The people who decide what the theme will be of each day, week or month of our lives have determined that this is Sunshine Week, when governments are encouraged to recommit to being open about everything from meetings to public records.
In that spirit, it’s important to report that negotiations are underway between the city of Hillsboro and the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire Department in regard to the use of the city’s newer fire station (isn’t it time to quit calling it “new” after more than six years?) on North East Street, a building that was approved for construction back in 2008 and completed in 2010.
The negotiations for the fire station are completely separate from Hillsboro’s deal for Paint Creek to provide fire and emergency medical services to the city. Under a contract agreement, the city pays Paint Creek more than a half million dollars a year for those services.
City leaders will have to decide before year’s end whether to join the district as a member. But either way, the agreement for Paint Creek to cover the city with fire and EMS protection is not connected in any way with the use or ownership of the city’s North East Street fire station.
The city owes more than a million dollars on the North East Street fire station. Everyone understands that Paint Creek isn’t going to pay a million dollars for it because, for one thing, it won’t appraise for that much. But it’s also likely worth more than its appraisal value, whatever that may be, based on Paint Creek’s strong interest in using it. So pick a number between the appraisal value and a million, and the negotiations start from there. .
Paint Creek was given permission a while back to use a couple of the bays at the station to house its larger vehicles. As tends to happen, though, when you give an inch you end up giving a mile. Paint Creek’s footprint at the new station has slowly but surely been expanding well beyond the bays, without any formal deal for it to use the property.
Paint Creek’s official Hillsboro headquarters is the old fire station located at the corner of Governor Trimble Place and North High Street, which Paint Creek bought from Drew Hastings back in 2012. More than a year before being elected mayor, Drew had purchased the entire old city building on Governor Trimble in 2010 for $74,000 (he was the only bidder) after city leaders at the time said it was uninhabitable.
Drew made it habitable anyway, first remodeling the west half of the building – which had housed the mayor’s office, water department, municipal court and police department – into modern office space which is now leased by The Times-Gazette.
After Drew became mayor in January 2012 – but before Paint Creek started covering Hillsboro – Paint Creek expressed interest in having a Hillsboro location to cover the new townships that had recently signed on from this part of Highland County. So after a state ethics opinion cleared the way, Drew made a deal to sell the district the old fire station portion of the building for $260,000, first spending about $85,000 to remodel it, including new wiring, plumbing, heating and air, and fire-rated barriers and walls.
But more and more, Paint Creek has been utilizing the amenities of the North East Street fire station, and the mayor and other, if not all, city officials agree that something formal should be put on paper.
Whatever his shortcomings as mayor may be, negotiating property deals is right in Drew’s wheelhouse. That’s why he’s the right person to represent the city in ongoing negotiations with Paint Creek in regard to the North East Street fire station. Paint Creek wants it, city officials want Paint Creek to have it – after all, a fire station is what it was built to be – and all that’s left is to agree on the actual deal.
Hopefully, negotiations go smoothly and cordially. The Paint Creek fire department, under the leadership of chief Bradley George and an excellent staff of firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, has served its townships and the city of Hillsboro well. The Paint Creek board is comprised of some sharp trustees who are, naturally, interested in protecting the interests of the district and making the best deal they can.
But in the event that Paint Creek board members think that mean old Drew is being too harsh or unreasonable, it’s possible they’ll start trying to draw city council members into the negotiations, playing council against the mayor. If that happens, council’s response should be, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
It’s the mayor’s office that is legally empowered with the responsibility to negotiate, although Drew should keep other city officials apprised of the details and progress, or lack thereof. Council will eventually approve or disapprove whatever deal the mayor brings to council, but it does not negotiate deals.
Along those lines, city council’s agenda for Monday included an executive session to “discuss negotiations of proposed sale of firehouse,” where the mayor will bring council up to date. Meanwhile, also doing a good job of keeping the public informed, the Paint Creek board sent a notice last week to the media that it has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday to go into executive session for the “discussion of the sale or purchase of property.”
If Paint Creek ends up moving to the North East Street fire station, its current location – the old Hillsboro fire station – would either be put up for sale by Paint Creek (Drew says he’s not interested in buying it back, and now that Paint Creek covers Hillsboro he probably can’t anyway), or possibly end up being owned by the city as part of the overall deal for the North East Street station. Some city officials have said they need more room for record storage, others have suggested it could be used for a variety of activities connected to downtown festivals, parties, meetings and so on.
But whatever deal is struck, it will achieve two goals. For Paint Creek, it would provide the district with a large, modern, state-of-the art facility with a number of extra amenities. For the city of Hillsboro, it would substantially ease the financial burden connected with annual debit payments for the facility. Good luck to both sides.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]