Hillsboro City Council on Monday voted 5-1 against legislation for the city to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District as a member. But Mayor Drew Hastings, who was not at the meeting, said in a written report to council — and reiterated again on Tuesday — that he won’t sign a long-term contract until council does a more thorough cost analysis of the issue.
Councilwoman Ann Morris was the only member of council who voted in favor of joining the district, while Justin Harsha, Mary Stanforth, Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin voted against it. Councilwoman Claudia Klein was absent.
Morris said she voted yes because she believes the General Fund dollars the city uses to pay for its contract with Paint Creek would be better spent on capital improvement and critical infrastructure projects around town.
Hastings said in a written report read by Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie that he feels council members have not viewed the issue from all angles, adding that he will not sign a contract with Paint Creek “until the work needed to solve this is done.”
As previously reported, if the city joins the district, a 5.5 mill property tax will be imposed to pay for membership, as is the case for townships that have joined the district. It has been said the increase in property tax would amount to about $170 per year for each $100,000 of valuation, but Hastings said that figure is “misleading, if in fact, the average value of a home here is under that.”
Hastings said council should ascertain a “clear financial picture” of exactly how much taxpayers will pay if the city joins the district, and what the benefit would be for residents; identify the “mean value” of a home in Hillsboro to find exactly how much the average landowner’s property tax would increase if the city joined the district; and find the percentage of owner-occupied homes versus rental properties in Hillsboro.
Hastings added that the $570,000 the city spends every year on the Paint Creek contract, which he said amounts to more than 10 percent of the General Fund, would be better spent on capital improvement projects such as curb and gutter work, sidewalks and residential trash collection.
The mayor also said Finance Committee Chairman Harsha’s intent to revisit the contract next year amounts to “kicking the can down the road,” which the mayor said is “precisely what gave us the dilapidated city that I inherited in 2012.”
“This administration has never kicked the can down the road,” he said in his report. “I am happy to work with any council members that genuinely want to solve this, but until the work needed to solve this is done, I cannot sign a contract.”
Hastings told The Times-Gazette on Tuesday that while he refuses to sign a long-term contract with Paint Creek until a cost analysis is done, the city is currently in a month-to-month agreement with Paint Creek and will not go without fire coverage.
Hastings also said Tuesday he will compile more information on the matter for council to review, but added, “I shouldn’t have to do the work of the Finance Committee.”
Also Monday, council heard a first reading on an ordinance raising the base fee on city residents’ monthly water bill by $3, and made determinations on several other pieces of legislation related to Hillsboro’s utilities infrastructure.
As previously reported, the current base fee on city residents’ water bills was frozen at $9.08 in 2013, according to McKenzie. The increase would bring the fee to $12.08 across the board if the legislation is approved, McKenzie said.
The base fee on residents’ sewer bill, which is $28.02, will not change, McKenzie told The Times-Gazette.
At a recent joint meeting of the Finance Committee and Utilities Committee, council members heard from City of Hillsboro Administrative Assistant and Grant Writer Kirby Ellison, Hillsboro Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Jason Bernard and Hillsboro Public Works Superintendent Shawn Adkins about upcoming Water Department projects that will require extra funding.
Ellison said the Water Fund does not have enough money to pay for them, thus the need for the fee increase.
According to Utilities Committee Chairman Brandon Leeth, the fee will generate an estimated $100,000 per year.
In terms of costs for utility projects, Leeth said the items discussed at the committee meeting were “the tip of the iceberg.”
Also Monday, council heard a first reading on the following resolutions:
• A resolution authorizing the city to apply for a loan for construction of catwalks at city reservoirs. The loan is $244,000 with a 20-year term at 2.7-percent interest.
• A resolution authorizing the city to apply for a loan for a sludge press at the wastewater treatment plant. The loan is $601,000 over a 20-year term at 1-percent interest.
• A resolution approving upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant, and an accompanying resolution increasing appropriations in the amount of $95,000.
Council approved an emergency resolution to increase appropriations in the Sewer Fund by $234,000 to pay for sewer line replacement on West Main Street. During discussion, McKenzie said city crews want to replace sewer lines in the area prior to Ohio Department of Transportation paving so workers don’t have to dig up new streets.
During public comment, council heard from Hillsboro resident Sherry Young about water issues in the basement of a home on her property on SR 73 in town. The issue was referred to McKenzie for further review.
Council also heard from Hillsboro resident Daphne Schwab, who shared concerns about the traffic light at West Main Street (U.S. Route 50) and Willetsville Pike (SR 124). Schwab said motorists are now cutting through the Highland County District Library parking lot to avoid the light, posing a possible hazard to other motorists.
McKenzie said ODOT, which is responsible for the light, has said it will conduct a traffic study in the area.
In his report to council, McKenzie said ODOT this summer will pave portions of U.S. Route 50, SR 124 and SR 247.
McKenzie said other projects include a new shelter house at Harmony Lake and one mile of new pathways there, a bridge that will provide a walking connection between Liberty Park and Schaffer Park, and more parking in that area.
McKenzie also said the city will begin a road widening project on the east end of Harry Sauner Road this summer.
McKenzie also delivered the report for the Hillsboro Planning Commission, saying the commission recently discussed upcoming changes to the city’s zoning code.
Culbreath, who chairs the Zoning Committee, said her committee will soon present legislation to council on zoning changes.
Council also suspended the three-reading rule and approved the following ordinances and resolutions:
– A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to implement a sidewalk improvement program.
– An ordinance to amend the map of the City of Hillsboro to change the zoning of Highland District Hospital from Residential A to Business C. Council President Lee Koogler said it was a housekeeping measure.
– An ordinance repealing all previous ordinances regarding the compensation of non-union city employees and establishing new pay schedules.
Council also approved a sign variance for Walmart and a resolution increasing appropriations in unclaimed funds in the amount of $5,000.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.