Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District staff members are in the process of finalizing a move into the newer, more modern North East Street fire station in Hillsboro in anticipation of a short-term lease agreement being approved, while a long-term purchase or lease agreement is being pursued.
Fire chief Bradley George said Friday that he, mayor Drew Hastings and others conducted a walk-through of the newer fire station Wednesday to determine what property owned by the city needed to be removed from the station. He said his staff is “cleaning and straightening up” the North East Street station in preparation for the move.
George said the future of Paint Creek’s downtown station at the corner of North High Street and Gov. Trimble Place – which is part of the old city building that housed Hillsboro Fire & Rescue for decades until the station on North East Street opened in 2010 – is yet to be determined.
The city and Paint Creek have agreed to have both the newer and older stations appraised as negotiations for purchase or a long-term lease are negotiated. The city owes about a million dollars on the joint venture that resulted in construction of the North East Street fire station and the remodel of a building on West Walnut Street that serves as the police station.
Paint Creek purchased its current Hillsboro location on North High Street from Hastings in 2012 for $260,000 after Hastings spent about $85,000 on upgrades, following his purchase of the old city building 2010 for $74,000. Although Paint Creek was not yet covering the city – Hillsboro Fire & Rescue was still covering the city and occupying the newer station – Paint Creek wanted a central location to cover townships around Hillsboro that had signed on with Paint Creek.
As part of that purchase agreement, Hastings had a right of first refusal if Paint Creek ever sold the station. But Hastings said recently he has no interest in buying it and would waive the stipulation. Plus, since the city now contracts with Paint Creek for fire coverage, ethics laws likely prevent Hastings from purchasing the building, an issue that was not a factor when Hastings sold the building because Paint Creek was not covering Hillsboro at the time.
Paint Creek took over Hillsboro coverage in January 2014 after Hillsboro City Council voted in late 2013 to disband Hillsboro Fire & Rescue and instead enter into a contract with Paint Creek.
Both George and Hastings said they could not comment on the terms of the short-term lease since it has not been formalized and has only been discussed in executive session, but Hastings said the revenue will be a benefit to the city’s coffers and the amount will be made public once city council and the Paint Creek board approve the arrangement.
City council meets Monday, while the next scheduled meeting for the Paint Creek board is April 25 at the North East Street station.
With the city’s permission, Paint Creek has long stored a couple of its larger vehicles in bays at the North East Street station, and has been incrementally making use of other amenities there. Hastings said recently that the time had come to make the arrangement more official with a formal lease agreement while negotiations move forward on a long-term purchase or lease by Paint Creek of the newer station.
Hillsboro’s contract with Paint Creek for fire coverage – a separate issue from the use of the newer fire station – runs through the end of this year, when both sides will face a decision about whether the city will continue a contractual relationship or join the district as a member. As it stands now, the city does not have a vote in Paint Creek matters, although it has a council representative who attends Paint Creek board meetings.
But a state law that previously limited the number of members on a fire district board changed recently to lift such restrictions, paving the way for Hillsboro to join as a member if council and the Paint Creek board approve it.
If Hillsboro officially becomes a member of the district – giving it a vote on the board – a 5.5 mill property tax will be added to the tax bills of city property owners, as is the case with the townships that are part of the Paint Creek district. About $570,000 a year from the city income tax that now pays the contract with Paint Creek would be freed up for the city to use on other projects.
Some have said that a part of the city income tax is designated for the fire department, and if it’s not being used for fire coverage it should be rolled back. They point to 1978, when Hillsboro voters passed a tax increase of four-tenths of one percent with ballot language saying the tax hike was for “the support of the life squad and other municipal purposes for the City of Hillsboro.”
But the 1978 tax was repealed and replaced by another tax increase in 1986, which is the last time the city income tax was hiked. According to the 1986 ballot language, the new tax of one-half of one percent was “for additional funds for general municipal operations, maintenance, new equipment, extension and enlargement of municipal services and facilities, and capital improvements of the city.” There was no mention of the fire department or the life squad in the 1986 ballot language.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at email@example.com.