During their April meeting, Hillsboro city council members voted to move forward with two grant applications for upgrades to Liberty Park and the installation of sidewalks in town as well as holding a sidewalk installation appeals hearing for a local property owner.
Prior to the council meeting, several local citizens, including council members, attended a public meeting to discuss a proposal for the city to apply for the Nature Works grant program from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Transportation Alternatives Program from the Ohio Department of Transportation. The meeting was led by “consulting safety and service director” Gary Silcott.
The Nature Works grant proposal was discussed first, with the city applying for a grant to install additional restroom facilities at Liberty Park. Silcott said that ODNR has just over $31,000 to allocate to Highland County.
“The reason we want to do this is we currently have a project at Liberty Park that we funded through ODNR,” Silcott said. “We just built a new shelter house back by Harmony Lake, and we did some other improvements.”
With money from another grant, Silcott said the city is also looking at adding a community garden, trails and another new shelter house to Liberty Park. According to Silcott, there is an established need for a restroom facility, with an increase in event permit requests at the park and with an expected increase in visitors with the new features.
With the community garden, Silcott said they will have to determine whether the new restroom structures will include a shed for tools to use at the garden area. Another issue is the fact that “water and sewer only go to the YMCA,” Silcott said.
“We’re going to have to extend water and sewer about 3,000 feet to get to that point,” Silcott said.
If approved for the ODNR grant, Silcott said the city may still have to fund approximately $40,000.
“Hopefully that cost will come down,” Silcott said. “Our thought is it never hurts to ask for the moon now.”
The second grant that the city is pursuing is the ODOT TAP grant, which “provides 95 percent of construction costs of projects that support transportation,” according to a handout from Silcott. If approved, the city would use the grant funding to install new sidewalks on both sides of US 50 West and along the north side of US 50 East.
“The city submitted a letter of interest,” Silcott said. “We put in for a $1.1 million project.
“The city has to pay for all of the engineering and the other five percent [of the project costs].”
Silcott said that the city would find out this summer if they’ve been approved for the grant but cautioned that ODOT told them “there were 34 projects submitted that totaled almost $50 million, and they only have $8 million.”
“I think we have a good project,” Silcott said. “We want people to be able to walk safely. Currently, there’s a need. I hope it’s something that we can get funded.”
There were no objections to the city’s applications for either grant during the public meeting. During the regular council meeting, council voted 6-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve two resolutions authorizing the mayor to apply for each respective grant.
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Council heard an appeal from South High Street property owner Justin Crosley regarding the sidewalk program affecting the block from the former Pasquale’s Pizza location to Walnut Street. Local property owners received letters several weeks ago informing them of the cost to upgrade the sidewalk in this block. Crosley said that he was in favor of improvements to the sidewalk but was against the fee assessed to his building.
“I received a letter in the mail saying that I would basically have to hand over $11,648 to pay for a sidewalk,” Crosley said. “If you look through the whole uptown area, you see corner lots and I see banks. Maybe they have $11 or $12,000 to hand over. I don’t know, but I’m not a bank, and I don’t have $11,648 just to hand over to the city.”
Crosley said that he was given the option “to spread that payment over five years, or I could take the option to outsource it myself and get it done within 60 days.”
“Even if I spread it out over five years, that will double my [property] tax for five years,” Crosley said.
Council president Lee Koogler asked city administrators if, since it’s a South High Street project, “it has to wrap around clear past the corner on Walnut Street.”
“The current way it’s figured is to go around and go the whole length of his building,” Silcott said. “The sidewalk out front, the brick’s kind of sunken in and creates an issue, and on the Walnut Street side, there’s other areas where there’s dangerous places where it’s got broken-away concrete.”
Crosley said that he has put “a lot of investment” in the building.
“I’m not against doing the sidewalks whatsoever,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve actually wanted to have done for a while because I think it needs to be done.”
Council member Claudia Klein asked if payments could be “spread out a little longer than the five years.” Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings said he was “not opposed” to coming up with a different pay scale.
“I would have to talk to Gary [Lewis, city auditor] and would have to look at the logistics of it, but I’m not opposed to looking at it, if it’s a large thing,” Hastings said. “If it’s a larger bite to a property owner, like over $10,000, then maybe it can be stretched a little while longer.”
Planning commission member Tom Eichinger said that this will also be an issue for residential homes that occupy corner lots as the city’s pilot sidewalk program progresses.
“I think we need to be able to stretch it out for those people that have the larger outlay that they’re going to come up with,” Eichinger said. “Shouldn’t the city be looking into, on a project like this, getting some kind of notes funded over the length of time that you need to collect the money so that you don’t hit the budget all up front and have to recover?”
Coming up with a solution for these property owners now “would help us move forward more rapidly on a lot of other places in the city,” Eichinger said.
Lewis said that this was “a General Fund expenditure” and that “any plan that council would come up with to extend that [beyond five years] would be fine with me.”
Koogler warned that council would “set a precedent” with their decision on corner lot properties, so council moved to hold a special meeting in the next few weeks to establish a solution.
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Hastings and Silcott reported that the city held a “pre-bid” meeting Monday morning on the demolition of the Colony Theater.
“We had eight contractors show up,” Silcott said. “Hopefully we get eight bids next week. My suspicion is some will be in, some will be out. We took them in, let them see it and ask questions and answered any issues they had.”
Council voted 6-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract for the demolition of the Colony Theater.
“We’re asking for blanket approval to tear it down because we don’t know the exact amount,” Hastings said. “But I know if we wait until we open the bids next Monday, then we have to bring it back to you in May and get approval, and then it just puts the whole process off further.”
For another demolition project, Hastings reported that the city has “finally come to an agreement” with uptown property owner Jack Hope to demolish the rear portion of one of Hope’s uptown buildings.
“We’re still working out some of the specifics of the demolition,” Hastings said. “We hope to have that demolished within the next couple months, and I think that kind of lays the groundwork for some future development in that area.”
Council member Tracy Aranyos said that she is “tired of working with [Hope] and giving him passes.”
“I just want him to do what everyone else is expected to do,” Aranyos said. “I want him fined, if it’s considered vacant. He’s no different than anyone else.”
Aranyos said she also wanted an uptown building with metal siding “that’s in violation of the Design Review Board” to be fined.
“Either fix it or fine it,” Aranyos said. “I basically don’t want to work with them. I’m just tired of working with people. Jack’s had over three decades to fix it. I’m kind out of sympathy for anybody.”
Council member Ann Morris agreed, saying that the city “won’t be able to expect anybody else to adhere to any of these ordinances if Jack doesn’t.”
“We probably could have torn the building down with how much he should have been fined by now,” Morris said. “That probably would have paid for it. I don’t understand why we can’t just enforce it because it’s an ordinance.
“If we want to fix up the uptown, his is a very visible building, and the people that want to purchase uptown aren’t going to be as likely to do so with that building sitting there.”
Hastings and Lewis also reported that the city’s financial audit for 2015 has been completed and released by Auditor of State Dave Yost’s office. Lewis said it was “a clean audit,” while Hastings highlighted that the city’s net position increased $4,816,781 from 2014 to 2015.
“That is really good,” Hastings said. “That’s the importance of staying on a strong grant cycle, getting grants and having match funds available to take advantage of grants when you do get them.”
Hastings also said that he is reviewing applications to hire a new safety and service director.
“We’re looking at resumés pretty much daily,” Hastings said. “I want to make sure I pick the right partner. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Hastings acknowledged “the limitations” of having Silcott working as a “consulting SSD,” as well as the feeling that it’s “too close for comfort” to have him working with the city when Silcott’s firm is paid by the city for infrastructure work.
In the Hillsboro planning commission report, Hastings said that the commission discussed “guiding principles” for the entity; that a request for a variance for a proposed metal fabrication business was withdrawn; and that the commission “received preliminary information regarding housing units planned by the Board of Developmental Disabilities.” The city also heard a request from Noreen Gibson and Patti Warner for a variance “to open a tea room” on East Main Street.
“The commission discussed how to incorporate ‘boutique businesses’ into the new zoning code to allow the large older homes that we have to be utilized as a business,” Hastings said. “Ms. Gibson and Ms. Warner will submit a plan to the commission, which includes their intent and the intent of the property owner.”
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Members of the utilities committee met for nearly one hour prior to Monday night’s full council meeting. Although committee chair Rebecca Wilkin was absent due to a family emergency, committee members Bill Alexander and Aranyos spoke with Silcott and city public works supervisor Shawn Adkins regarding possible solutions to ongoing inflow and infiltration (I&I) problems within the city. With recent rainstorms, the plant is seeing a large increase in the amount of wastewater.
One issue, Silcott said, is that “it appears a lot of residents, especially in the older area of town … their sump pumps and foundation drains are tied into the sanitary sewers.” To avoid imposing surcharges, starting an “incentive program” or trying a pilot area to remedy this issue and see if it helps with the I/I problems would be an option, he said.
Silcott also said that the city does not have many storm sewers. He has discussed a “stormwater utility” fee option with city officials “as a way to generate revenue” for storm sewer work. In Logan, where Silcott works, this fee generates “about $300,000 a year,” he said.
To implement this, a Stormwater Action Committee (SWAC) would work together to recommend the amount that would be charged for residences and commercial buildings.
“The process is pretty good because it basically involves the community,” Silcott said.
Council members agreed that this seems like a possible option for the city, but no action has been taken at this time as the committee will continue to look into ideas for combating the I/I problems.
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During the property maintenance and restoration committee report, Hillsboro business owner Tirrell Cumberland of TC3 spoke to council about acquiring the property formerly occupied by the old water treatment plant. At the March council meeting, Hastings told council that there was a proposal for “a really viable commercial use” for the property.
“The mission statement, vision and what the program offers to area youth seem to be well worth the investment,” committee chair Morris said. “TC3 offers basketball training, after-school programs, group trainings, camps, clinics and summer leagues. He currently works with 60 kids, most from Highland County, but also youths traveling from North Adams, West Union, East Clinton, Wilmington and Lucasville areas.”
Koogler said the former treatment plant’s location “is part of a city-owned property at this point, and if we’re going to give a certain allotment of it, a survey needs to be conducted in order to do so.”
“After that, if it’s surveyed as a new lot, it essentially can be, through legislation, given to the Community Improvement Corporation at that point in order to facilitate moving forward with it,” Koogler said.
Cumberland, who currently operates his business out of the former Warren Furniture warehouse on Muntz Street, said his current space is “not wide enough.”
“I just need a basic building tall enough to put a full basketball court inside,” Cumberland said. “Nothing crazy or fancy, just more space.”
With a larger space, Cumberland said that he would like to expand “the after-school programs,” where students can come and play games or do homework and “stay out of trouble.”
One of Cumberland’s students who attended the meeting, Mason Swayne, also spoke in support of the program.
“I’ve been working with him for three or four years now, and he’s brought me a long way from where I was,” he said. “He’s a great guy to work with.”
With all council members in favor of the idea, Koogler advised Hastings to proceed with plans for a survey. Hastings said that they would bring “something specific” to council at their next meeting.
Morris also reported that the committee discussed changes to the vacant property ordinance, including making the safety and service director “the head contact person regarding vacant commercial properties;” including boarded-up windows as a violation in conjunction with a recently enacted new state law; changing the requirement for a key box, which “has not been enforced to date;” and changing the penalty from an unclassified misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.
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In the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, Paint Township trustee and former Paint Creek board member Steven Karnes addressed council regarding the city’s negotiations to have the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District occupy the former Hillsboro Firehouse.
“I have no problem with Paint Creek being down over the hill,” Karnes said. “But I think if you ever lose an ace in the hole, you will be in trouble. So in that lease agreement, I truly believe that there should never be a buy option because you will be like Paint Township and the other townships – at their mercy. I would recommend that the lease on the building and the length of the contract with Paint Creek coincide with each other at negotiation time.
“I’m a former member of Paint Creek. I kind of know how they work. The men that show up at your front door are wonderful. From there, it’s about power, shiny red fire trucks and burnt orange chief’s vehicles after that.”
Karnes closed by warning council not to sell the building “unless you’re in some sort of financial problem.”
“Do not sell that, or you’ve got nothing more to bargain with than we do – the money of our residents,” Karnes said.
Koogler responded that the city would have to make “some tough decisions as the year progresses.”
“We will certainly do our best to be educated in doing so,” Koogler said.
In response to “the firehouse issue,” Hastings said during his report that plans are “moving forward well” and that the city is waiting to hear about “appraisals on both properties.”
“In the meantime, I’ve put together a short-term rental agreement,” Hastings said. “That’s how I would characterize that, as a monthly rental agreement, until the deal is finalized.”
Hillsboro resident Dale Campbell also came to thank the city for cleaning up “a junk situation” in his neighborhood after he issued a complaint to the city about it.
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Aranyos told council that the zoning and annexation committee met with members of the Hillsboro planning commission to discuss proposed changes to the city’s zoning code and establishing a standard for “tiny house options.” More meetings will be held as the zoning code updates progress, and public input is appreciated, Aranyos said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Aranyos also suggested that council look into pursuing "a charter city type of government" for the city of Hillsboro. Koogler placed the matter in the finance committee.
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In other action, council approved the following resolutions introduced by Lewis, each by a 6-0 vote:
• A resolution for the creation of a new fund (220 Storm Sewer Maintenance and Repair Fund).
• A resolution to increase transfers (max $50,000) from 507 to 220.