From left, Hillsboro city council members Rebecca Wilkin, Lee Koogler and Justin Harsha are pictured at the Feb. 13 council meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, Hillsboro city council members Rebecca Wilkin, Lee Koogler and Justin Harsha are pictured at the Feb. 13 council meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro City Council members voted unanimously to approve two ordinances amending the city zoning code during their regular monthly meeting on Feb. 13.

The first ordinance amends Chapter 155 (Zoning Code) Section 155.006, Nonconforming Uses of the Ordinances of the City of Hillsboro.

For this section, the ordinance revamps the current six-point code, which was passed in 1987. The new chapter includes sections on the continuation of nonconforming use; the continuation of nonconforming structure; the continuation of nonconforming accessory uses and structures; the maintenance, repair and structural safety of nonconforming structures; standards for the repair, maintenance, alterations and expansion of a nonconforming structure; moving a nonconforming structure; abandonment of nonconforming use; expansion of a nonconforming use; substitution of nonconforming use; expansion or substitution of nonconforming uses; revocation of expansion or substitution of nonconforming uses; and reconstruction of nonconforming use and structure.

The second ordinance amends 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. For section 155.064 of the code, which was last amended in 2000, the current sections 1(a) and 1(b) will be deleted, as they also refer to nonconforming uses. The rest of the section will remain the same.

Council members heard all three readings of both ordinances, and no discussion of either ordinance took place during the regular council meetings prior to the vote. Council voted 6-0 to approve both ordinances, with council member Claudia Klein absent due to illness.

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In his report, Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings spoke to council about what he called “the FRS problem.”

“We have a lot of nonprofits in this area that really, more or less, run Hillsboro,” Hastings said. “They really, to a large degree, determine policy for the county. They determine – because of our city’s lack of oversight, they dictate policy for the city.”

Specifically, Hastings discussed FRS Transportation’s shuttle route, which transports Highland County residents “who do not qualify through other funding sources, to work, medical appointments as well as other life necessities,” according to the FRS website.

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, the route, which is funded by the Highland County Healthier Buckeye Council grant, runs between the Rocky Fork Lake area and Hillsboro twice daily. The shuttle is offered Mondays through Fridays, and the fare is $1 per person, per ride. The route includes seven stops at the lake and 20 stops in the city of Hillsboro.

“Just their transportation, their bus and taxi service in Hillsboro, was $1.7 million in revenue last year,” Hastings said. “The city of Hillsboro’s water revenue was only $1.5 [million]. The reason I make that comparison is if somebody tried to open a water company in this town without telling us, we would probably be outraged, and yet we have allowed an entity to start a bus company, to announce a grand opening and to lay out a plan for all the routes in Hillsboro as of last month, charge fees, lay out bus stops and not even touch base with the city. I think that’s insulting, frankly.”

Hastings said that his problem was not with the organization in general, but with the “blatant disregard that we have seen over and over again by various entities who have no regard for what we’re doing in the city of Hillsboro.”

“They laid out an entire transportation route that starts every morning picking people up out at the lake, running people through the city all day long and back out, without any communication with the city, whether it’s for scheduling, planning, implementation, licensing, anything,” Hastings said. “For as much as sometimes we have people in this city who go ballistic if somebody doesn’t get a proper sign permit, how we can allow this to transpire, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion and concern about it, is beyond me.”

Hastings told council “if we do not plan and take control of planning our city’s future, someone else will, and they already are.”

“There’s people that hear FRS and they immediately hear ‘oh, this is for the poor and the elderly,’” Hastings said. “That’s a percentage of what they do, yes, but this is not a diatribe against helping out the disadvantaged. I’m not proposing that that’s what’s driving this or that’s what this is about at all.

“But you have nonprofit entities here in the county and in the city that, for example, this particular bus service route that was set up to provide, in the mission statement, for a better quality of life for the disadvantaged in our city. And that’s commendable that that is being set up, but I think what we need to not lose sight of is just like there is planning to make this city on one end to be the best city it can be for the disadvantaged, we owe it to a great part of this population to also plan for this city to plan for jobs and a little more prosperity. It’s about quality of life, I guess, but it’s whose quality of life is going to reign, I think.”

The mayor said that in the next few months, council will be seeing “the disproportionate effect of nonprofits on city/county policy.”

Council member Bill Alexander asked if Hastings “perceives FRS as falling under our taxicab regulations.”

“Absolutely,” Hastings said. “They charge. They have a fee structure. You or I can pick up the phone and get rides with them. Their mission statement is to provide transportation throughout Hillsboro and Highland County with priority to the elderly and disadvantaged.

“They felt that their elderly population they serve was 30 percent of their entire pie, which isn’t that big. I absolutely feel that they would fall under [the ordinance].”

“Are you going to be recommending legislation to us, or do we have legislation already that they would fall under and it would be an administrative matter to begin to apply that legislation to them?” Alexander asked.

“I’m kind of putting it to you, because I want you guys to be aware of this,” Hastings said.

Council president Lee Koogler said that he would place the matter in the street and safety committee, although the mayor said he doesn’t “think it’s a street and safety issue.”

“It seems logical that street and safety needs to look at it,” Koogler said. “We’ll start it there and move from there.”

Hastings also reported that he had met with the mayor of Mount Orab to discuss the village’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts and with a developer for a proposed hotel project in uptown Hillsboro.

In the Hillsboro planning commission report, Hastings said that the commission held an organizational meeting as well as a regular meeting. The commission “reviewed and discussed an analysis from Gary Silcott for the proposed Taylor Drive project” and continued ongoing discussions on zoning updates. A real estate developer is looking into building one-level apartments on Taylor Drive, and this project is still in the planning stages, according to the mayor’s administrative assistant Debbie Sansone.

Hastings also said that the city was working on a list of blighted properties and would be working on clearing these properties this spring.

Council member Tracy Aranyos asked if the city would be tearing down any structures.

“I think Fred [Beery, city law director] needs to hear from you guys [council] that we really need this done. I am rather upset, frankly, that for five years I’ve tried to tear houses down in the city,” Hastings said. “Council has thrown money at the administration, and I really appreciate that, for blight, and we’ve not managed to get one building down. So I would put pressure on Mr. Beery.”

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Council heard from Greystone Motel owner Minish Patel, who made a request to lower his water and sewer rates. The motel uses city utilities but is located just outside of the city limits.

Patel told council that he is paying a $1.50 rate per 100 gallons, while those inside the city pay $1. Patel asked to have his rate lowered to the one dollar paid inside the city.

“I am requesting you, please, if it is possible, just lower my water and sewer bill,” Patel said. “I request that I can pay the same amount that the city people are paying.”

Koogler said that it is customary for buildings outside the city limits to receive a different rate.

City auditor Gary Lewis said that he “would object” to lowering the motel’s rate “from a financial aspect.”

“We have a water fund that’s already at its limit, as far as our expenditures,” Lewis said.

Lewis also said the city would have “no basis to deny” similar requests from others outside the city limits. Koogler placed the issue in the utilities committee for further consideration.

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During the committee reports, finance committee chair Dick Donley said that the committee met at Hastings’ request to discuss “revenue issues with some of the programs in Hillsboro.”

“He thought that some of the licenses and fees being charged were somewhat outdated and hadn’t been reviewed or updated in a while,” Donley said. “He did present to us a few of the items he would like for us to look at and review.”

Justin Harsha told council that the street and safety committee met to discuss a request from Larry Addington to move the crosswalk on East Main Street and to discuss merging the Hillsboro Police Department and Highland County Sheriff’s Office dispatch.

Upon discussion, the committee decided against Addington’s request to “move the crosswalk further east on East Main Street.”

“Our committee felt that the existing crosswalk should be left at the same location, but that there is work that could be done to make the visibility much better and develop a much safer crosswalk,” Harsha said.

Water, sewer and street maintenance head Shawn Adkins recommended repainting the lines of the crosswalk, along with suggesting thermoplastic paint.

The committee also voted against the merging of law enforcement dispatch.

“It was clear with all the obstacles that minimal, if any, savings was not in the interest of the department and would not benefit our city,” Harsha said.

Ann Morris reported that the property maintenance and restoration committee voted unanimously to recommend a sign variance request for Arby’s. Council voted 6-0 to approve the request.

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Council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and approve the following resolutions:

• A resolution to increase appropriations in the fire pension fund by $33,000.

• A resolution to increase appropriations in the street fund by $77,000.

• A resolution for an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation for expenses related to work on US 62.

• A resolution to increase appropriations in the Municipal Court computer fund by $19,000.

“The municipal court had a primary server go down, and it must be replaced immediately,” Lewis said. “This is one of the three servers where we back up everything for the city.”

Lewis said there is “plenty of money in that fund.”

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Council heard the second reading of an ordinance to amend Section 35.90 of the Hillsboro Code of Ordinances to modify the distribution of funds. The ordinance was presented by Hastings at the January council meeting and proposes 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.”

Donley moved to amend the proposed ordinance to state that “in the event that council does not review and approve this funding annually, the same shall continue as in the previous year,” instead of the required annual review. Council voted 6-0 to approve the amendment, but no motion was made on the ordinance itself.

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Jessica Polstra of Hillsboro opened the meeting by leading council in the Pledge of Allegiance.