A hearing Thursday morning in Highland County Probate Court will determine the fate of a $700,000 bequest intended to be used for the construction of a building to house fire and EMS departments for Hillsboro.
The late Jean Head, who operated Jean’s Flowers and Gifts from the 1950s until its closing in 1995, left the money in her will to the Clinton County Foundation “to be held in trust for the purpose of building capital improvements for the Hillsboro Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services,” specifically “for the erection of a new building for the fire department and EMS squad for Hillsboro.”
Head died in 2015 at age 91. Her will was signed in January 2008, just a month after the city purchased the old Washington school property to build a new fire station, and about two years before the station was completed – while Head was still living and without the city having any knowledge of Head’s bequest.
The will was also written before the city disbanded Hillsboro Fire & Rescue in 2013 and began contracting for fire and EMS services with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District. Even though Head lived to see those events transpire, she never updated her will.
The fire district is now operating out of the new fire station under a lease agreement while negotiations drag on for a possible purchase of the facility by Paint Creek.
Judge Kevin Greer will decide the disposition of the bequeathed funds, and various parties have weighed in seeking direction from the court.
Head’s final stipulation on the subject was that “such building or capital improvements shall be dedicated to the memory of J. Henry and Jean A. Head.” A sign indicating that the new station is dedicated to the Heads was erected by the city last November.
The city of Hillsboro is asking that the funds be released to “retire any or part of the bonded indebtedness incurred in the construction of the firehouse…” according to an application filed by Law Director Fred Beery. The Clinton County Foundation also filed a response which does not appear to take sides in the matter, but merely asks that a decision be made “cy pres,” a legal term that asks for a judgment as close as possible to the intentions of the bequest.
Paint Creek also filed a response, asking the court to grant the city’s application or, in lieu of that, for a judgment ordering the proceeds be paid to Paint Creek since it is “the current provider of fire and EMS services to the City of Hillsboro.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s office was required to be made a party to the action under state law, and that office filed a brief merely asking “such relief as will best protect the charitable interests involved herein…”
The funds left for a Hillsboro fire station are actually what remain after other items in Head’s will were distributed. Her will leaves the “residue and remainder” of her estate to be administered for the construction of a new Hillsboro fire station. Beery earlier estimated that the funds will amount to about $700,000.
If the city can make use of the funds left by Head, it would make a sizable dent in the total money owed through bond debt which was incurred in conjunction with both the construction of the fire station and remodeling the police station on West Walnut Street.
City Auditor Gary Lewis said late last year that as it currently stands, the city owes about $2 million, including interest, in bonds scheduled to be paid through 2029.
If it can be used, the estimated $700,000 from Head’s estate would likely be placed into escrow and used to help make the annual bond payments, Lewis said at the time. He said the city’s bond deal includes an early “call date” in 2022 which, if utilized, would make the city’s total payments about $300,000 less than the 2029 payoff date.
Thursday’s hearing is set for 10 a.m. in the probate courtroom.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.