Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley has said his office must be notified no later than Dec. 7 if the City of Hillsboro joins the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District so a levy can be put in place to pay for fire coverage.
As previously reported, the city is poised to join the district following a unanimous vote earlier this month by Hillsboro City Council, although the district recently withdrew its offer for Hillsboro to join until the city cuts the district a deal for the fire station on North East Street, bringing the parties to a stalemate.
But Fawley recently sent a letter to officials on both sides saying that if the city ends up joining the district, his office would have to receive notification by Dec. 7 so auditors can add a levy to approximately 3,800 properties in the city, calculate the real estate tax bills and send the tax rates to the Ohio Department of Taxation for further calculations.
If the auditor’s office isn’t notified by Dec. 7, Fawley said Wednesday, Paint Creek would get no tax revenue until the following year.
According to Fawley, the levy is 5.5 mills, although agricultural and residential properties would pay the equivalent of 4.8 mills and commercial and industrial properties would pay the equivalent of 5.5 mills. Fawley said the estimated yearly tax is $151.20 per $100,000 of valuation.
Fawley’s letter also said that even if the city joins after the first of the year, the tax could not be placed on the second half real estate tax bills, since real estate taxes are based on the calendar year.
The letter, which Fawley said was sent Nov. 16, has Paint Creek operating board President Dan Mathews perturbed.
“We would work all next year with no pay as far as coverage,” if Paint Creek accepts the city later than Dec. 7, Mathews said. “The property taxes are added on, but they’re always a year behind. There would be no assessment to the properties.”
Matthews blamed the city for moving slowly on the issue and making officials scramble to resolve the issue late in the year.
“The City of Hillsboro drug us down to the last minute and it’s hard to get everything together,” he said.
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings minimized the issue, saying that if Paint Creek allows the city to join the district, Hillsboro could pay the district an agreed contract price for one year until the revenue from the levy starts coming in the following year.
“It doesn’t mean that if we don’t join by Dec. 7, we can’t join,” he said. “The district would get their money one way or another.”
As previously reported, Hillsboro currently contracts with Paint Creek for fire service, paying the district roughly $570,000 per year out of its General Fund, but Paint Creek recently sent the city a proposal that increases the contract price to $650,000. Hillsboro’s current contract with Paint Creek is up at the end of the year.
At the same time, Paint Creek proposed a purchase agreement to buy the fire house for $720,000 by paying $5,000 per month in rent that would be counted toward the purchase price until bonds on the building are mature in 2022.
Mathews said the board is setting up a meeting this week with Hillsboro officials to continue discussions, adding that the Paint Creek board “definitely” wants to have the issue resolved before the end of the year, ideally before Dec. 7.
But, he said, “I don’t see how it’s gonna happen.”
He said the city contracting with Paint Creek for another year is the “worst case scenario.”
Hastings said that in a lengthy discussion with an unnamed Paint Creek board member, “I thought that the tone was pessimistic.”
“We’re trying to keep this thing moving,” he said. “The person I talked to yesterday made it seem like it was the end of the world… Well, no, it’s not. We can always contract for a year.”
Hastings said city officials are working on supplying the district with a clear title for the North East Street station, which has been described as a “bargaining chip” for Hillsboro.
As previously reported, Hillsboro and Paint Creek were on the verge of closing a deal on the fire station when a title search of the property revealed a reversionary clause that states the property must be handed over to heirs of a family that donated the property to the city in the 1800s if it is not used for purposes related to the local school.
Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie previously said the reversionary clause only affects certain lots on the property, and not the fire station lot. But, he said, due to the way the property documents were filed with the county auditor’s office, the whole property was flagged in the title search as having a reversionary clause.
McKenzie had the property resurveyed to separate the parcel containing the fire station from the parcels affected by the reversionary clause, which he said “takes care of any issues with the real estate deal.”
Around the same time, though, the property was taken off the market. McKenzie said that was done at the direction of council so Hillsboro could retain some leverage against Paint Creek.
Mathews said he just wants to get the issue resolved so both parties can move forward.
“We’ve been fighting it for over four years now,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be done and over with.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.