Street and Safety Committee.
Hastings also reported on a project involving Shawn Adkins, the public works lead, in which a street crew has removed some of the blacktop from West Main Street to show the brick beneath the roadway near the old BP station.
He invited council members to visit the area and consider returning the street to its original brick in order to enhance the historic appearance of the uptown region.
In other business Monday:
• Koogler placed a request to lower water charges from the manager of the Greystone Motel into the Utilities Committee.
• Council heard Hastings report that he had met with the mayor of Mt. Orab about TIF districts in connection with the mayor’s effort to establish a downtown development district, and that he had a “good meeting” with a potential hotel developer.
• Council unanimously approved a sign waiver for Arby’s.
• Council heard Mary Todd Hardeman of the Design Review Committee remind council that a certificate of appropriateness was necessary to perform demolition work on the Colony, with Hastings reporting that demolition bids were currently being taken.
• Council heard Harsha report that his committee recommended leaving a crosswalk on East Main Street at its current location but with better striping and other improvements, and also recommended not pursuing an idea to combine city police dispatch services with the Highland County Sheriff’s office.
• Hastings urged council to “put pressure on” Fred Beery, the law director, to more quickly receive approval to tear down blighted properties in the city, with the mayor saying that despite money being allocated, “we’ve not managed to get one building down.”
• Council passed amendments to zoning ordinances in regard to non-conforming use and a board of appeals, passed resolutions to increase appropriations in the fire pension fund and street fund, passed a resolution in regard to an agreement with ODOT for repaving costs, and passed a resolution to replace a primary computer server in municipal court that crashed.
• Council heard Adkins report that windy conditions had led to Christmas wreaths causing breakage of a couple of street light globes.
• Koogler reminded council members and other officials of state ethics filings coming due by the middle of April.
• The mayor’s guest Jessica Polstra led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Along with Hastings, Koogler and Harsha, council members Dick Donley, Tracy Aranyos, Ann Morris, Rebecca Wilkin and Bill Alexander were present Monday, along with city auditor Gary Lewis and law director Fred Beery. Council member Claudia Klein was absent due to illness.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.