Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Ann Morris, Justin Harsha and Wendy Culbreath. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Ann Morris, Justin Harsha and Wendy Culbreath. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)

Hillsboro city council members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of longtime council president Lee Koogler during their Monday, March 11 meeting.

As first reported by The Highland County Press, council president pro tempore Justin Harsha read a prepared statement from Koogler announcing that he would “formally resign as president of Hillsboro City Council, effective immediately.”

After council voted 7-0 to accept the resignation, Harsha thanked Koogler for his years of service.

“I would like to thank Lee for everything he’s done for the city of Hillsboro,” Harsha said. “He’s been a great source of knowledge for me. I’ve gone to him for a lot of advice.

“I want to thank him for everything he’s done.”

For more on Koogler’s resignation, click here.

• • •

Council voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District as part of the as-yet-unsigned contractual agreement between the city and the district.

As previously reported, council voted in November 2018 to join the district. Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings told council during their Jan. 14 meeting that the city and Paint Creek “have reached an acceptable compromise that allows the city of Hillsboro to become district members in three years, provided the district votes now to accept the city into the district.”

“This is in the agreement we have with Paint Creek,” Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie said. “This is one of the articles they had in our agreement, that even though you voted last year to join the district, they want it in there in legislation that we couldn’t back out or vote to exit the district before 10 years, and they wouldn’t vote us out before 10 years. I guess it’s basically a safety net.”

Council member Brandon Leeth asked if they meant 10 years after the initial three-year period before the city officially joins the district. “When we actually join the district, so it would be January 2022,” McKenzie said.

According to council’s resolution Monday, the contract says that “provided Hillsboro is not then in default under this agreement, Hillsboro shall have the right to become a member of the District on Jan. 1, 2022.” The district required that Hillsboro approve “the proper legislation and … any other action necessary to join the district.”

The resolution stipulates that the city of Hillsboro “agrees that it will not vote to withdraw from the District for a period of not less than 10 years without the approval of the District or all of its members. This 10-year commitment to remain in the District shall not apply if the District dissolves within that time.”

According to the resolution, “the City of Hillsboro does hereby exercise its rights to become a member of the Paint Creek Joint EMS & Fire District on Jan. 1, 2022… In anticipation of the City of Hillsboro becoming a member of the District, it is authorized and directed that any and all District tax levies may be assessed against all real and personal property located in the City of Hillsboro and collected in calendar year 2022.”

Hastings added that it was “an assurance” for Paint Creek, who is paying for the North East Street firehouse, while the city will reacquire the North High Street station once the contract is signed.

“I think the fact that they’re paying $720,000 for the building and giving us their old building, I think they wanted some assurance that we weren’t going to be there two years, pull out and now they’re stuck with this building without Hillsboro as a client or member, so to speak,” Hastings said.

Council member Mary Stanforth asked if Paint Creek had required other members to pass similar legislation. McKenzie was unsure. Council member Claudia Klein and Hastings pointed out that “all the other members came in at the same time.”

“I don’t think the city’s going to pull out of the district anyway,” McKenzie said of Monday night's resolution.

• • •

Council also voted on five resolutions related to wastewater treatment and storm sewer upgrades.

The first resolution, which passed 7-0, was to increase appropriations in the Wastewater Improvement Fund by $282,000 for the purchase of a sludge press at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Stanforth asked if funds for the purchase had been allocated. McKenzie said the money was coming from Wastewater Improvement Fund, which is a “revenue fund from the water and sewer” charges.

“This is going to be paid back and reimbursed through the grant we receive for the sludge press, but we’ve got to have the money right now to pay for the equipment,” McKenzie said.

• Council then voted to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt four similar resolutions. Each one was a resolution of authorization to provide for an application, acceptance and enter into a Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF) by the City of Hillsboro for financial assistance for planning, design and/or construction of wastewater facilities and designating a dedicated repayment source for such loan. The resolutions covered funding for a sanitary sewer line facility plan; for the Vaughn area sanitary sewer trunk line replacement project; for trunk line improvements to Speigel Street and Northview Drive; and for the first phase of the comprehensive storm sewer project, respectively.

Council also heard the second reading of an ordinance to amend Section 51.36 of the City Code to provide for modification of the minimum usage charge for water usage. As previously reported, the proposed ordinance will raise the minimum usage charge to $15.08 for the first 133 cubic feet, the second increase in a year, as the base charge was $9.08 at this time last year. If approved, the ordinance will help fund upgrades to the “aging infrastructure” of the water treatment systems, as discussed by Leeth at last month’s meeting.

• • •

The citizens’ comments portion of the meeting as well as the safety and service director’s report were devoted to a discussion of the city’s code enforcement department, with Hillsboro Uptown Business Association president Joe Mahan calling for the firing of city code enforcement officer Tony Weissmann.

During the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, Mahan told McKenzie that he has received several complaints from area business owners about Weissmann. Mahan gave several concerns of his own, including criticizing Weissmann’s handling of an inspection at Mahan’s business; alleging that Weissmann was also mentioning “Americans with Disability Act, fire marshal and health department” violations as well as violations to city code during his inspections; and alleging that Weissmann was “very hostile toward women.”

Although Mahan began by asking McKenzie a series of questions, Harsha asked Mahan to limit himself to making comments and allowing McKenzie to respond in his report.

“I don’t want to have a whole bunch of back and forth here,” Harsha said.

Mahan said that he attempted to contact the mayor and McKenzie after Weissmann inspected his building, but neither official responded to a text.

“I thought we were on a level better than that,” Mahan told them.

After discussing several area businesses’ experiences with Weissmann, Mahan told McKenzie, “I would like to see this man terminated.”

Mike Labig, speaking on behalf of the Southern Ohio Pregnancy Center, also offered a complaint about receiving a fine from the code enforcement officer during the citizens’ comments. The pregnancy center recently completed an addition and were fined for a deck on the building, which allows access for individuals in wheelchairs.

“We were just penalized, and I feel very strongly about that, to have to have a permit to have a deck on the pregnancy center,” Labig said. “The purpose of the deck is not to go out and sunbathe. It’s actually our disabled persons’ way to get into the pregnancy center.”

Labig said that the fine assessed to the center was “outrageous” and that McKenzie did not respond to his call.

“The deck is $1,300. The fee was $417,” Labig told council.

McKenzie said during his report that he didn’t call back because “when I talked to Tony about it, he said y’all had it figured out about the deck.”

“We’ve heard nothing,” Labig said.

“But you continued to do construction on it,” McKenzie said. “Nothing was stopped.”

McKenzie said that the pregnancy center submitted three different permit applications during the construction process and that the third application, which included the deck, “has been since we revised the permitting fees.”

“We as a city were basically subsidizing the cost of all inspections, plan reviews, things we’re required to do having a building department in the state of Ohio,” McKenzie said. “The city was basically eating that cost and paying for it.

“When we looked at last year’s expenses in the building department, they did not balance out, which our permitting fees should balance out with it. The permitting fees were raised. That’s why you have a difference between your first two permits and your last permit.”

McKenzie added that Labig could call him Tuesday to further discuss the issue.

In addressing Mahan’s allegations against the code enforcement officer, McKenzie insisted that Weissmann is following state and local codes during his inspections of local buildings. (In response to the more personal allegations, McKenzie said, “I struggle with what Mr. Mahan made against Tony Weissmann’s character about being a woman hater” and discussed Weissmann’s helpfulness to an area businesswoman.)

McKenzie said that he “does not believe” that Weissmann is not following appropriate codes and that he has a “thankless job.”

At one point during McKenzie’s report, Mahan asked if he could respond to McKenzie’s comments toward him, to which McKenzie said “no.”

“I am the safety and service director – ‘safety’ being the key word,” McKenzie said. “I will not be responsible for shoddy work being done and someone getting hurt or a building burning down and it burning an entire block down.”

• • •

Another complaint against a city official came from council members Wendy Culbreath, Klein and Ann Morris, who discussed a lack of additional reports from Hillsboro city auditor Gary Lewis.

During their December meeting, council voted 4-3 to approve a resolution stipulating that each month the city treasurer, Heather Young, will be required to report "the condition of the finances of the City of Hillsboro; the amount received by the City Treasurer; the sources of such receipts; the disbursements made by the City Treasurer; and on what account, during the year to date. Such account shall exhibit the balance due on each fund which has come into the Treasurer’s hands during the year to date.” The reports are currently required to be done quarterly instead of monthly, although council said in December they do not receive quarterly reports.

“He takes care of all of the reports that the treasurer would,” Culbreath said Monday of Lewis. “If he’s not going to do it, then he needs to at least get to this to the treasurer, the information that she would need to produce those reports.”

Harsha said he would speak with Lewis Tuesday.

“We passed this resolution to try to get these reports so we would know the financial situation from month to month and what we’d have to work with,” Klein said. “It’s been three or four months now since we passed that.

“I myself am not going to vote for any transfers of money or anything else from the auditor’s office until we start getting the reports. I feel that strongly about it.”

During the finance committee report, Morris added that Lewis was not providing enough information in the “complete breakdown of 2018” finances that she requested.

“I got a preliminary one today, but it’s not broken down into departments and things like that,” Morris said. “Whenever we approve a budget and everything’s put in its categories for that budget, I was expecting a breakdown of what’s been spent from that category and what we had left.”

Morris said she would be contacting Lewis again for more information.

• • •

Hastings reported that he attended the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission (OVRDC) meeting in February, during which he heard discussions of “the availability funds for stormwater and sewer [improvements] if it had economic development impact.”

“I’ve asked Mr. McKenzie to look into this – Brandon [Leeth, utilities chair], you might be interested in this too – as a way to help pay for this really costly issue,” Hastings said.

Hastings also announced the city’s hiring of Lauren Walker as an administrative receptionist.

He concluded his report by expressing condolences on the death of former city economic development coordinator Kim Abbott.

“She was a great lady, a great employee, and she will be missed by a lot of people,” Hastings said.

• • •

Klein, chair of the community enhancement committee, reported that her committee discussed the annual flowers in the uptown district. Local business owners Buck Wilkin and Alice Wilson will be providing flowers this spring, but the committee is discussing who will “plant and water them throughout the summer months.”

According to Klein, Stanforth suggested seeking volunteers such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but the other committee member, Morris, “said in the past volunteers did not work well.” Klein said that the committee is working with city administration to “try to find some money in the budget to pay a waterer” on a part-time basis.

• • •

During the street and safety committee report, committee chair Adam Wilkin apologized for not beginning a review of the code of ordinances as requested by McKenzie.

Harsha asked if the administration was still considering hiring a consultant for that process.

“I looked into it, but I got a price for it and it’s not very reasonable,” McKenzie said. “I think we just take it a little bit at a time.”

Harsha asked if there was “a particular focus” or certain area to start with.

“Honestly, I’d start at the beginning,” McKenzie said. “That would probably be easiest.”

• • •

In other action, council voted on the following resolutions:

• Council voted 7-0 suspend the three-reading rule and to approve a resolution authorizing McKenzie to purchase a Bobcat Compact Track Loader through Bobcat Enterprises for $59,953.88.

• Council voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution to authorize the mayor to enter into an agreement with the Ohio Development Services Agency for the administration of the city’s Housing Revolving Loan Fund for CDBG and HOME activities.

• • •

At the conclusion of the meeting, council entered into an executive session to discuss economic development, with Hastings, McKenzie, Tom Horst and Tim Boler among those invited to attend.