Pictured are Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, left, and safety and service director Mel McKenzie. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured are Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, left, and safety and service director Mel McKenzie. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Along with discussing departmental budget cuts and proposing fee increases to offset the “very tight” budget, Hillsboro city council voted to approve the city’s 2019 budget ordinance during their Monday, Feb. 11 meeting.

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, council voted Dec. 10, 2018 to pass an ordinance making temporary appropriations for the 2019 fiscal year until plans with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District were finalized. During that meeting, finance committee chair Justin Harsha said that the “the 2018 carryover was approximately $950,000” and that city auditor Gary Lewis “suggested $700 to $750,000 would be a comfortable carryover.”

However, according to city safety and service director Mel McKenzie and Harsha, the city is looking at a projected carryover of roughly $215,000.

McKenzie explained the budget, as well as the cuts made by various departments, during his report.

“For 2019, we have an expected revenue of $4.6 million, plus the carryover, minus the money that’s encumbered from last year,” McKenzie said. “That gives us an estimated $5.3 million for the General Fund in 2019. In May of 2018, our projected budget for 2019 had to be turned into the state. Our projected budget was $5.9 million. That means we needed to cut $600,000 from our original budget just to break even with the projected 2019 budget.”

McKenzie outlined those cuts as follows: $393,000 from the public works department; $220,000 from the Hillsboro police department; and $230,000 from the city administration.

“This afforded us a projected carryover of approximately $215,000,” McKenzie said. “Money is very tight for 2019, and we as a city are not running 2019 very much above the 2018 expenses.”

McKenzie also discussed “talk of taking our income tax percentage rate back to the voters once the city joins the fire district because the 0.4-percent rate technically was voted to pay for fire services.”

“This is partially true,” McKenzie said. The safety and service director told council that citizens voted in 1978 to raise tax rates for rescue squad, but not fire, funding. When the tax ordinance was rewritten in 1986, it “did not include fire or rescue,” and “in 2005, it was amended, but the purpose was the same.”

“In 33 years, a portion of the income tax was not specifically set for fire and rescue, as has been rumored,” McKenzie said. “To break it down to numbers, if the income tax were to be rolled back at 0.4 percent and it affected this year’s budget, we would have about $1.4 million less to run the city. This would be detrimental to the city and its ability to function.

“It is my hope that if ever a vote comes to fruition to roll back the income tax, an educated voter understands the potential impact.”

During his report, Harsha said that the finance committee held two meetings recently to review the budget, adding that “fire coverage was a big topic of discussion” at their first meeting.

“The city will contract with Paint Creek for the next three years for $650,000 per year,” Harsha said. “This is a $95,456 increase per year.”

Harsha said the committee also discussed using building department fees to help offset expenses. As previously reported by the finance committee during council’s December 2018 meeting, “the permit fee is $35, and there is no inspection fee,” and the committee has been looking into implementing an inspection fee.

During the committee’s second meeting, held Feb. 8, Harsha said they amended the proposed ordinance, which was “originally budgeted for a contract for four years for Paint Creek.” This “changes the need to budget savings from the real estate transaction at the end of 2022,” he said.

“Also in question was the difference between the sale price of the fire station and the bond payoff,” Harsha said. “Another part of the sale is the city will acquire the fire station on High Street.”

Other budgetary concerns discussed by the committee were Liberty Park and some positions within the city, which may be looked into in the future, Harsha said.

Harsha said that the estimated carryover is $215,329.05.

Council member Ann Morris, who is also a member of the finance committee, suggested Monday that they hold monthly meetings “to discuss revenue options” and begin talks on the 2020 budget. Harsha said that they could make arrangements to do so.

Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings thanked McKenzie for his efforts with the budget and criticized Lewis for not attending Monday night’s meeting to discuss the legislation.

“I definitely want to thank our SSD Mel McKenzie for his work on what was a difficult budget and all the city department heads for sharpening their pencils on this budget, which had a lot of cutting,” Hastings said. “Our city auditor – I had wanted to bring the budget up to him, this particular budget, but he’s missing again [from the council meeting] for the fourth or fifth month. I would hope that whoever comes into that job, I would hope that council lays out what they expect of him – a little higher standard of reporting than what’s been provided.”

• • •

Partially in response to the aforementioned budget cuts to the public works department, council heard the first 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. If approved, this would mark the second increase in a year, with council voting in May 2018 to increase the base charge for the first 133 cubic feet per month from $9.08 to $12.08.

The ordinance presented Monday night would increase that price to $15.08 for the first 133 cubic feet as of the June 1, 2019 billing cycle.

Brandon Leeth, who is the chair of the utilities committee, said he did not want to pass the ordinance as an emergency Monday “to give the public plenty of time” to learn about the ordinance.

Leeth told council that his committee met recently to discuss the proposed water rate increase.

“Taking a look into the water funds, it was clear that an adjustment was necessary to be made to the monthly water portion of the bill,” Leeth said. “According to Shawn Adkins [city public works supervisor], he had to cut about $84,000 out of his distribution side, leaving that department only with $7,000 for 2019.”

Leeth said that according to the department’s annual report, there were 40 water main breaks in 2018, with each costing approximately $6,000.

“Shawn also noted that the Ohio EPA wants communities to be able to set monies aside for future repairs,” Leeth said. “We have several water lines in Hillsboro that have surpassed the 50-year mark. Our water system is getting very old.

“As you can see, we fall short of setting money aside
that the Ohio EPA suggested, due to the fact $84,000 had to be cut out of that budget alone.”

Leeth said city grant writer Kirby Ellison addressed the committee about potential grant opportunities, where the city faces a similar dilemma in that they must “show proof that the money is available for the loan payback, along with a program in place to show the money is being put away for future improvements.”

“Hillsboro at the present time is not able to put any money back in savings,” Leeth said. “According to Nancy [Mathews, utilities office manager] and Kirby, Hillsboro actually had to hold off paying some invoices last year until the funds were available this year.”

Last year, the $3 increase was presented as a way to help put an approximate $100,000 toward needed improvements for the water department. Similarly, Leeth said that the additional increase in 2019 would add “approximately $97,000.”

“By adding a $3 base fee increase for the water department, the city expects to obtain approximately $97,000 for 12 months,” Leeth said. “There was a base increase last year, 2018, of $3, but the increase did not take effect until around September.

“For the future, we need to look at a percentage increase across the board for us to have money to operate and save back as well. An aging water plant, along with aging infrastructure, is something that we know is going to cost money to repair.”

Also related to the city budget ordinance, council voted 6-0 Monday to approve a resolution for the transfer of various funds for fiscal year 2019.

• • •

During the mayor’s report, Hastings encouraged concerned citizens to “get involved” if they want to deter the building of additional dollar stores in the city.

“I’ve had a number of people ask me about the new Dollar General store on South High Street, on 62 across from the elementary and middle school,” Hastings said. “People think we have too many of these type of stores already. Personally, I think that’s true.

“If they comply with the zoning, they’re free to build and operate. Steps can be taken to address commercial building, but citizens need to be involved for that to happen. I think that is all the more reason people should be involved, particularly on our planning commission, because the planning commission really kind of stays on top of what we like to see planned and what people want to see planned or not planned.”

Hastings also told council that the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission (OVRDC) held its county caucus last week and that “they are involved in a lot of infrastructure programs” locally.

“I bring that up only because if you want to get a little bigger picture of what goes on at county meetings and beyond, we can always get you OVRDC information,” Hastings told council.

In the Hillsboro planning commission report, Hastings reported that Tom Eichinger and Charlie Guarino were re-elected commission chair and vice chair, respectively, during their organizational meeting. The commission has continued discussions of the city’s master plan through the Imagine Hillsboro project, with a new survey available for citizens to consider.

The planning commission also conducted a public hearing on conditional use permit request for a West Pleasant Street property, which was not approved.

“I thought it was a really good exercise in seeing your neighborhood – wherever your neighborhood happens to be – how you can get involved and encourage things to happen or stop things from happening that you don’t want to see in your neighborhood,” Hastings said, referencing dollar stores for a second time.

The Board of Zoning Appeals also approved a sign variance for StandardAero, according to the mayor.

• • •

Along with the proposed water rate increase, the utilities committee is also considering the need to repair and/or replace stormwater utilities in the city. The city is contracting with former interim SSD Gary Silcott of Stantec Engineering for “a plan addressing storm sewer needs.”

“We need to allocate money to this project not only to pay for what we need now, but also to consider what it will take to set back and replace and repair the storm sewer lines in the years to come,” Leeth said.

The city has received principal forgiveness monies to fund the first phase of the project, slated to begin this fall, he added.

Leeth also asked for the official removal of the legislation proposing uniform citywide trash service – which received negative feedback from citizens and area trash service providers when it was presented in October 2018 – from the committee’s agenda.

“There’s nothing that we can do. The ordinance states that it’s up to the safety and service director to make any recommendations on any sort of trash pickup,” he said.

• • •

Street and safety committee chair Adam Wilkin reported that his committee has begun talks to revise the city code of ordinances “to add and/or remove any new or redundant legislation from previous years.” Wilkin said this was last completed in 2014.

• • •

• Following an approximate 36-minute executive session, council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution drafted by city law director Fred Beery at the conclusion of Monday night’s meeting. The resolution authorizes “the Hillsboro Area [Economic] Development Corporation to retain funds on the sale of miscellaneous property for future land purchase agreements.”

There was no discussion of the legislation in open session, other than the unanimous vote.

• • • 

In other action, council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve an adopt an ordinance declaring improvements to parcels of real property located in the City of Hillsboro, Ohio to be a public purpose under Section 5709.40 of the Ohio Revised Code, exempting such improvements from real property taxation and establishing a tax increment fund (TIF). The ordinance affects property owned by CD DG Hillsboro LLC, located at 397 US Route 62. The legislation had its first reading in January.

• Council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution authorizing participation in the Ohio Department of Transportation Winter Contract for road salt.

• • •

At the beginning of the meeting, council voted to excuse the absences of council president Lee Koogler, whom president pro tempore Harsha said was in the hospital, and council member Wendy Culbreath, whom Harsha said was recovering from an accident.

Also during the meeting, council Claudia Klein asked if standing committees could stop hosting meetings in the upstairs conference room at the city building, as Klein said she’s been unable to attend recent meetings because she could not climb stairs for medical reasons. McKenzie suggested reserving the basement meeting room at the county administration building. Harsha said that if Klein had let him know before Monday, he would have switched the location of the finance committee meetings.