Hillsboro City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District as a member, but the city remains in a stalemate with Paint Creek over the sale of Hillsboro’s North East Street fire house, and Paint Creek has suspended its offer for Hillsboro to join until a real estate deal has been sealed.
As previously reported, council has been debating for some time on whether to join the district as a member or continue utilizing its services on a contract basis. Last week, Paint Creek suspended its offer for Hillsboro to join until the city agrees to sell the North East Street building, which Paint Creek currently occupies.
The district also last week sent a proposal that increases Hillsboro’s contract price by about $100,000 per year. Hillsboro’s current contract with Paint Creek, for which the city pays roughly $570,000 per year from its general fund, expires at the end of the year.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Council President Lee Koogler asked if council wished to approve the resolution as an emergency measure, in which case it would go into effect immediately and not be subject to referendum.
Wendy Culbreath made a motion to approve the legislation as an emergency and Claudia Klein seconded. Culbreath, Klein and Ann Morris voted yes and Mary Stanforth, Justin Harsha, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin voted no.
When a vote was called to approve the resolution, council voted unanimously in favor.
Previously, Stanforth, Harsha and Wilkin voted against the resolution when it was proposed as an emergency in October.
In discussion prior to Tuesday’s vote, Harsha and Stanforth said the administration took too long to negotiate with Paint Creek, resulting in too much back-and-forth late in the year.
Stanforth added that the administration did not offer council or the public sufficient financial information to form an educated opinion on the matter.
Hastings said based on Paint Creek’s “tone” when negotiations began in May, it was obvious both parties were not “meeting to have lunch once a week.”
He said many officials were “blindsided” when Paint Creek said the city would no longer be charged a millage equivalent for the service contract and that the city would eventually have to pay about $720,000 per year for service.
Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie added that officials had to wait roughly two months for legal advice on the real estate issue, which delayed negotiations.
Koogler said he felt Hillsboro’s options were “limited” in negotiations.
Hastings said he felt the administration gave council plenty of information.
Morris read a statement saying that negotiation itself was full of “disagreement, criticism, delay and obstruction,” and that council could “no longer wait for others to act.”
Morris said some citizens had received notices that their property insurance “would increase for lack of fire protection,” and Klein said she received such a notice. Morris challenged the administration to sell the North East Street fire station and accompanying equipment to Paint Creek, and challenged Paint Creek to reinstate its offer for the city to join.
“Our citizens require action to be taken swiftly,” Morris said. “This is a decisive and defining moment calling for leadership through service.”
Leeth said he would cast his vote with Hillsboro’s future in mind, and that the city is “working with a little bit less” tax revenue now than in previous years.
Since the resolution was not approved as an emergency, it does not go into effect for 30 days and is subject to referendum, meaning the issue could be placed on the ballot for voters to decide if enough signatures are gathered.
As previously reported, if Hillsboro joins the district, a 5.1-mill levy will automatically be put in place, and several citizens at previous meetings have objected to that.
Even if the legislation goes into effect in mid-December and Hillsboro is poised to join, the city and Paint Creek find themselves in a stalemate over the real estate issue. As previously reported, Paint Creek’s suspension of its offer for Hillsboro to join is contingent on the city cutting Paint Creek a deal on the North East Street building.
McKenzie said last week that the city previously had a deal written with Paint Creek to have the district make rent-type payments for the fire station that would count toward the purchase price. Then, when bonds on the building are paid off in 2020, the district would make a balloon payment to cover the rest of its bill.
Issues with the deed, which McKenzie said have since been resolved, gave Paint Creek pause, and around the same time, the property was taken off the market.
McKenzie said the city backed out of the real estate deal because the fire station represents “bargaining power” against the district, and Paint Creek Board President Dan Mathews said he wonders if Hillsboro has a clear deed for the fire station.
Under Paint Creek’s proposal, the final purchase price for the station would be $720,000, and the district would pay $5,000 per month in rent that would be counted toward the purchase price “until such time as a marketable title could be conveyed.”
The city would take control of the former fire house on Governor Trimble Place in uptown Hillsboro, owned by Paint Creek, until the deed for the new station is conveyed.
The proposal goes on to say that after the real estate deals are closed, Paint Creek would agree to a three-year contract at a price of $650,000 per year. Under the proposal, all fire/rescue vehicles and equipment owned by the City of Hillsboro would be transferred to Paint Creek.
Hastings previously said the new contract price is “a very large increase for no apparent reason,” and that it is well above the millage equivalent the city has been paying all along.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.