Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Claudia Klein, Tracy Aranyos and Ann Morris during the January council meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Claudia Klein, Tracy Aranyos and Ann Morris during the January council meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro City Council members had eight pieces of legislation on their regular January meeting agenda Monday night, although an additional ordinance was added during the meeting. By the end of council’s first meeting of 2017, two ordinances up for their third reading failed, one ordinance was tabled following objections by the auditor and council split on a vote to suspend the three-reading rule for an ordinance.

After several months of consideration, an ordinance to repeal the city’s Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) “died for lack of a vote,” and an ordinance to repeal the Design Review Board failed. Despite both ordinances having been introduced by council members Tracy Aranyos, Claudia Klein and Ann Morris, none of them moved to pass the CIC ordinance, and Morris voted against repealing the Design Review Board.

At council’s September meeting, council was asked to approve several appointments to the Design Review Board. At that meeting, Aranyos said that she didn’t “feel the need for a Design Review Board” and proposed disbanding the entity altogether.

The ordinances to repeal the Design Review Board and the CIC were introduced at the November council meeting, after which there were ongoing discussions between council and members of the Design Review Board. Several citizens also attended council meetings to speak against the ordinances, and a committee meeting was held Monday night prior to the regular meeting to discuss the legislation.

Only Aranyos and Klein voted in favor of the Design Review Board ordinance Monday night, and there was no discussion prior to the vote.

The third item set for a vote on Monday night, an ordinance to establish a charge to fund inflow and infiltration abatement in the sewer department, was not passed, either. After council heard its third reading, the ordinance was tabled at the recommendation of city auditor Gary Lewis, who had concerns with its language.

“While I fully support the establishment to fund the inflow and infiltration abatement, I’m afraid if we pass this this evening, it would have an adverse effect, what we don’t want to happen,” Lewis said. “The reason I say that is in Section 3, it says ‘a surcharge provided by this legislation shall be a substitution of $2, with the additional fees provided by 2008-04, so that the net effect shall be a zero increase in sewer charges created by this legislation.’ However, if you look at Ordinance 2008-04, that deals only with the increase in rates in 2008.”

“My legislation was Ordinance 2007-08,” council president Lee Koogler said.

“OK,” Lewis said. “I had an older one, so if she changed that, that would be the correct one.”

Lewis said the original legislation “says 2008-04,” so Koogler said “there needs to be an amendment on the record by council” to fix it.

Lewis said that there was also an issue with the percentages in the 2007-08 ordinance.

“Since we’re looking at this storm sewer abatement program, that probably should be changed where the auditor shall designate 40.5 percent to the sewer debt retirement, 34.5 percent for sewage improvement and 25 percent for storm sewer abatement,” Lewis said.

“Then it would sound like the ordinance probably needs to be rewritten to clarify,” Koogler said.

“I would think so,” Lewis said.

Koogler placed the ordinance back into the utilities committee to “get the language right” with city law director Fred Beery.

During his report, mayor Drew Hastings introduced an ordinance to change the city’s funding of the County Visitors Bureau, “to ensure that Hillsboro is properly marketed by the Visitors Bureau.” In the ordinance, it is proposed that “50 percent of all receipts from lodging tax reserved to the general fund of the city shall be distributed to the Highland County Visitors Bureau, subject to review annually by City Council.”

“I think increasing the percentage amount that’s up tonight for a vote is a really small amount for the benefit that we’re going to gain from their efforts,” Hastings said.

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, Hastings asked council to consider increasing the city’s contribution to the organization from “about $4,000 a year to about $15,000 to $16,000 a year” last summer. At the July 2016 meeting, Hastings had proposed giving the Visitors Bureau 50 percent of the city’s lodging tax.

In June 2015, council put a one-month moratorium on the lodging tax, saying they would seek an opinion from the Ohio attorney general.

However, according to a statement from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office on July 21, 2015, the city did not request an opinion on the lodgings tax. A 2015 audit of the Highland County Convention and Visitors Bureau stated the city’s tax “should not have been levied.”

Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins also told the city of Hillsboro in August 2013 that the city tax was inappropriate since the county lodging tax pre-dated the city tax by several years, referencing a March 29, 2013 opinion by Ohio Attorney General DeWine.

During the finance committee report, committee chair Dick Donley asked if the legislation was to come before council Monday night.

“I was just handed legislation,” Koogler said. “This is one of those things I don’t particularly enjoy at the last minute.”

Koogler read the ordinance aloud to council members while copies were made for them to review and reminded council and administration that he “put a rule on many years ago asking that any new legislation be presented to council at least three business days prior so nobody’s surprised and everyone has ample time to review it.”

Donley said that the finance committee had met with visitors bureau director Destiny Bryson and asked Hastings if the point of the new legislation is that “50 percent of receipts go to the visitors bureau.”

“I think the reason we talked about percentages is we initially were kind of casually talking about percentages, and I think that’s why it got put in there,” Hastings said. “I made a point to have Fred put in there that council reviews it annually.

“I think we did it 50-percent because we thought, ballpark, we’re taking in $28,000 to $30,000 a year, and we thought 50 percent is about the 15 [thousand] that we were trying to get them. Well, actually, they wouldn’t even be getting 15 because we’re already giving them two or three [thousand], so we’re probably giving them their net effect of about $12,000.”

Donley said that he did recall discussing percentages during their prior meetings.

“The annual review of it is a good idea also, to see how things kind of go,” Donley said.

Donley said that he would recommend that council consider the ordinance “for passage” Monday.

“If you think the visitors bureau is worthwhile – and some do, some do not – I don’t see why we would tether that to the lodging tax,” Lewis said. “There is that possibility the lodging tax will go away. We might have a ruling against that where that disappears, but the visitors bureau is not going to disappear. It will still be there. Once you start helping fund that, taking away that money from it because you’ve lost that lodging tax is going to hurt that visitors bureau.

“It just seems to me more logical that we just have it stand alone and just have it within our budget, if you want to pass legislation to do so, to fund the visitors bureau at whatever rate you want to do that and just keep the lodging tax as the revenue stream that it is for as long as it exists.”

Hastings argued that the “structure” of the ordinance is so that the bureau won’t “have to come back and ask for money every year.”

“The other thing is, frankly, the only people that have ever grumbled about this, whether or not we should have a hospitality tax, is the county,” Hastings said. “If we keep the visitors bureau funding in the hospitality bed tax, then it takes away any argument that the county would ever have for trying to get rid of it because indeed, if we got rid of it, they would be cutting off their own nose. They would be cutting off their own funding of their visitors bureau. So it kind of takes all the teeth out of them ever wanting to raise the issue again.”

“Does it really matter, with the way the ordinance is written?” Koogler asked. “It says ‘in the event council does not review and approve this funding annually, the same shall expire and terminate,’ so it appears like we’re going to be looking at it on an annual basis anyway, which is what we do with our budget. I’m not sure it really matters either way.”

Hastings said it would be “a simple review to pass every year.”

Morris and Bill Alexander, the other two members of the finance committee, said that they supported the ordinance, while council member Rebecca Wilkin asked “where this is coming from.”

“The reason that I got this back on the table is we had the change in the visitors bureau,” Hastings said. “I was confident that we had somebody there that was good, and I think she has some really good plans.

“The stuff that she’s come forward with, that she’s either given to us or brought into the office about what they’re trying to do for Highland County but also Hillsboro in general, I thought we should really help them try to get off their feet. Part of the reason now, as I recall, I was asking for the increase was they increased the pay to the executive director slightly, and we wanted to help support that because they were able to get a better executive director.”

Donley echoed Hastings’ support of Bryson.

“I feel it would be a good gesture on the city’s part to increase the funding for the visitors bureau,” Donley said, and moved to suspend the three-reading rule.

However, the vote to suspend the three-reading rule failed, with six votes required to suspend the three-reading rule. Wilkin and Justin Harsha voted against the suspension of the three-reading rule.

For the five other legislative items on the agenda, two ordinances received their second reading, while two “housekeeping” resolutions and a water and sewer rate ordinance were passed.

Council voted to suspend the three-reading rule to pass an ordinance to repeal legislation providing for automatic increases in water and sewer rates.

A resolution for the transfer of various funds for fiscal year 2017 and a resolution to enter into an agreement with the Highland County commissioners to provide legal counsel to indigent persons charged with serious offenses and loss of liberty offenses in the Municipal Court were also approved.

Council heard the second reading of an ordinance amending Chapter 155 (Zoning Code) Section 155.006 (Nonconforming Uses of the Ordinances of the City of Hillsboro) and an ordinance amending Chapter 155 (Zoning Code) Section 155.064 (Powers of Board of Appeals; Variances, Special Exceptions and the Like) of the Ordinances of the City of Hillsboro.

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Hastings announced that Gary Silcott of Stantec is serving as an interim safety and service director for the city, following the termination of former SSD Todd Wilkin’s employment. Hastings said that Silcott is “coordinating our infrastructure projects” before informing council about a number of different plans for city infrastructure in 2017.

“We decided to move ahead with phase two of the North East Street project,” Hastings said. “We were originally seeking grant funding for this, but it’s not ranked high enough for that award, so instead we were offered a $100,000 grant and a zero-percent loan for $295,000. We felt it made sense to take that deal.”

The project should be “begun and done this summer,” Hastings said. As discussed at the October 2016 meeting, the second phase includes curbs, gutters, sidewalks, paving and storm systems.

Hastings said that the city intends to apply for grant for “phase three” of the project and also will be applying for grants to pay for sidewalks on North High and West Main streets.

Hastings also told council that according to Silcott, the city is “good to go on the demolition of the Colony Theatre,” and the city will be seeking bids to complete work there.

“I’m pushing to have it done by this spring,” Hastings said. “I really want to move fast and get this done and over with so we can move on to some other things.”

The city is looking to install signs “north of town to require southbound semi trucks to use the new Carl Smith Drive and Careytown Road for deliveries to the Harry Sauner area.” The signs are to deter semis from making a right-hand turn from High Street to Harry Sauner Road, impeding traffic.

“We would have some police enforcement initially to get them used to going that route,” Hastings said.

Hastings also updated council on the addition of several new businesses within the city, as Harbor Freight Tools will be occupying the building formerly housing the Pepsi plant on High Street and “a fairly large development” is in talks to build on Careytown Road. At the end of the meeting, council approved a sign variance request for signage at the new Harbor Freight location.

In the Hillsboro planning commission report, Hastings said that commission member Buck Wilkin has resigned, and Joe Mahan has joined the commission. The commission also heard a proposal for multi-family housing units on Taylor Court.

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Council received a letter from the Ohio Department of Liquor Control regarding an application by Slow and Low Barbecue for a D1 license.

Koogler said that he also received a letter from the Highland County commissioners asking for the city’s recommendation for a representative to serve on the land bank board.

“They are still trying to get back to us on some of the questions about whether the person has to be a resident in the city to represent the city’s interests,” Koogler said. “I think at this point, I’m going to leave the issue as something that’s pending.”

Koogler said that he hoped “the city can be very involved in” the land bank project and that he hopes to have an answer for the county by the end of the month.

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Council held an approximately 40-minute executive session near the beginning of the meeting to consult with legal counsel for the city regarding pending litigation. Hastings and Lewis were later invited to attend the executive session.