Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie addresses city council Tuesday night. Also pictured is Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie addresses city council Tuesday night. Also pictured is Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
In less than 40 minutes, Hillsboro City Council heard potential major changes during their October meeting, including the administration’s proposals to implement two Downtown Redevelopment Districts, to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District and to deny the Festival of the Bells committee permission to hold the annual festival uptown.

Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings asked council to consider joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District “before year’s end.” The district currently includes members Buckskin Township, the Village of Greenfield, Jackson Township, Liberty Township, Madison Township, New Market Township, Paint Township in Highland County, Paint Township in Ross County and Washington Township, according to pcjefd.org.

In November 2013, Hillsboro City Council members voted 4-3 to approve a resolution allowing city administration to enter a contract with the district. Council voted again in December 2014, this time by a 7-0 vote, to extend their contract with Paint Creek for an additional three years. With that contact set to expire, council is planning several meetings in the next month to discuss joining the district and to allow public comment.

“We need to find ways to decrease our expenses,” Hastings said. “The expenditure of half a million dollars a year from the General Fund could be eliminated by joining the fire district. Our initial reasons for contracting, which is what we currently do, were to see if the fire district was up to the job or could prove themselves. I think they’ve done that to our satisfaction.

“Also, we were prevented from joining previously because the city did not have a vote in the district due to restrictions in the Ohio Revised Code, but that’s since been modified at the state level per our request.”

Hastings said another reason to join the district is because the city is in discussions with the district to sell the South East Street fire station to Paint Creek.

At the end of the meeting, council president Lee Koogler proposed that council hold a regular meeting Oct. 20 (following a public hearing on proposed Downtown Redevelopment Districts) as well as another special meeting Nov. 6 to discuss joining the district, which would ostensibly put the matter up for a vote during their regular meeting Nov. 13. Koogler said that council would provide more information for the public on “what’s going to happen in terms of their taxes” and other effects of joining the district.

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In his report, safety and service director Mel McKenzie announced that the city does not intend to grant the Festival of the Bells committee’s request for a permit to hold the annual festival in uptown Hillsboro.

“After careful consideration, it is the city’s stance not to approve a festival permit for this uptown area,” McKenzie said. “The closure of four main state thoroughfares – state [sic] Route 62, state [sic] Route 50, state Route 73 and state Route 124 in the center of the city – creates unwanted congestion and unneeded traffic into residential areas and can no longer be overlooked during one of the heaviest travel holidays.”

“The overwhelming majority of business owners spoken to in the uptown area gave us feedback that they will completely close during this time or at the very least have limited hours. This hurts local commerce and locally owned businesses during what should be a prosperous travel time.”

The annual festival, held each year during the July 4 weekend, has been a tradition in Hillsboro since the 1970s and has been held in uptown since at least 2000.

“The city is more than willing to work with the [festival] committee to find alternate areas to hold the event,” McKenzie said.s

Festival of the Bells committee president and entertainment chairman Rick Williams told The Highland County Press Tuesday night that he does not have an official comment at this time but indicated that the city has not spoken to the committee about this decision.

Council had approved July 5-7 as the dates for next year’s festival during their September meeting.

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In addition to the aforementioned changes, council also heard the first reading of the ordinance to create an Uptown Downtown Redevelopment District (DRD) and an Stockyard DRD. For more on that proposed legislation, click here.

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McKenzie provided council with several other updates during his report. The safety and service director said the second phase of North East Street is progressing, with “all underground utilities completed, installation of curbs and gutters begun and sidewalk installation and asphalt resurfacing to begin shortly.” McKenzie said the project should be done “the first or second week of November.”

McKenzie also said that the city has implemented Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) on two businesses under construction in Hillsboro, Orscheln Farm and Home on Careytown Road and Buckeye Dentistry LLC on the corner of state Route 73 and Pea Ridge Road.

“These TIFs will be a good source of income for the city for the next 10 years,” McKenzie said.

According to the Ohio Development Services Agency, “payments derived from the increased assessed value of any improvement to real property beyond that amount are directed toward a separate fund to finance the construction of public infrastructure defined within the TIF legislation.”

The city has also been awarded a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in the amount of $300,000 by the Ohio Office of Community Development, McKenzie said. The grant is for “a critical infrastructure project to alleviate flooding in residential yards and basements along the south side of East Main Street, from Key Street to Barry Street.”

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Hastings reported that at their Sept. 18 meeting, the Hillsboro Planning Commission “discussed procedures for vacating alleys” and heard updates for the Highland County Land Bank and for the city’s new zoning code.

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Civil service and employee relations committee member Rebecca Wilkin read a report on the committee's Sept. 19 meeting, which was prepared by chair Bill Alexander. (Alexander was absent from Tuesday night’s council meeting.) Wilkin reported that the committee voted, 2-0 to “direct the city law director to prepare a resolution of disapproval” against Hastings’ social media posts. The resolution did not come before council Tuesday.

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In other action:

• Council heard the second reading of an ordinance to amend the zoning map to change zoning of 246 East Main Street to Business and Residential D. Council member Dick Donley moved to suspend the three-reading rule, but the motion failed by a 4-2 vote with Wilkin and Justin Harsha dissenting.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve the mayor’s appointment of Jim Gibbs as a member of the Design Review Board to complete the term of Mary Todd Hardeman, who resigned.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve a resolution to increase appropriations and to advance funds in the Storm Water Utility fund by $47,600.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve an ordinance to make declarations of official intent and allocations with respect to reimbursements of temporary advances during fiscal years 2017 and 2018 made for capital improvements and acquisitions for sidewalk improvements to be made from subsequent borrowings.

“Adopting this ordinance doesn’t require that we actually issue any bonds, but it preserves our ability to do so,” city auditor Gary Lewis said.

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Council member Claudia Klein also asked Koogler if he could enforce that “in our monthly auditor’s [report], we have in there each project, the amount of money that’s in there, what’s been expended and what is left, so that we as council committee members know exactly how much is in each project we have to spend.”

During the July 2017 city council meeting, Lewis said that during a pre-audit meeting with state auditors, Hastings and other council members spoke of “a need for more relevant, in-depth financial reports from the city auditor’s office.” At the July meeting, Lewis told council members to ask Koogler about their complaint, saying “whatever direction the president of council gives to me, that’s what you’ll receive from there on.”

Koogler asked if Klein wanted information on “a specific project or all projects across the board.”

“We’re talking all projects across the board,” Klein said. “It’s very difficult to get an amount that we know that we have for certain projects, like the Colony [Theatre] project or the dog park when it was being funded. We just don’t know. We don’t know what financial boundaries we have.”

“Well, I think one way we all know is that obviously the auditor is going to look at what has been allocated for a fund and what has been spent, but also I think we need something from the administration,” Koogler said. “They’re the ones actually going forward and doing the projects. They have to send purchase requisitions over to the auditor’s office. It takes some sort of cooperation from both to get the information that you’re requesting.”

Hastings said that his office doesn’t “have any information like that.”

“We currently don’t get any information like that from the auditor,” Hastings said.

Lewis reminded Koogler that “the administration has complete access” to all such information.

“Can we just make it standard somehow?” council member Tracy Aranyos asked.

“A running tally would be good,” council member Ann Morris said.

McKenzie said that he would cooperate with Lewis to provide such information to council.