As it has in the past, discussion surrounding Hillsboro City Council’s decision on whether or not to join Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District as a member or continue utilizing its services on a contract basis proved to be contentious at a special council meeting Friday evening, with one man saying that the city joining Paint Creek would be a “very loose and irresponsible” decision.
The matter must be decided before the end of the year, because the city’s current contract for fire and EMS coverage with Paint Creek expires then.
Since January 2014, the city has had a contractual relationship with Paint Creek for coverage of Hillsboro for about $570,000 a year, paid from the city’s General Fund.
Council president Lee Koogler said there are “certainly pros and cons” to joining the fire district.
If the city joins Paint Creek, Koogler said, a 5.5-mill levy would have to be imposed to pay for its services, equating to about $152 annually per $100,000 valuation for residential properties and $192 annually per $100,000 valuation for commercial properties.
If the city joins Paint Creek as a member, a city representative would have a vote on the district’s board, allowing the city more influence in its operations, Koogler said. According to Koogler, council member Dick Donley serves as the city liaison to the board, but has no vote.
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, safety and service director Mel McKenzie and council members Donley, Claudia Klein, Ann Morris and Tracy Aranyos all said dollars from the General Fund currently being used to pay for the Paint Creek contract could be used to stabilize the city’s finances and fund sewer and infrastructure projects in Hillsboro.
Former city auditor Rosemary Ryan disputed whether General Fund dollars could be used to pay for such projects.
Hastings said he doesn’t want a tax increase, since he owns a number of properties that would be affected by increased property taxes, but feels joining Paint Creek is the best choice for the city due to the General Fund savings and the opportunity for Hillsboro to have a vote on the board.
Chris Matthews, who was outspoken in the past against Hillsboro disbanding its own fire department and contracting with Paint Creek, said he feels a tax increase would be unfair, and that the city joining Paint Creek would be a “very loose and irresponsible” decision.
“I oppose this completely,” he said.
Kay Barrera, who said she has already been forced to pay for sidewalk repairs that turned out to be more expensive than they should have been, was in agreement with Matthews’ arguments.
Jaymara Captain asked city officials to do more thorough research on the matter, since she felt some audience members seemed to have more accurate information.
As reported by The Times-Gazette, earlier this year, Paint Creek moved into the newer Hillsboro fire station on North East Street under a short-term lease agreement. A longer lease or purchase agreement is being negotiated.
Koogler said two more meetings will be held on the matter.
The next meeting will be held Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal courtroom at the Highland County Justice Center, where Friday’s meeting was also held.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.