Two Hillsboro City Council committees are tasked with discussing a sidewalk replacement policy for the city after Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie told council that “procedural oversights” by former safety and service directors caused the city to wrongly collect funds from some property owners whose sidewalks were replaced on the city’s dime.
McKenzie announced at a city council meeting Monday evening that a number of property owners affected by sidewalk replacement projects in the city will not be on the hook for paying the city back for sidewalk replacements, and asked that the matter be placed in the appropriate committee for further review.
Council President Lee Koogler placed the issue in the Street and Safety Committee and the Community Enhancement Committee.
The safety and service director told The Times-Gazette on Tuesday that while the state gives municipalities the authority to make tax assessments on properties where the city has paid for sidewalk replacement, certain procedures must be followed in order for the city to collect the funds.
Specifically, the city council must first pass a “resolution of necessity,” declaring that the sidewalk must be replaced, and the property owner must be correctly notified of the change, according to McKenzie.
McKenzie said those procedures were not correctly followed by the city before it began several sidewalk projects affecting properties in the 200 block of South High Street, the west side of the 200 block of South East Street, the south side of the 100 block of East Walnut Street, the north side of the 100 block of East South Street, the east side of the 100 block of South High Street, as well as a length of North High Street.
According to McKenzie, those projects were in the works prior to his tenure as SSD, which began in May.
With the exception of properties where construction has not yet begun, none of those properties will be assessed, McKenzie said at the meeting, and any property owners who have already paid the city will be reimbursed.
McKenzie said it was a court case involving the city that prompted him to take a closer look at the matter.
As previously reported, Wilkin & Wilkin Insurance Agency and Steve Wilkin filed a joint complaint in Highland County Common Pleas Court against the City of Hillsboro in August requesting a restraining order be placed on the city, barring workers from coming near the property.
The Wilkin & Wilkin building and a separate building owned by Steve Wilkin are located on the west side of South High Street, where the city had planned the next sidewalk replacement project.
Wilkin and Mary Hamilton, who owns the Wilkin & Wilkin building, had previously expressed to council that the sidewalk was in good condition and did not need to be replaced.
Judge Rocky Coss denied the restraining order request, but issued an order agreed upon by all parties that the city not proceed with sidewalk replacements until it had fulfilled the administrative requirements from the state.
McKenzie said on Tuesday that he later discussed the matter with Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, Law Director Fred Beery and Auditor Gary Lewis, and found that the procedures had not been correctly followed from the beginning.
Hamilton said on Tuesday that the court case remains open, but if the city formally agrees not to place an assessment on the property, she expects it will be dropped.
Hamilton said she was “thrilled” with the announcement.
“I’m pleased with the outcome,” she said. “I’m thrilled. It’s a win for all property owners here in Hillsboro.”
But McKenzie said once city-wide policies are put in place, properties on the west side of the street will once again be subject to assessment.
“Going forward, all procedures and policies will strictly follow the Ohio Revised Code,” he said.
McKenzie said the committees will discuss putting policies in place to prevent the same issues from happening again.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.