Despite Hillsboro City Council hearing the first reading Monday of a resolution for the city to become a member of the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, few city officials believe that’s what the city will end up doing.
Instead, another council meeting will probably be held before the end of the month, and the city is likely to seek another contract with Paint Creek for continued coverage, as it has done since 2014.
Meanwhile, the mayor said he is waiting on direction from council on whether it is serious about joining the district, or whether he and the safety and service director should seek another contract.
After months of discussion and hearings on the subject, and with the city’s current contract with Paint Creek coming to an end at the conclusion of 2017, it was anticipated that the city would make a final decision on its relationship with Paint Creek at Monday’s meeting.
Instead, just hours before the meeting, Law Director Fred Beery crafted the resolution for the city to join the district. Near the end of the meeting, Dick Donley, the council member who was filling in as president pro tempore, called a recess and conferred with Beery, and then presented the resolution to council.
With both council president Lee Koogler and council member Claudia Klein absent due to illness, the support of all six council members in attendance would have been required to suspend the rules and pass the measure as an emergency.
Officials said Tuesday that was unlikely to happen, so the measure simply had its first reading, which still left the city’s intentions unclear in regard to its fire and EMS coverage by Paint Creek, with the current contract set to expire in about three weeks.
Everyone interviewed Tuesday agreed that the city is not in danger of being without coverage, since Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie’s position authorizes him to engage in a shorter-term agreement with Paint Creek if necessary.
“It’s within the safety and service director’s authority to extend the contract day to day,” Beery said Tuesday.
Donley said Tuesday that the Paint Creek issue was not on council’s agenda, but after Beery drafted the resolution for the city to join the district, he asked for the recess to question Beery about any potential downside to presenting the resolution to council.
Donley said he recognized “there were probably not enough votes” to suspend the rules and pass the measure as an emergency. He guessed that the council members in attendance would have been divided “at best 50-50.”
Also adding to the state of uncertainty are ongoing negotiations between the city and Paint Creek in regard to a plan for Paint Creek to purchase the city’s newer fire station, which it is currently occupying under a lease agreement. Questions have arisen about whether the city could sell the building if it was a member of the district, which would mean it was essentially selling property to itself.
Koogler said Tuesday that if he had been well enough to attend Monday’s meeting, he may have been able to lead council to a decision on the Paint Creek matter.
“I hated that I had to miss,” said Koogler, adding that he would probably schedule another meeting before the end of the month. He agreed that the city will likely seek another contract with Paint Creek.
Mayor Drew Hastings said Tuesday that both he and McKenzie were surprised by the resolution presented on Monday. Hastings said he is waiting to find out if council is serious about joining the district, or whether council wants the administration to seek another contract.
Hastings said he was frustrated that council has waited until the last minute to make a decision on Paint Creek, mentioning the time council spent in recent months crafting a resolution critical of him for his social media posts.
“If they had not spent so much time on less important resolutions in regard to me, they probably would have been on track to have the fire district thing resolved,” said Hastings. “Now we’re doing an emergency meeting at Christmas which no one wants to do, and it won’t be nearly as well thought-out as it should have been.”
But Hastings said the indecision “won’t have any bearing on our talks about the sale of the fire station.”
If council voted to join the district, it would mean city property owners would pay the additional 5.5 mill property tax that is levied on townships that have joined. It would also make the city an official member of the Paint Creek board, with a vote on district decisions, and would free up the roughly $555,000 a year paid by the city for its contract with Paint Creek for other city projects or improvements.
But Donley noted on Tuesday that some city residents have argued that if the city joined the district, part of the city’s income tax should be rolled back to offset the increased property taxes. Donley said that considering the ongoing negotiations for the sale of the fire station, and the opposition to raising property taxes, another contract is the most likely scenario.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.