Trustees of the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District have more questions for Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings before they agree to a proposal from the mayor for Paint Creek to lease and possibly purchase the city’s newer fire station on North East Street.
Paint Creek established its presence in Hillsboro by purchasing the old uptown fire station on North High Street from Hastings in 2012 before it began covering the city. It continues to use the uptown station, but both Paint Creek and city officials have expressed a desire for Paint Creek to move to the newer fire station if a deal can be completed. The city owes about a million dollars on the newer fire station and the Walnut Street police station.
On Tuesday, the Paint Creek board considered a proposal from Hastings and, according to fire chief Bradley George, board members were unclear about some points in the deal, and not satisfied with other points they feel need further clarification.
George said the offer includes a short-term monthly lease of $2,500 paid to the city for the use of the North East Street station, with a July 30 deadline to decide whether to go forward with a purchase or a lease-to-purchase arrangement. George said that considering the fact that an appraisal has yet to be completed and attorneys need to be involved in the process, board members felt that the July deadline was too soon.
George said the deal offered by Hastings stipulates that if an agreement is not reached by July 30, the deal is off and Paint Creek would face a “substantial” monthly rate increase. George said board members were concerned about the vagueness of the term “substantial.”
George said that Hillsboro’s non-voting representative on the board, city council member Dick Donley, was asked to meet with Hastings to clarify several points. Then the board will re-examine the matter, said George, either in a special session or at the next regularly scheduled board meeting.
Hastings said Wednesday that the July 30 date is not an unreasonable deadline. He said he learned Wednesday that the appraisal has been completed and is being mailed to the parties on Friday, which he said was plenty of time to consider the deal and make a decision by the end of July.
“I have always been clear that I wanted this done in the spring or early summer so council could turn its attention to whether to join the district by the end of the year, which is a completely separate issue,” said Hastings.
Hillsboro currently has a contractual agreement with Paint Creek. Because of a recent law change that allows more members to join a fire district, the city is faced with whether to continue a contractual arrangement paid from the city’s General Fund, or join the district as a voting member, which would impose an increase in property taxes.
Through a public records request, The Times-Gazette obtained three letters from Hastings to Paint Creek since March 1. The earliest letter proposes a temporary short-term lease amount of $3,500 per month, but Hastings later agreed to $2,500 based on a Paint Creek counterproposal.
In a March 1, letter to George, the mayor expressed frustration about the fire district’s expanded use of the newer fire station.
“As it stands today, we feel the situation has gotten out of control,” Hastings wrote. “Paint Creek now occupies all 8 bays of our entire garage and any security to the building has been rendered useless because the master code to the building has become almost common knowledge.”
Hastings wrote that Paint Creek and the city would revert to an initial agreement for the district to use just one bay, and adds, “All other vehicles belonging to the Paint Creek District must be removed from the premises by March 8, 2017.”
However, after Paint Creek apparently responded with a willingness to pay rent short-term while negotiating a long-term lease or purchase of the station, Hastings wrote on March 8, “I want to offer a solution that addresses both of our concerns, that being for Paint Creek to inhabit the East Street firehouse and for the City to decrease the financial burden of the facility.”
Hastings proposed that beginning Jan. 1, 2018 and running through Dec. 31, 2029, “the lease for the facility will be $5,000 per month (fixed), and Paint Creek pays utilities, maintenance and insurance for the building. Upon signing the lease, Paint Creek District will sign-over the uptown firehouse property to the city.”
The letter notes that the lease payments will total $720,000 over 12 years, after which the city would “give you the building” for one dollar.
“This arrangement will accomplish the same result as a sale but with less expense and no complex negotiations,” Hastings wrote. “Your total lease payments are $720,000 plus the value of the uptown firehouse. This arrangement provides a long-term solution for you, a fixed cost for budget purposes, and the assurance that the building will be ‘off the market’ for anyone having other ideas for its use.”
On Monday, April 24, Hastings sent another letter to Paint Creek, saying that it represented a “recap” of his discussion with George during an April 5 tour of the North East Street firehouse, and clarifying that the short-term $2,500 per month rental agreement was “a temporary arrangement until the North East Street deal is completed, which is why this rental agreement is valid for 120 days, expiring July 30, 2017. This is our good faith effort to house you in the facility until a permanent agreement is complete.”
Hastings wrote that once the lease-purchase deal was agreed on, “you will still pay $2,500 per month through December 2017 as agreed and then begin paying $5,000 per month on January 1, 2018. Please bear in mind that if no deal is reached by July 30, 2017, this agreement expires and you will be looking at a substantial rate increase.”
The deal would ultimately need to be approved by both the Paint Creek board and city council.
Hastings said Wednesday that insisting on a decision by July 30 “is just me being prudent to ensure there is no foot-dragging.” He said he is “happy to meet with them again” to answer any questions.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.