The city of Hillsboro and the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District appear to be on the verge of agreeing to a new three-year contract extension for fire and emergency services coverage for the city, as well as a deal for Paint Creek to acquire the newer fire station on North East Street.
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings said Wednesday that both deals appear to be imminent. Hastings had asked council President Lee Koogler to call a special meeting of council for this week to ratify both agreements, since the contract for coverage expires on Dec. 31.
“I just feel the current council has dealt with this issue for a long time and should have had the chance to vote on it,” said Hastings. Council will have a partially new makeup beginning in January, following the results of the November election.
But Koogler said Wednesday he doubted that enough council members were available for a special meeting, especially if legislation was presented that needed to be passed as an emergency, which requires six members in agreement. Instead, Koogler said the administration has the authority to make the deals and bring them to council later for ratification.
Koogler said he spoke Wednesday with Ron Ward, the Liberty Township trustee who represents Liberty on the Paint Creek fire board, and offered to attend a Paint Creek meeting next week to offer assurances.
Hastings said the contract extension would be for three years under the same provisions as past contracts, meaning the city will pay the equivalent of the 5.5 mill property tax that is levied on townships that are members of the district.
That amount has been in the neighborhood of $550,000 to $570,000 per year, depending on how the millage is configured each year for the townships. The city pays for its contract from the general fund.
Earlier this month, city council held the first reading of legislation to join Paint Creek as a member, a move which, if approved, would impose the additional property tax similar to that paid by the townships. But the pending contract extension appears to put that effort on hold, although Koogler said Wednesday that even if the city contracts for three years it could decide to join the district at any time.
Dan Mathews, president of the Paint Creek board, agreed Wednesday that a contract deal for continued coverage appears to be close, as well as a deal on the sale of the fire station, although he stressed in both cases that approval by the full Paint Creek board is necessary.
Under the proposed deal for Paint Creek to officially acquire the newer fire station, the old fire station in uptown Hillsboro that was initially occupied by Paint Creek in 2012 would end up owned by the city in a swap that would reduce the price of the new station.
Hastings and Mathews both said that each side has agreed to accept the appraised value of both the new and old fire stations as they negotiate the deal.
Mathews said that exact terms of the transaction would probably be announced “in the next five to 10 days.” Paint Creek has been occupying the newer station this year under a lease agreement that expires at the end of this month.
Hastings, prior to becoming mayor, purchased the old fire station – along with the rest of the old city building on Gov. Trimble Place – from the city in 2010. When Paint Creek needed a central location to cover the additional townships that had joined the district, it purchased the old station from Hastings, after he had become mayor and after a state ethics opinion said the deal was permissible.
At that time, Paint Creek was not yet providing coverage for the city itself. But after council voted to disband Hillsboro Fire & Rescue, the city contracted with Paint Creek for a one-year deal beginning in January 2014. The contract was later extended to cover 2015-17.
City officials have said in the past that if the city ended up with the old station, as would happen under the proposed deal, it might be used for a variety of purposes, including records storage or meeting rooms. Officials have also suggested it might be put up for sale through a bidding process.
When Hastings sold the station to Paint Creek he had a right-of-first-refusal clause if the building became available again, but he has since said he will waive that provision.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @AbernathyGary.