A new sign on the North East Street fire station in Hillsboro calling it the “J. Henry and Jean A. Head Fire Station” came about because of a bequest from the late Jean Head which could mean as much as $700,000 to the city of Hillsboro to be applied to the debt owed on the station.
Head, who died in 2015 at age 91, owned and operated Jean’s Flowers and Gifts in Hillsboro for several decades. Her will bequeathed funds “to be held in trust for the purpose of building capital improvements for the Hillsboro Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services,” specifically “for the erection of a new building for the fire department and EMS squad for Hillsboro.”
Head’s will was signed in January 2008, just a month after the city purchased the old Washington school property, and about two years before the new fire station was completed at that location – while Head was still living and without the city having any knowledge of Head’s bequest.
It was also written before the city disbanded Hillsboro Fire & Rescue in 2013 and began contracting for fire and EMS services with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, which is now operating under a lease agreement at the new fire station, which is still owned by the city.
Law Director Fred Beery said Wednesday he is preparing an application to be filed with Highland County probate court seeking instruction “as to whether the trust proceeds… may be used to retire any or part of the bonded indebtedness incurred in the construction of the firehouse…” according to a draft of the application provided by Beery.
Beery said the erection of the new sign on the front of the fire station represents a good faith gesture demonstrating the city’s intent to utilize the funds in a manner consistent with Head’s wishes.
The funds left for a Hillsboro fire station are actually what remain after other items in Head’s will were distributed. Her will leaves the “residue and remainder” of her estate to the Clinton County Foundation of Wilmington to be administered for the construction of a new Hillsboro fire station. Beery estimated that the funds will amount to about $700,000.
Head’s will added that “the funds shall not be utilized in any manner that would hinder the use of any grants or additional public funds,” and that a new building or capital improvements “shall be dedicated to the memory of J. Henry and Jean A. Head.” J. Henry Head was Jean Head’s husband, who died in 1996.
In his application, Beery notes that “on December 24, 2007, the City of Hillsboro purchased the Washington School property from the Hillsboro City Schools to construct a new firehouse, which project was completed with use of bonded indebtedness.”
He writes that Head signed her will in January 2008, “prior to the construction of the firehouse.”
Beery’s application notes that the firehouse was completed and is currently in use by the Paint Creek district under a contract arrangement, and that “the Safety and Service Director has dedicated the new firehouse as a memorial to J. Henry Head and Jean A. Head…”
The sign honoring the Heads was erected about two weeks ago, on Nov. 17.
The city is requesting from probate Judge Kevin Greer “instruction or declaration as to whether the trust proceeds, above described, may be used to retire any or part of the bonded indebtedness incurred in the construction of the firehouse under the circumstances described herein.”
Even if the city receives a favorable ruling from the court, Head’s will makes reference to a director of the trust, who she said will have “full discretion to utilize the funds in accordance with the instructions as provided.”
If the city can make use of the funds left by Head, it would make a sizable dent in the total money owed through bond debt which was incurred on the fire station in conjunction with remodeling the police station on West Walnut Street.
City Auditor Gary Lewis said Wednesday that as it currently stands, the city owes about $2 million, including interest, in bonds scheduled to be paid through 2029.
If it can be used, the estimated $700,000 from Head’s estate would likely be placed into escrow and used to help make the annual bond payments, said Lewis, who noted that the city’s bond deal includes an early “call date” in 2022 which, if utilized, would make the city’s total payments about $300,000 less than the 2029 payoff date. Any deal the city makes with Paint Creek could lead to an even more favorable result for the city, Lewis noted.
With Paint Creek’s lease expiring at the end of the year, the district and the city are in negotiations on a deal for Paint Creek to either purchase the new station or engage in a long-term agreement that would amount to a lease-to-buy arrangement over several years.
Jean Head began her flower business in the 1950s in her parents’ garage and chicken coop in the 200 block of East Pleasant Street, moving to its permanent North High Street location in 1961, where it remained the city’s premier floral business until its closing in 1995.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.