From left, Hillsboro council member Adam Wilkin; council clerk Kimberly Newman; and council members Dane Allard, Mary Stanforth and Patty Day are pictured during their Sept. 14 meeting. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, Hillsboro council member Adam Wilkin; council clerk Kimberly Newman; and council members Dane Allard, Mary Stanforth and Patty Day are pictured during their Sept. 14 meeting. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro city council voted Monday, Sept. 14 to approve a resolution authorizing the use of CARES Act funding to reimburse city departments for paid administrative leave and quarantine pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution will allow the city auditor to distribute the $157,281.06 in COVID-19 relief funding received thus far to reimburse the General Fund, Street Fund, Storm Sewer Fund, Water Fund and Sewer Fund, “proportional to the percentage paid out” during the pandemic.

“The legislation’s going to allow me to move it from the COVID fund, where it’s all sitting, and divvy it among the different funds and departments,” city auditor Alex Butler said.

As previously reported, council members first met Thursday, June 25 in a special meeting via Zoom to approve a resolution to request funding through the County Coronavirus Relief Distribution Fund for their share of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money. According to Butler, the city has been waiting to approve the appropriations until they were absolutely sure that the state would permit the city to “reimburse themselves for payroll-related expenses” during the pandemic.

“It seemed like the direction from the state was a little unsettled or maybe changing — not so clear on how it can and can’t be spent, but one thing that was clear was don’t misspend it,” Butler said. “I wanted to sit on the money for a little while to let the process play out and more direction to come out from the state.”

Butler provided council members with a handout that he said included, for each department, the amount spent in wages and salaries for quarantine pay; splitting shifts to minimize personal exposure and contact; and paid administrative leave during the pandemic.

“Once the decision was made to reimburse ourselves for that, I thought, what’s the most fair way to do that?” Butler said. “It was decided that it was proportional to what your department paid out in paid leave time.

“Fortunately, we got enough money that each department will be refunded entirely for what they paid out.”

The total amount of salary reimbursements totaled $153,741.29, according to Butler’s handout. That left a balance of $3,539.77 remaining that could be used, which Butler said is being applied to refund Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) costs to the same departments during the pandemic.

“We are able to refund for that cost as well, not just wages and salaries,” Butler said. “With the $3,500 left over, we felt like that was the best way to spend that. Each department, it’s as fair as it could be. What your fund or department paid out, you are reimbursed that percentage back.”

Butler pointed out that the city of Hillsboro did not have some of the other pandemic-related expenses covered by the CARES Act, so this was deemed the best use of the funds.

“Some cities had to totally reconfigure buildings, buy equipment, technology to telework, and we didn’t have that expense,” Butler said.

Butler told council that the city may possibly qualify for more funding under Ohio Senate Bill 357, which has been passed by the Ohio Senate and has been introduced in the Ohio House. He said that he spoke about the legislation Monday with county auditor Bill Fawley, who indicated that it was too early to tell how much the city could receive during this proposed round of funding.

“So we’re going to transfer these funds. Does this leave a zero balance in the CARES [fund]?” council member Mary Stanforth asked. “If more money comes in, do we have to go through this process again, or do you keep the account?”

City law director Fred Beery said that any additional funds will “go right in the account, and then Alex can bring you another piece of legislation saying ‘we want to spend it this way.’”

With no other questions from council, the resolution passed by a 7-0 vote.

Two other pieces of legislation were also passed by council Monday night.

After hearing its third reading, council voted 7-0 to approve a resolution to adopt the 2019 updated policy and procedure manual. There was no discussion prior to the vote.

Council also voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt an ordinance to vacate an unopened alley at 415 Trenton Street.

“This alley has never been actually opened,” council president Tom Eichinger said. “It’s simply on a map somewhere as a plan. The property owners are trying to transfer the property and have not been able to because the map office doesn’t have the ability to do that without some action on that vacated alley. As I understand it, this has been underway for close to a year now.”

• • •

In his report, Hillsboro mayor Justin Harsha announced that longtime city grant writer and administrative assistant Kirby Ellison has accepted a new role as the city’s economic development coordinator.

“From the beginning of the year when we took over, one of the main goals was to, at some point, put together an economic development department,” Harsha said. “Kirby has been with the city for many years — since 1995 — and she’s been doing an amazing job with grants.”

Stanforth asked how Ellison’s “job description is going to change.”

“A lot of what Kirby does now is already economic development,” Harsha said. “Her position is now administrative assistant I/grant writer, so she’s going to be the economic development coordinator.

“That’s an appointed position. In the negotiations with her, in the chance that anything would happen and we don’t have that department head anymore, she would revert back to what she has now in a classified position.”

Harsha added that Ellison’s role will include “a lot of grant writing, research for new grants,” working with the revolving loan fund committee and coordinating with other economic development groups, such as Ohio Southeast Economic Development, also known as OhioSE.

“Anything we can get our hands in as far as funding, we want her involved,” the mayor said. “It’s going to be a big job.”

The city is also hiring an economic development assistant/grant writer to work alongside Ellison, Harsha said, “so Kirby has the extra help that she needs to really start in there.”

Safety and service director Brianne Abbott said the assistant’s role will including helping the city find additional grant opportunities. “That’ll help fund our parks, it’ll help fund economic development and so on and so forth,” she said. “After a lot of discussion, it was just a no-brainer that this needed to move forward. I think it’s going to be a great thing for the city.”

• • •

In the safety and service director’s report, Abbott updated council on plans for the multimillion-dollar Marriott Hotel project, near the state Route 73/Harry Sauner Road intersection.

“A couple weeks ago, the city received some plans for the roadway improvements, water, sewer and storm sewer,” she said. “There are a few minor discrepancies that we are waiting for them to return to us before those are approved. We also still do not have cost estimates from the developer for the TIF [tax increment financing district], so we’re waiting on that as well.”

Abbott also gave an update on the parks committee’s efforts in the past month, including adding “a butterfly garden to the paved trail” at Harmony Lake.

“You’ll also be seeing the addition of some benches, trash cans, charcoal grills and possibly some playground equipment,” she said.

The garden subcommittee is also discussing adding a community garden next year, she said, while the trails subcommittee is also working on ideas ahead of next spring.

“We’ve met with the trails committee, and it looks like we might be working on some trails this fall and winter on the old railroad beds and getting those open to the public, which would be great,” Abbott said.

The parks committee has received several donations and is holding a golf outing fundraiser this Saturday. Another subcommittee has also “raised money quickly and is almost ready to go on the installation” of a disc golf course, she said.

On a different topic, the safety and service director told council the city has received numerous calls regarding “the lights for the school zone” recently.

“The ones that were currently there are out of date, so we had to order new, so those should be installed in the next week or two,” Abbott said.

Abbott also reported that the Harry Sauner Road reconstruction and Vaughn Avenue storm sewer projects are “nearing completion;” that the city met with Taylor Stepp of OhioSE recently and learned more about their inclusive project planning program; and that the city is reviewing bids for the pedestrian bridge project, which came in “a good deal under estimate.”

• • •

In the standing committee reports, zoning and annexation committee chair Patty Day said that her committee met Aug. 18 to discuss two separate issues regarding alleys.

“There was a recommendation by a citizen to have the city look at exiting alleys only to your right, not to be allowed to exit to the left,” Day said. “Especially in the city where people were parked, it would help improve the safety.”

Day said the committee referred the matter to the street and safety committee for further review.

The zoning and annexation committee also looked into drive-thrus in alleys in the uptown district, following several complaints from citizens.

“In looking at that alley specific use regulation — it’s Code 155.149 — it does list in the historic business G zoning district that drive-thru facilities can be used as a conditional use and that the regulations for the period of validity of that conditional permit cannot exceed two years,” Day said.

That issue was referred to the Hillsboro planning commission, according to Day.

Street and safety committee chair Adam Wilkin also gave a report on his committee’s most recent meeting, held Aug. 10. (For more on that meeting, see the article at http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/City-of-Hillsboro-Mobile-food-vendors-required-to-file-income-taxes/2/20/59210.)

According to Wilkin and Beery, legislation with the committee’s suggested changes to the ordinance onn mobile food vendors will be presented to council at their Oct. 13 meeting.

• • • 

In the auditor’s report, Butler told council that “revenues are surprisingly steady” for the city considering the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had anticipated much worse numbers, but especially income tax is pretty much on par to where it was this time last year,” he said. “That is a nice surprise.”

Butler also reported that the city’s audit will be conducted this week and that he plans to begin working with department heads on the 2021 budget in the near future.

• • •

Harsha reported that the Hillsboro Planning Commission’s most recent meeting involved discussion of a proposed “parking lot behind U.S. Bank.”

“There were a lot of citizens here voicing there opinions on that,” he said. “The issue was actually tabled from that meeting to do a little more research and find a solution to the problem.”

• • •

Along with the aforementioned approved legislation, council heard the first reading of an ordinance to amend portions of the zoning code and to amend the zoning map Monday.

The proposed ordinance includes amending the zoning map to “specify certain parcels of land on Harry Sauner Road [to] be changed from Industrial E to Commercial C zoned land” and to amend certain parcels of land on Fenner Avenue and North West Street from Business C to Business and Residential D.

The ordinance would also add a section under the zoning code’s “permitted uses” for “automotive washing facilities” and a section under accessory uses and structures for fencing.

Prior to council’s regular meeting, a joint hearing was held with the Hillsboro Planning Commission to discuss the proposed zoning changes.

Hillsboro Planning Commission member Charlie Guarino said that in working on the city’s master plan, the committee has found “things have changed over the years, and we wanted to kind of reflect those changes and start making updates as far as the zoning.”

“We felt that especially in these areas, these parcel numbers going from Business C to Business D would be — again, based on the master plan — a better fit for those parcels,” he said.

A citizen who attended the hearing, Peggy Hite, said she felt “multi-family is the best use for the five acres” listed on state Route 73. “We have multi-family right next to it and had someone that was interested in it,” she said. “I would like to see it zoned multi-family.”

Guarino explained that they’re “trying to get this accomplished” in the proposed update. “Business D is actually residential and commercial,” Eichinger added.

Guarino also reviewed the proposed changes to the zoning code.

“It seems like we just passed this a few months ago and we’re already making more changes, but it’s good because we want to keep this as a living document that evolves over time,” Guarino said.

Council member Brandon Leeth said that a citizen had asked him about the ordinance on fencing recently and “our permit process when you go to apply for a building permit.” “Do we have fence specs set in that?” he asked.

Guarino said that they are included in “the language to approve” and “is probably going to be on the form [for the permits], I would imagine.”

“We usually attach whatever ordinance is specified to the actual permit application, so there’s no confusion,” Abbott said.

Abbott added that the current language is “pretty vague,” so the proposed changes will be “more specific as to some of the regulations.”

As presented, that addition reads: “A fence is considered an accessory structure. Fencing is allowed up to seven feet tall to be located in any side or rear yards. Fencing located in the front yard or corner lots where the yard(s) are facing the street(s) are restricted to the height of four feet tall and must be of an ornamental design. There is no minimum setback from the property line for fencing. If on property line refer to and follow guidelines set forth in [section] d. If you need your property lines marked, you will need to contact a surveyor. Fencing is prohibited in city’s right of way.”

With no other comments or questions, the hearing adjourned after approximately six and a half minutes. No action was taken on the ordinance Monday.

• • •

Also during Monday’s meeting:

• Council heard a request from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control to transfer a liquor license from Bliss Stark LLC of Canton to R&B Beer & Tobacco Junction LLC on Harry Sauner Road. There were no objections to the request.

• Eichinger said that council has not yet found a location for their October meeting and that “it is possible we will need to move back to Zoom next month” if a meeting place is not found.

• Day thanked the Waw-wil-a-way chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution for a recent project to help the homeless.

• Council member Ann Morris expressed condolences to Eichinger on the recent death of his mother.