Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city auditor Gary Lewis and council members Justin Harsha, Mary Stanforth, Claudia Klein, Ann Morris, Lee Koogler, Wendy Culbreath and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured (in background) is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city auditor Gary Lewis and council members Justin Harsha, Mary Stanforth, Claudia Klein, Ann Morris, Lee Koogler, Wendy Culbreath and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured (in background) is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
After months of committee meetings and discussion, Hillsboro city council voted 6-0 to pass an ordinance to adopt a comprehensive revision to the City Zoning Code during their Monday, July 9 meeting.

At council president Lee Koogler’s suggestion, council voted 6-0 to pass the ordinance as an emergency.

“I would recommend we pass it as an emergency measure this evening so that it goes into immediate effect and doesn’t have to wait 30 days after publication, so we can move forward with it,” Koogler said.

There was no discussion of the ordinance Monday prior to the vote.

“It’s now the law of the land,” Koogler said.

• • •

Council heard the first reading of an ordinance “to provide a civil remedy to the citizens of Hillsboro for injury caused by an individual’s use of an illegal controlled substance.”

The ordinance, introduced by council members Wendy Culbreath, Claudia Klein, Brandon Leeth and Ann Morris, would enact a new chapter of the code of ordinances called the “Drug Dealer Liability Ordinance.”

The legislation would “provide a civil remedy for damages to persons in this community injured by an individual’s use of illegal controlled substances. It establishes a cause of action against drug dealers for damages for monetary, noneconomic and physical losses incurred as a result of an individual’s use of an illegal controlled substance. This chapter will shift the cost of the damage caused by the marketing of illegal drugs to those who illegally profit from that market, as well as deter others from entering the illegal drug market by subjecting them to substantial monetary loss. This chapter will also provide an incentive for individual users to identify illegal drug marketers and recover from them the costs of their own drug treatment.”

According to the ordinance, “a parent, legal custodian, child, spouse or sibling of the individual user; an individual who was exposed to an illegal controlled substance in utero; an employer of the individual user; a medical facility, insurer, employer, governmental entity or other legal entity that funds a drug treatment program or other employee assistance program … [or] a person injured as a result of the willful, reckless or negligent actions of an individual user” may seek damages.

Those “against whom actions may be brought” are any “person who sold, administered or furnished an illegal controlled substance to the individual user” or “a person who knowingly participated in the marketing of an illegal controlled substance” under certain circumstances.

Recoverable damages include “economic damages, noneconomic damages, exemplary damages, reasonable attorney fees and reasonable expenses for expert testimony.”

If an individual drug user wishes to seek damages, they must “personally disclose to narcotics enforcement authorities all of the information known to the individual regarding the individuals sources of illegal controlled substances” within six months before filing; must have “not used an illegal controlled substance within 30 days before filing the action;” and cannot use “an illegal controlled substance during the pendency of the action.”

The amount of damages an individual “participating in the marketing of illegal controlled substances” would be subject to pay would range from 25 percent for a level one offense to 100 percent for a level four offense.

Klein told council immediately that her plan was to suspend the three-reading rule and pass the ordinance Monday.

“I have no intentions of voting to suspend the three-reading rule because I’ve not had a chance to sit down and talk to you about it,” council member Justin Harsha said.

Koogler said that all six council members would have to vote to approve a suspension of the three-reading rule.

“The reason we wanted to do that is so it’s in effect before the September 8th supposed opening of the medical marijuana shops,” Klein said. “If we have the three readings, then that means it’s not going to be passed until October.”

As previously reported, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has approved a license for a medical marijuana dispensary on North High Street.

The ordinance notes that “it is a defense to any action brought pursuant to this chapter that the person who possessed with the intent to distribute or distributed an illegal controlled substance did so under the authority of law as a licensed physician or practitioner pursuant to a lawful prescription and was otherwise so authorized by law.”

Koogler said a “compromise” would be to allow public comment and to consider suspension of the three-reading rule at the August meeting.

“I’d be fine with that,” Harsha said. Klein said she’d “go along with” the suggestion.

• • •

Council also heard the first reading of 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, establishing a tax increment equivalent fund and declaring an emergency.”

The legislation seeks to establish a TIF (tax increment financing) fund for property at PAS Technologies. As previously reported in The Highland County Press, in December 2017, council voted 6-0 to approve an ordinance transferring the city-owned Homestead Avenue property to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation, authorizing the HAEDC to sell the property to PAS for $50,000 “contingent upon the city being able to TIF the property.”

A motion to suspend the three-reading rule failed by a 5-1 margin, with Culbreath providing the lone “no” vote.

• • •

Council voted 6-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt an ordinance “to transfer certain unused, unnecessary properties to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation for sale and use of funds for Railroad Street Park.”

As the list of properties was not attached, Harsha asked which parcels were included in the ordinance. Koogler asked clerk Heather Collins to read the list of properties, which includes the municipal parking lot on West Walnut Street, the Route 50 rest area and three lots on McDowell Street.

According to the ordinance, “the proceeds of sale [for each property] should be applied to the development [of the] Railroad Street park property and all such sale proceeds shall be segregated into an account for that purpose.”

There was no further discussion before council voted on the ordinance.

• • •

In his report, Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings again raised to council the idea of bringing a hotel to Hillsboro.

The mayor had previously outlined a plan for a hotel in uptown Hillsboro in proposed legislation for a Downtown Redevelopment District, which ultimately failed. The city had conducted a “hotel feasibility study” in 2016.

“I spoke with somebody last week who’s on the board of the Wilmington Visitors Bureau,” Hastings told council Monday. “They mentioned that their budget for the visitors bureau in Wilmington was $440,000 a year. I asked, ‘where do you get that kind of budget from?’ They said it’s almost all from bed taxes, and then this person kind of kiddingly thanked me because they said a sizable amount of that they attribute to coming from Hillsboro.

“I only mention that because it just gives you more food for thought. I’ve always kind of felt we needed a hotel here. I tried to spearhead an effort before, and it didn’t really go anywhere. If you have an interest, that’s the kind of money just in bed tax that it’s been bringing in.”

Also in his report, Hastings thanked Chris Lewis, who organized the fireworks at the Highland County Fairgrounds again this year, “for a very successful effort.” Hastings congratulated the Festival of the Bells for an “incident-free” event; noted that he attended a party at Bell Gardens Place to celebrate the 102nd birthday of Mary Margaret West and the 100th birthday of Helen Sprinkle; thanked council member Ann Morris, as well as Amy Robinson and Buck Wilkin, for the flowers in the uptown district; and expressed condolences to the family of fallen firefighter Joe Patterson and to the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District.

Klein asked Hastings for a report on the Mayors Association of Ohio’s annual conference, which Hastings called “haphazard.”

One of the major issues that was discussed at the meeting, Hastings said, was a proposed Ohio House bill “that prohibits municipalities from changing water/sewer rates.”

“There was a big outcry against it,” Hastings said. “It had a lot of more or less activists – a lot of people went up against it, so it has been waylaid.”

Another item of note is that “you no longer have to file your local city taxes with the local tax bureau – you can go straight to the state and file your commercial taxes.”

“What I don’t like about that is it just seems like it makes it a little more more ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for local tax offices,” Hastings said. “The tax commissioner said there are actually cities that are starting to almost do away with their income tax department.”

• • •

Safety and service director Mel McKenzie reported that progress is being made on several ongoing city projects, including the widening of Harry Sauner Road and sidewalk replacements and the building of a “green space” on Governor Trimble Place.

“I’d like the sidewalk replacement to continue on the west side of North High, but as of now, only one business owner has contacted me with any interest in the sidewalk program,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie said that two proposed projects – the Colony Theatre renovations and the skate park/sports facility at the former Railroad Street park – will have to be advertised for bids once plans are finalized.

McKenzie also thanked the Festival of the Bells committee “for a great time over the weekend” and the Hillsboro Police Department for “maintaining a safe festival.”

• • •

Hastings reported that the Hillsboro Planning Commission met in June to continue discussions on drafting a master plan for the city. The city has received an estimate of “$56,000 over a two-year period” to work with consulting firm McBride Dale Clarion.

“The current planning commission budget will cover the cost of 2018 without additional appropriation,” Hastings said. “Past surveys conducted by the commission and administration will be sent to the consultants for reference. Important items to consider for the master plan are the completion of the water route for Carl Smith Drive at 73, annexation of islands and properties contingent to the corporation limit and annexation of Careytown Road from the corp limit to Carl Smith Drive.”

The commission also continued discussing an issue from the previous month in which a property owner sought advice on “how to proceed with a non-conforming use building that he constructed in a Residential A building zone.”

“The owner had expressed interest in possibly making a pole barn a residence,” Hastings said. “The commission voted to allow the combining of two lots, but only if the pole barn remained as such and was not converted to a residence.”

The commission is still awaiting a formal request from the property owner for a variance on a “height violation” on the building.

• • •

There were few committee meetings in the past month, as the only council member giving an official report was street and safety committee chair Adam Wilkin, who spoke about meetings to revise chapters 90 and 93 of the Hillsboro city ordinance. According to Wilkin, the committee “went through each individual regulation, and with the help of citizens and committee members, we were able to review some ideas” to assist in animal regulations. The legislation is still being drafted by city law director Fred Beery, Wilkin said.

Wilkin said that there are “no updates on the skate park” until they “see how things shake out” on joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District.

“It’s held up because of something to do with the fire district?” Hastings asked.

“Well, as far as the funding goes,” Wilkin said. “I’m not sure how all that’s going to work out without the information we get from the fire district.”

Harsha, who is chair of the finance committee, noted that his committee has not yet discussed a request at the June council meeting to reconsider joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District. Harsha said that a meeting will be scheduled once they receive “the information we’re waiting on.”

Civil service and employee relations committee chair Mary Stanforth told council that she spoke with attorneys over updating a civil service manual for the city. Updates to the manual have been underway since former safety and service director Todd Wilkin made a request in March 2016, and updated manuals were reportedly completed in July 2017.

“The legal firm said that before they can do a civil service manual, they have to do a personnel manual, so it is going back to the attorneys to get that taken care of,” Stanforth said.

• • •

Council also voted 6-0 on the following legislation:

• Council moved to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve an ordinance to vacate an unnamed alley between 206 and 210 Park Avenue.

• Council moved to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve an ordinance to vacate an unnamed alley on the north side of Bigelow Street.

• Council approved a resolution to increase appropriations by $33,000 for a municipal mowing contract.

• Council voted to adopt a proposed 2019 tax budget for the city of Hillsboro.

• Council voted to excuse the absence of Leeth, who was “on vacation and unavailable,” according to Koogler.

• • •

Council entered an executive session to discuss “contract negotiations” with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District at 7:55 p.m. and exited at 8:08 p.m.