The city of Hillsboro is on pace to more than double the number of drug arrests that were made last year, and the police chief says that’s the result of a concerted effort to crack down on illegal narcotics.
Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin told city council Monday night that last year there were 189 drug arrests in Hillsboro. Through just the first five months of this year, 176 drug arrests have already been made, said Wilkin.
On Tuesday, Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited said the increased arrests are due to several factors, and that cracking down on the illegal drug trade helps deter other crimes.
Whited said the use of the K9 police dog has contributed to the additional crackdown, as well as the work of an undercover officer dedicated to uncovering drug activity.
But overall, the main factor is “aggressive enforcement,” said Whited.
“That’s our problem area, and we all know that,” said Whited. He said the illegal drug problem contributes to other crime, such as theft and the sale of stolen goods for money to buy more drugs.
Whited said the addition of new officers on the force has also made a difference, since they bring an aggressive attitude that inspires the whole department, including him.
Whited said the forceful approach to fighting drugs is necessary because drug activity continues to increase here and elsewhere in the region.
“Every community around is seeing the same thing,” he said.
Council member Justin Harsha reported Monday on his findings regarding what the city can do to discourage landlords from renting to meth-makers, leading council member Bill Alexander to ask the safety director if laws in place are enough to ensure that people do not move into meth-tainted dwellings.
Wilkin said he believed the law is sufficient because it allows the city to condemn properties where meth was made, and proof must be presented that the property is clean before the condemnation is lifted.
In other matters Monday, council voted unanimously to lower the sign permit fee for businesses to $100, a flat fee that replaces various sign fees that existed previously.
Council’s approval came following a recommendation from the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee chaired by Ann Morris, along with members Harsha and Dick Donley.
“This is in an effort to simplify the overall sign permit procedure, as well as make it more affordable for business owners to obtain attractive signage,” Morris said, reading from her report. “Other changes to the sign ordinance will also include a proposed fine if signs are built or constructed without following the sign ordinance rules and regulations. Signs in the uptown area will still require approval from the design review board.”
Council President Lee Koogler raised an issue at the end of Monday’s meeting that he said had been brought to his attention regarding the city’s lodging tax, which affects three motels and raises about $30,000 a year.
Koogler said that an opinion expressed by state Auditor Dave Yost in an audit of the Highland County Convention and Visitors Bureau – which benefits from the lodging tax – stated that under state law Hillsboro should not be collecting a lodging tax because Highland County also collects such a tax, and the county’s was enacted first.
Koogler said that Fred Beery, the law director, had suggested that council could enact a moratorium on collecting the fee while Beery seeks additional opinions. Donley made a motion to do just that, which council passed unanimously.
Beery said Tuesday that Yost’s view of the tax was “a passing comment in an auditor’s opinion” on another entity, and no one from the state has told the city that the tax is improper.
When the issue was raised previously, Beery said the city was collecting a service fee, not a tax, and the county’s tax and the city’s fee can coexist. But he added, “As we know from Obamacare, a tax versus a fee can become an issue.”
The city’s lodging tax was enacted in 2005. Currently, only three motels are subject to the tax, which brought in just $29,469 last year, said Auditor Gary Lewis. Lewis said the tax department notified the motels Tuesday about the moratorium.
In another matter, council also voted unanimously to “express its intention” to place both the Colony Theatre and the former bus barn property into the newly-created Hillsboro Community Improvement Corporation (CIC).
Koogler said that since the state has not yet issued an identification number for the new CIC, council could not officially place something into the entity, but could express its plan to do so.
During his report, Wilkin used an amplifier due to his recovery following recent throat surgery. He thanked city employees who helped during Saturday’s AEP power outage.
“We had to call in extra patrol officers, street employees, and both of our plants had employees who were working hard to ensure everyone in Hillsboro had fresh drinking water and that our wastewater was being treated,” said Wilkin.
He said the generators at both plans “consume anywhere from 75 to 125 gallons of fuel per hour, so we had to ensure we had fuel supplies to last through this event.”
Wilkin said the city is working on a plan to keep traffic lights operating in the event of another blackout. Whited said Monday that there were no accidents reported as the result of the disabled lights.
In other business:
• Wilkin reported that a project on Beech Street will result in four additional parking spots near the Masonic Temple.
• Wilkins said four youth workers have been hired through the summer for the third straight year, and encouraged people to contact the city if they know of a young person interested in working over the summer.
• Council heard the second reading of an ordinance to annex into the city all unincorporated land that is surrounded by city land.
• Council approved a request from Bill Bowman and New Life Ministries to use Liberty Park for a food giveaway on Sept. 19.
• Council heard Auditor Gary Lewis report that the city has $6.5 million on hand.
• And council again heard local resident Jennifer Reed question the city’s enforcement of a noxious weed ordinance in regard to her property.
Along with Koogler, Harsha, Donley, Morris and Alexander, council members Claudia Klein, Tracy Aranyos and Rebecca Wilkin were present Monday.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.