An independent appraisal of the value of the six-year-old fire station on North East Street in Hillsboro will be conducted to determine its value, with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District and the city of Hillsboro splitting the cost as negotiations move forward for a possible sale of the station to Paint Creek.
Following an executive session Tuesday evening with Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, the Paint Creek board approved a resolution that authorized pursuing the appraisal, according to fire chief Bradley George, who described Tuesday’s negotiations as positive.
On Monday at the Hillsboro City Council meeting, Hastings told council members that he was in the midst of talks with Paint Creek regarding the sale of the North East Street fire station, and should soon have news to report on the progress of the talks.
At the conclusion of Monday’s meeting, council adjourned with Hastings into executive session for about a half hour to discuss negotiations. Council took no action when members reconvened.
The Paint Creek board’s meeting on Tuesday was held at the North East Street fire station, where board members also toured the facility. The mayor was invited to participate in the executive session with Paint Creek board members, along with George and Jon Salyer, Paint Creek’s human resources manager.
Back in 2008, city council approved the construction of the North East Street fire station, along with the purchase and remodel of an existing building on West Walnut Street for a new police station, at a combined cost of about $1.7 million. The fire station opened in 2010, occupied by Hillsboro Fire & Rescue.
But after council approved a measure in 2013 supported by Hastings to disband Hillsboro’s fire department and instead contract with Paint Creek for services, the city’s new fire station was no longer officially in use, except for serving as the location for various meetings.
Paint Creek had in the meantime purchased Hillsboro’s old fire station at the corner of North High Street and Governor Trimble Place for $260,000 from Hastings, who had bought it in 2010 and later spent about $85,000 on upgrades.
The city granted Paint Creek permission to use bays at the North East Street station for a couple of its vehicles, but the mayor has said recently that Paint Creek has been utilizing other parts of the building, too, prompting him to enter into talks with Paint Creek for the purchase of the facility.
On a related matter at Monday’s city council meeting, Hillsboro resident Chris Mathews addressed council, saying that a recent article in The Times-Gazette prompted him to show up to voice his opposition to the possibility of the city joining the Paint Creek district because it would raise property taxes. Mathews said such a move would be “irresponsible,” as well as “absurd.” He said the city income tax “already paid for a fire department.” He said he wanted council members to state their position on the subject.
Since January 2014, the city has had a contractual relationship with Paint Creek for coverage of Hillsboro for about $570,000 a year, whereas townships covered by the fire district are voting members under a plan that covers cost of membership through a 5.5 mill property tax. Until recently, the law allowed only nine voting members on a fire district board, but that provision no longer exists, clearing the way for Hillsboro to join like the townships. But a vote by council to join the district would bring with it the increase in property taxes just as the townships pay.
Mathews, who was usually among individuals who attended council meetings regularly in 2012 and 2013 to oppose disbanding Hillsboro Fire & Rescue, said Monday he was not arguing to bring back the Hillsboro fire department, but said that an eventual increase in property taxes was predicted when the Paint Creek deal was made, and now there were no other options.
Hastings responded, “There are options,” adding, “I don’t think you represent all of Hillsboro.”
“I didn’t say I did,” said Mathews.
Hastings said that over the last four or five years, he and city council had done “a remarkable job turning this city around,” including doing “a great deal with infrastructure,” adding that “the citizens want to see more improvements.” He said the city could continue paying for fire and EMS coverage from the General Fund, but the final decision would be council’s.
Council president Lee Koogler said he has always intended for council to begin addressing whether to join Paint Creek as a member during “the second half of the year,” with public notices to ensure people “have the opportunity to address it.”
In other business Monday, Nate Green, director of economic development for The Montrose Group, a development planning and lobbying company, addressed council at Hastings’ invitation to describe the purpose and benefits of an Economic Development District, a new historic preservation tool recently approved by the state legislature.
Green said the districts are targeted for historic downtowns such as Hillsboro’s, although they can be utilized in other areas. He said they make use of what he described as a “super TIF” – tax increment financing – to help revitalize downtowns.
But “you have to have an economic development plan,” said Green. He said his firm helps municipalities develop plans and write legislation to create the districts.
Council president Lee Koogler placed the issue in council member Ann Morris’ Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee.
In another matter, leaders and members of Cub Scout Troop 37 in Hillsboro attended Monday’s meeting. At the mayor’s invitation, scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the meeting, and then later requested permission to conduct a cleanup day at Liberty Park, suggesting the date of April 22.
Koogler and other council members thanked the scouts for their interest in performing the cleanup, and Hastings told scout leaders to contact his office to confirm the date.
In other matters:
• Hastings said he was abandoning the idea of stripping the pavement from West Main Street to leave the exposed brick after substantial negative feedback from residents and business owners. He said he had received “never so much comment” against a plan, adding, “It’s not going to happen.” He said public works lead Shawn Adkins would schedule repaving the brick that was already exposed as soon as temperatures permit.
• The mayor told council that the blight case brought against a West Walnut Street property by law director Fred Beery was successful, as previously reported in The Times-Gazette, paving the way for a “plan of action to tackle a lot of blight” in the city.
• Hastings said the city was going to “wait a brief time to decide appropriate action” in regard to a partial wall collapse of a property owned by Jack Hope after ascertaining what Hope’s plans are regarding the incident. Prior to the council meeting, Morris’ property committee met and urged that the vacant property ordinance be enforced and that letters be sent to vacant property owners to address issues that might avoid future issues such as the wall collapse.
• Council unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Hastings opposing Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan for the state to take over the collection of business taxes from municipalities, with city auditor Gary Lewis lending his support to the resolution, calling it “absolutely ridiculous” and another way for the state “getting its foot more and more in the door” of local control. Koogler also voiced his disagreement with Kasich’s proposal.
• Interim safety and service director Gary Silcott reported that the city is ready to put out bids for demolition of the back portion of the Colony, and said that income surveys will be conducted in parts of the city so various grants can be pursued. Silcott said Phase II of the North East Street project should begin this summer. Hastings said job postings have been placed for a permanent safety and service director.
• Lewis reported that the city has about $6.6 million on hand, and assured Koogler that a currently-low unencumbered balance was typical for this time of year, adding that he still expected a year-end carryover of about a half million dollars.
• Hastings reported that the Hillsboro Planning Commission denied a variance for a dog boarding kennel in the 500 block of North East Street, is considering a variance request for a metal fabrication business in the 900 block of West Main Street, and that Planning Commission chair Tom Eichinger is leading the effort toward a master zoning plan for the city.
• Hastings announced that Sherri Davis is the new tax commissioner, replacing Peggy Gard, who is retiring in May, and that Tasha Gregory will be deputy tax commissioner, moving from the water office.
• Council approved a resolution for Hillsboro to renew its partnership with Highland County Community Action to seek Community Housing Improvement Project (CHIP) grants, with Hastings noting that he met recently with the housing administrator, who agreed to provide better reporting and oversight on impacted city properties.
• Council member Justin Harsha reported that his Street and Safety Committee met to discuss the FRS transportation issue raised by Hastings at the February meeting, adding that the committee agreed not to pursue any changes in the service.
• Council approved an ordinance recommended by Rebecca Wilkin’s Utilities Committee to redistribute water and sewer revenue to address storm sewer problems, which Lewis said would amount to about $60,000 set aside each year and for which he would create a new fund, after being told by state officials that a new fund was permissible.
• Wilkin reported that her committee decided to take no action on a request from Greystone Motel to lower its water rates.
• A request by Hastings for consideration of a citywide trash collection plan was placed into the Utilities Committee by Koogler, who also placed into the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee a request by the mayor for the city to consider allowing a potential business to use the old water plant at the end of Homestead Avenue owned by the city.
• Council approved an ordinance designating 50 percent of revenue it receives from the hotel lodging fee to go to the Highland County Visitors Bureau, which Hastings said at the January meeting would amount to about $12,000.
• Council approved Lewis’ request for the lease/purchase of a dump truck with a snow plow for $167,000, financed over four years.
All council members were present except Dick Donley, whose absence was excused.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]