The demolition of what is commonly referred to as the Armintrout Building in Hillsboro, owned now by Mayor Drew Hastings, became the subject of some scrutiny Tuesday among members of Hillsboro City Council and others, but by Wednesday, Law Director Fred Beery said “there’s nothing much to it.”
At issue was Hastings’ participation in the city’s Demolition Assistance Program, through which the city pays for demolition of blighted buildings, and then gets reimbursed via tax assessments on the property.
The former office of local lawyer Bill Armintrout at 120 Governor Trimble Place in Hillsboro has fallen into disrepair and is full of asbestos, according to Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie, and the demolition is planned for mid-April.
Hastings said he applied for the program “to do my part to get rid of blight.”
McKenzie told The Times-Gazette on Wednesday that property owners have utilized the program throughout the city many times.
But by Wednesday morning, after phone calls and conversations circulated among council members Tuesday evening, Hillsboro Auditor Gary Lewis raised questions about Hastings’ participation in an email to Law Director Fred Beery, copying McKenzie, Hillsboro City Council members and council President Lee Koogler.
In the email, a copy of which McKenzie provided to The Times-Gazette, Lewis said it was his understanding that council must approve a resolution of necessity and a resolution of assessment before any tax assessments are made on properties in the city.
Lewis referenced what he described as a “debacle” last year in which the city faced a lawsuit after failing to follow the state’s procedures for placing tax assessments on properties to pay for sidewalk replacement costs.
“Why am I the only one who seems to remember this?” Lewis asked. “Or are we making an exception for this property owner?”
Lewis wrote that while Hastings has a right to take advantage of opportunities available to the public, “we at least have an obligation to follow the proper procedure.” He added, “Once again the ball has been dropped.”
But in a reply later Wednesday to Lewis’ email, a copy of which McKenzie also provided to The Times-Gazette, McKenzie wrote that while the procedure for placing tax assessments for sidewalk projects is outlined by the Ohio Revised Code, there are no procedures laid out in state law for demolition assistance programs.
McKenzie attached a list of the steps he took to ensure Hastings’ participation in the program was free of conflict, including requesting that an outside Design Review Board — in this case, one in Wilmington — approve the request, which it did, as well as correspondence with Beery and Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins, both of whom said Hastings’ participation was ethical.
McKenzie said Wednesday that the demolition will cost $33,100. In his email, McKenzie said the city will be reimbursed 100 percent through a five-year tax assessment on the property.
McKenzie said Hastings paid a $50 fee for the demolition permit and a $500 retainer fee that will be refunded to him on completion of the demolition.
“If after reviewing the above steps, it seems I have still ‘dropped the ball,’ I will accept the criticism,” McKenzie wrote. “I crossed every ‘T’ and dotted every ‘I’ with this process before I moved forward with the requisition of funds because I knew the property owner involved would evoke scrutiny.”
McKenzie said he had not received a reply to his email as of early Wednesday evening.
Beery said he felt McKenzie explained the process “pretty succinctly.”
“People just heard crazy stuff about it,” Beery said. “Turns out, there’s nothing much to it.”
Hastings said that although he is mayor, in this case he is “really just the applicant.”
“The reality is that this story only became the story that it started to be because our auditor, Mr. Lewis, went off half-cocked without doing his homework,” Hastings said.
Reached via text message Wednesday, Lewis said, “I do have concerns. At this time, however, I do not have a comment.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.