Hillsboro City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday continued deliberation on whether or not the City of Hillsboro should join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District or continue utilizing its services on a contract basis, but the hour-long meeting ended without any endorsement on either side of the issue.
The meeting, held at the North East Street fire station, was free on opinions and at times contentious, with much of the discussion centering around a property tax increase that would come with joining the district.
Finance Committee Chairman Justin Harsha expressed concern about the 5.5-mill property tax, which would be automatically imposed if the city joins the district. It has been said the increase amounts to about $170 per year for each $100,000 of property valuation.
“That’s the thing I just can’t get over,” Harsha said. “The solution is to get back to the table and find out what the numbers are going to be.”
Harsha said council members “can’t let this thing continue to drag on.”
Councilman Brandon Leeth said contracting is a better business decision, and he, too, is concerned about the tax increase.
That tax increase bothers local businessman Greg Grant, who voiced his opinions at the meeting.
“Some of our earnings tax money is going to support payment to the Paint Creek department,” he said. “If we join, that tax money would still go to the city, but in addition, we would start paying five mills to the fire district, which is a large increase on all the citizens.”
Grant said the city should reduce the current earnings tax by half a million dollars, and at the same time place a levy on the ballot so the citizens have their choice.
“You place a levy on the ballot for that additional amount and give the citizens a voice in the matter,” he said. “If you vote to join now, your taxes go up without saying.”
Currently, earnings tax funds go to the general fund from which fire and emergency funding is drawn, according to Councilwoman Ann Morris, who also sits on the Finance Committee.
Grant said he has no problem joining the district, “but at the same time, it’s basically the city imposing a half million dollars in new taxes on us without giving the public a chance to vote for it.”
Morris said she is in favor of joining the district but added that she feels putting the levy on the ballot is not necessary.
Morris said joining the fire district would result in what she called a minimal increase in taxes for those that own property in the city, adding that by her calculations the average increase to each property owner would be about $7 a month.
Morris said the increase would bring greater accountability to landlords, since some live outside the city. Morris added that joining the district would not mean any increase in earnings taxes.
Morris also expressed concern about the possibility of fluctuating costs that come with continually renegotiating contracts.
“If we think back to when we were in the fire business, we had to keep track of the number of runs, maintenance costs and overtime,” she said. “We’ve let Paint Creek manage things, which they’ve done pretty well, so now we can think more of city business and not on running a fire business.”
Morris said the city would be able to do more street maintenance because it won’t be spending money on fire and emergency services.
“Roads and alleys are falling apart,” she said. “If you ask people if they’d pay an extra $7 a month to have better sidewalks and streets and such, I think they’d agree to it.”
Some attendees raised concerns about the city not having a voice within the district if the city continues contracting, but Harsha, who serves as council’s liaison to Paint Creek and often attends district board meetings, said he isn’t worried.
“Right now when I go to a fire meeting, they will let me talk and comment on matters, I just don’t have a vote,” he said. “So it’s not like we don’t have a voice at their meeting.”
Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie brought up the advantages of entering into an agreement as opposed to subcontracting.
“If you got a contract where you can get a fixed price and it stays within a set range,” he said, “or you get a contract that you’re going to have to re-negotiate, and every time you sit down with a contractor, that price never goes down… which one is the better business decision?”
Grant said Morris’ $7 per month pitch was similar to what one would find when buying a car.
“You’re spending $25,000, but the salesman says you can have it for $250 a month… they make it sound easy,” he said, “but with this Paint Creek deal, we’re still talking about a half million dollar increase that’s going to come out of our citizens’ pockets.”
The tax increase bothers councilwoman and finance member Mary Stanforth as well, who is still on the fence as to whether the city should join or not.
“I want some more definitive facts, as far as what it is going to cost us if we contract,” she said, “and until they meet and come up with something they can bring to council, I won’t be in favor of joining because of the additional tax it will put on our citizens.”
Grant said from a private citizen’s standpoint, the devil is in the details.
“When we do get some hard figures, then this can be wrapped up.” Grant said. “It’s like going back to my story about the car dealer… do we buy or do we lease?”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.