Hillsboro city council members (l-r) Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin are pictured during their May 14 meeting. Also pictured is clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro city council members (l-r) Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin are pictured during their May 14 meeting. Also pictured is clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings discussed plans for a proposed skate park that could evolve into “a sports complex,” with major renovations planned for the former city park at Railroad Street, during Hillsboro city council’s May 14 meeting.

Although city council has considered the construction of a skate park in the past, the matter was placed back into committee at the May 2017 meeting. One year later, Hastings told council that he met with street and safety committee chair Adam Wilkin and safety and service director Mel McKenzie on plans for the proposed park. The mayor said that they determined that it would be best to renovate the Railroad Street park into a “sports complex,” rather than just a skate park.

“To just do a skate park and nothing else with the park was not going to have the desired effect,” Hastings said. “We’d still have a tired-looking basketball court, no parking, runoff issues with water, part of the tennis court left. It wasn’t going to get the community excited.”

Having a virtually new park will be “very exciting,” Hastings said, “but not cheap.” To offset the costs, the city hopes to use their own crews to complete some of the work and will look into various sources of funding.

“The city will take care of the basketball [court] renovations, with lighting and new paving,” Hastings said. “There’s about $190,000 just in infrastructure that has to be dealt with – curbs, water abatement, water that flows down from the residential streets into that area that has to be diverted.”

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, council voted in December 2017 to transfer property at the former city park to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation (HAEDC), with one parcel for the proposed skate park and one parcel designated for Tirrell Cumberland’s planned youth sports center, TC3.

“[Cumberland’s] resultant mortgage on that property would go to the city to help pay back the funds that we’re going to have expended in this,” Hastings said.

The mayor said that the city would be contracting with Stantec for an estimate for a skate park. Once the city has the estimate, “then council will simply direct the auditor to do a bond for the amount that it will take to do that,” he said.

“The infrastructure, the skate park, the Cumberland building and the parking – when we put all those numbers together, we’ll have an overall picture of what the total’s going to be,” Hastings said. “We’ve got some other areas that we think we can get funds shortly to help defray some of these costs.”

Safety and service director Mel McKenzie said that some of these “ways to fund projects without putting the burden on the citizens” include selling city-owned properties.

“The property that council approved a few months ago to sell to PAS [Technologies] will close soon for $50,000,” McKenzie said. “We would like a portion of that fund for the Colony parking area and the rest to be earmarked for the Railroad Street skate park to give it a boost.

“This brings to light other properties the city owns around town that could be sources of revenue if we were to sell them. A few examples would be the municipal parking lot near the Hillsboro Police Department, a lot on US Route 50 just east of town and three lots at the corner of Railroad Street and McDowell Street.”

At McKenzie’s request, president pro tempore Justin Harsha placed the funding of the park into committee for further considerations, suggesting a joint meeting of the finance and zoning/annexation committees.

“I think it gives the city a really good bang for our buck, in redoing the entire thing,” Hastings said.

Wilkin welcomed the community to attend a public meeting of the street and safety committee, scheduled for May 21 in the city building conference room, to discuss the proposed park.

• • •

Discussion on the proposed update to the city’s zoning code continued Monday, following a public hearing April 9 and another committee meeting on the issue May 3.

As zoning and committee chair Wendy Culbreath noted, the committee agreed to strike a proposed limit of “no more than four dogs or four cats, or a combination of dogs and cats not to total more than four per household” as well as “a maximum of four chicken hens or four rabbits, or a combination of both,” based on public input.

However, during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, Hillsboro planning commission member Tom Eichinger asked if council could consider changes to the existing code of ordinances “to handle issues associated with animals.”

“I went back and looked at the animal ordinance – number 90 on the books in Hillsboro – and it’s sadly lacking a way to handle issues associated with animals,” Eichinger told council. “What I would like to request is that one of the committees take on reviewing this ordinance section – and possibly also 93, which has to deal with health and safety, because I think they’re intertwined.

“Take a look at revising them, bringing them up to speed, so that we have resources for the public at large to take action if there are issues that occur in Hillsboro. We don’t have a city officer that’s responsible for that, of course. It’s zoning-based, but the laws that are on the books are so old – they’re as old as the zoning code was. I think it’s time to update them, especially when you consider I see an awful lot of free-running dogs around. There are a lot of feral cats or just dumped cats in the city. That leads to issues.”

Culbreath outlined some of the changes to the proposed zoning code ordinance discussed by her committee and the Hillsboro Planning Commission in their May 3 meeting. Most of the changes stemmed from the public hearing April 9, during which citizens spoke out against various parts of the ordinance.

“Citizens decisively objected to limiting the number of pets they could own,” Culbreath said. “In response, the committee removed parts of the code restricting animal ownership.”

In response to a request from area veterinarians, Culbreath said that Eichinger proposed a change to a portion of the ordinance stating that “any nonconforming use or structure that is abandoned or discontinued for a period of 180 consecutive days may not be established or resumed.”

“Tom Eichinger proposed increasing the time to 365 days, and the committee agreed,” she said.

The committee also moved to add the word “commercial” to a section of the ordinance on “antennas and cell phone towers,” after committee member Claudia Klein said that there was “ambiguity” for some citizens, including amateur radio operators.

Culbreath said that she made a request at the meeting to change the phrase “unnecessary hardship,” in a section on granting variances, to “something less intimidating.” She said that “McKenzie suggested ‘justifiable reason,’ and the committee agreed.”

During Monday night’s meeting, Culbreath said that she “wanted to go on record” as disagreeing with the planning commission’s opinion on the public’s concern with a portion of the ordinance that reads: “In the interpretation of this code, if a use within the code is not specifically permitted, it shall be prohibited.”

Culbreath said that during her committee’s meeting, Eichinger said “that sentence is not going to be stricken.”

“I don’t agree with that, and I want to go on record as saying that I think it should be stricken,” Culbreath told council. “It limits freedom, and it makes it so that the citizens have to come, hat in hand, to the planning commission for anything not mentioned in the code, for permission to do it. Like a ‘Mother, may I’ or a ‘Your Majesty, may I.’ To me, it just steps on freedom, and I don’t agree with that.”

Both Eichinger and Hastings asked to respond to Culbreath, with Harsha allowing the mayor to comment.

“I think it’s a little loaded to say that we have to ‘come hat in hand,’’” Hastings said. “We’re a nation of laws. Though we have, in some cases, too many, and in some arguably too few, we’re still a nation of laws. I don’t think it’s a case where we have to come ‘hat in hand’ when citizens want to come and ask for something.”

Hastings added that it is “not that daunting” for citizens to request variances.

“When I was a citizen, before I was mayor, I came to council a number of times asking for various things,” Hastings said. “I always got a straight answer or resolution of some kind.

“I just have to say I strongly disagree with that comment. That’s all.”

Harsha recommended that the street and safety committee look into Eichinger’s request for adjustments to chapters 90 and 93 of the code of ordinances.

“I don’t think that’s the only part of the ordinance that could use some attention,” Harsha said. “We’re going to start there.”

• • •

Council voted to approve and adopt all but one of the nine ordinances and resolutions on their agenda Monday night, as no action was taken on the proposed city zoning code update, which had its second reading.

Of the eight approved pieces of legislation, the one that drew the most conversation was a resolution “authorizing the drawing of a warrant” to correct an issue with a purchase order in 2016.

Culbreath said that she didn’t “fully understand” the resolution, and Harsha asked city auditor Gary Lewis to explain it.

“In our last audit, we got a citation for invoices without purchase orders,” Lewis said. “You’re supposed to have a purchase order before you have an invoice.”

Lewis said that the resolution corrects an issue with a blanket purchase order that was canceled “and in the confusion of things, a new purchase order was not issued” for the a contract with the McBride Dale Clarion firm, which has been working with the city to draft the zoning code legislation.

“In order to avoid a citation one more time, the law allows you to go before council,” Lewis said. “It’s a procedural thing.”

“Is this a one-time thing?” Culbreath asked.

“Every time that it happens, it would come before you, if it’s over the amount of $3,000,” Lewis said.

Council member Brandon Leeth asked why the state would not allow blanket purchase orders. “Apparently, it’s a change in their procedures,” Lewis said. “In the past, we did use them.”

“It’s not the way I see it across the state,” Leeth said.

“If we had a purchase order specifically to that company that is three years old, we could still have it,” Lewis. “That’s probably what you see a lot of.”

According to Lewis and his recommended resolution, the Ohio Revised Code allows for a “then and now certificate, where, if the fiscal officer can certify that both at the time that the contract or order was made and at the time that he is completing his certification, sufficient funds were available or in the process of collection, to the credit of a proper fund, properly appropriated and free from any previous encumbrance, the taxing authority can authorize the drawing of a warrant.”

Council voted 7-0 to approve and adopt the legislation to authorize the auditor to pay the balance of the contract with McBride Dale Clarion after “a purchase order was not requested for the balance of a contract … in the amount of $21,967.56 to be paid from the Planning Commission budget prior to issuance of invoices from said company.”

Council members also voted to approve and adopt the following legislation:

• An ordinance to amend Section 51.36 of the City Code to provide for modification of the minimum usage charge for water usage.

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to apply for, accept and enter into a cooperative agreement for the construction of a catwalk project between the City of Hillsboro and the Ohio Water Development Authority.

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application for the FY18 Community Block Allocation Grant Program.

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application for the FY18 Community Development Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

• A resolution authorizing the city of Hillsboro to prepare and submit an application to participate in the Ohio Department of Transportation alternatives program and to execute contracts as required.

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application for the State of Ohio NatureWorks grant program.

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application for the FY18 Community Development Critical Infrastructure Program.

• • •

During his report, Hastings updated council on various court hearings involving the city of Hillsboro, including a case in Highland County Common Pleas Court involving the former Dallas Music property at 146 West Beech Street. According to court documents, the city filed a complaint “to abate a public nuisance” against the Highland County Treasurer’s office, the Ohio Department of Taxation, the property’s owner and any lienholders to the property last summer.

“We had a hearing on April 30,” Hastings said. “We’ll have a pretrial in July. There’ll be a court trial in August.

“We’ve been working, trying to resolve issues with the property owner, for probably two years, and it’s just now – we’re three months from having any kind of a trial on this.”

Hastings said that it will be “probably be receivership, and then at some point the property would be taken down.”

“It’s a really good corner, with a lot of traffic, and would benefit somebody,” Hastings said. “It’s also one of our most visible blighted corners in the city. It’s an atrocious looking building. It’s got stuff flapping and flying off it, broken down windows – it’s just bad. I’m glad to see it’s finally moving forward.”

Hastings also noted a Highland County Probate Court hearing involving an over $800,000 gift bequeathed to “the Hillsboro Fire Department” by the late Jean Head. As previously reported by The Highland County Press, the city of Hillsboro filed an application to acquire the funds to assist in retiring the bonded indebtedness on the East Street firehouse, formerly occupied by the Hillsboro Fire Department and currently in use by the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District. At the conclusion of the hearing May 3, Highland County Probate Court Kevin Greer said that he is “leaning toward” waiting up to “three or four years” before transferring the funds.

“It’s my opinion that it’s an uphill battle that we will see those funds,” Hastings told council. “I’m not sure what the line of thinking of – how the court is thinking – but I would be surprised if the city actually gets the funds.”

Hastings told council the city is continuing discussions with the Hillsboro Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) on working to clear blighted properties in the city and will be meeting to “sign an agreement.”

“The city will sign an agreement with the CIC so we know exactly what it is they want to do and what we can expect from them, for rules for cleanup,” Hastings said.

In the Hillsboro planning commission report, Hastings said that the commission is continuing to work on a “master plan” for the city that “will cover a span of five to ten years.”

Hastings also announced that Hillsboro Police Department dispatcher Betsy Bryant will be promoted to police officer.

• • •

McKenzie updated council on upcoming city projects, including sewer rehabilitation work on East Main Street continuing this week. The city will also be awarded a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Wednesday to perform work on the storm drains, curbs and gutters and sidewalks for “drainage issues” on East Main Street.

City crews will be working in the area surrounding the Highland County courthouse, McKenzie said.

“Governor Trimble Place will be closed for the placement of a city clock that was a private donation and for the demolition of the Armintrout building,” McKenzie said. “I would like to thank county commissioners for their input and the great working relationship moving forward with the fountain donated by Bob and Anne Bagshaw and other contributors.”

• • •

Harsha told council that the finance committee met to discuss changes to an ordinance on non-union employees. The ordinance had been approved by council at the March meeting after two readings, but one month later, council voted, at the city’s request, to stay the ordinance for 90 days while proposed modifications were reviewed.

Changes include moving the effective date to Jan. 1, 2019 “because of budget issues;” changing the title of “utility office clerk;” and adding two positions, administrative assistant/grant writer and CEO/code enforcement officer. The committee will be meeting again to consider changes to some of the financial aspects of the ordinance, Harsha said.

• • •

Ann Morris reported that the property maintenance and restoration and community enhancement committees held a joint meeting to consider plans for the former Colony Theatre site. Avery Applegate presented “a preliminary sketch option” for the site.

“It was an open-air design made from iron, featuring the wording ‘Colony’ on the front, reminiscent of the old Colony Theatre,” Morris said. The inside of the park would include pavers and sidewalk, with planters and trees as well as seating, as well as space in the back for parking, she said.

“They also planned a small pergola that would house the original ticket booth from the Colony,” Morris said.

The committees plan to have an official plan drawn by an architect and will meet again in June to continue discussing the proposed park, according to Morris.

• • •

At the start of the meeting, council voted 7-0 to excuse council president Lee Koogler’s absences from the past two meetings, as Koogler took a 30-day medical leave, according to Harsha.

• • •

The mayor requested that council enter an executive session to consider “contractual negotiations.” Council voted to enter executive session at 7:54 p.m. and exited at 8:26 p.m. No action was taken.