Representatives from the city of Hillsboro and the Highland County Bar Association spoke at the Oct. 20 county commission. Pictured are: (first photo) Hillsboro mayor Justin Harsha and Highland County auditor Bill Fawley; (second photo) Bar Association president Allyce Horne and Hillsboro safety and service director Brianne Abbott; and (third photo) Bar Association representative Kathryn Hapner. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Representatives from the city of Hillsboro and the Highland County Bar Association spoke at the Oct. 20 county commission. Pictured are: (first photo) Hillsboro mayor Justin Harsha and Highland County auditor Bill Fawley; (second photo) Bar Association president Allyce Horne and Hillsboro safety and service director Brianne Abbott; and (third photo) Bar Association representative Kathryn Hapner. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels met with representatives from the city of Hillsboro and the Highland County Bar Association during their Wednesday, Oct. 20 meeting.

Hillsboro mayor Justin Harsha, safety and service director Brianne Abbott and public works superintendent Shawn Adkins presented a preliminary map and gave an overview of a proposed extension of Roberts Lane and Fenner Avenue.

As previously reported, Harsha discussed initial plans for the proposed extension during the Tuesday, Oct. 12 Hillsboro city council meeting. A public hearing was held Oct. 18, where Harsha also announced a proposal for eventually converting U.S. Route 62 and state Route 73 to one-way routes through town.

The map, additional background and details can be found at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Proposals-for-Fenner-Avenue-extension-one-way-streets-in-Hillsboro-discussed-at-public-hearing/2/20/73330.

“I’m sure all of you are familiar with back there where La Cascada is, how it looks like it’s a path to nowhere,” Harsha told commissioners. “That’s where the extension will go, and it will go through the Hauke-Dragoo properties and curve around to Fenner Avenue, where that road is kind of extended.

“Also, it’s going to cut over to [state Route] 73, cross 73 and come around to Fairground Road.”

Harsha explained that this is part of the Hillsboro administration’s goal to “open up a great deal of commercial property” within the city limits.

“We’re looking for input and feedback from anyone that’s willing,” Harsha said. “This is in the preliminary, very beginning stages. We’re working with [engineer] Gary Silcott from DLZ, who used to be with Stantec, who’s done a really good job.

“All of this is definitely subject to change.”

Harsha also told commissioners that the city is looking at “the possibility of doing one-way” streets on U.S. 62 and state Route 73, pending the outcome of a traffic study, as discussed in the aforementioned article.

“Springlake Avenue is going to be widened, with the intention that’s another thoroughfare to get to and from 62 and 73,” Harsha said. “Everything that we’ve been working on is kind of leading up to the possibility of the one-ways, and this Roberts Lane — which is another thoroughfare — would make traveling to and from a lot easier.”

Duncan asked if the city had any “estimated cost and timeline” for the project.

Adkins said that they are estimating the complete project to cost $8 million, including all the infrastructure. Everything is still “preliminary” as far as timelines.

“Do you own the property?” Daniels asked.

“We have easement agreements with both property owners involved,” Harsha said. “We did the groundwork on that before we even got started. Everybody’s on board for the project.

“Everything’s put in place that we could get the job started, once we figure out the funding and get everything finalized.”

Daniels asked Abbott if the city was considering using “Recovery Act money to do some of this work.”

“Potentially, some of the water and sewer part of it,” Abbott said. “We’re hoping that can be some of our match toward whatever funding we are able to secure.”

Highland County economic development director Julie Bolender, who was also present at Wednesday’s meeting, said that the proposal is “exciting for potential economic development.”

“It’s paving the way for more growth,” Duncan added.

Commissioners thanked the city officials for their work as well as for keeping them informed of their progress.

“We’ll help however we can,” Duncan told them.

• • •

In a separate appointment during Wednesday’s meeting, attorneys Allyce Horne and Kathryn Hapner of the Highland County Bar Association met with commissioners to discuss a recent request for the commission to increase the local indigent court-appointed case pay rate to $85 per hour.

As previously reported, in October 2019, the commission voted to raise the indigent defense rate from $45 to $56 per hour.

According to a resolution signed by Bar Association President Allyce Horne and Vice President Dennis Kirk, the association voted Aug. 25 to make the request via resolution “to increase the current rate of pay for indigent court-appointed cases to a rate of $85 per hour for both in-court and out-of-court legal fees incurred in said cases as well as to raise the cap for court-appointed cases accordingly.”

Commissioners received notification of the association’s resolution in September, and during the Sept. 30 commission meeting, Daniels and Britton said they were “looking at” the request.

On Wednesday, Horne said the association “wanted to follow up on the status of that as to whether that was going to be approved, or if commissioners had another amount or figure they were going to be approving in this matter.”

Britton said the county does “not have a final figure yet” in mind.

“Do you have any idea of the timeline of that?” Horne asked.

“It’s very close,” Britton said.

Hapner asked if commissioners had “feedback” on the resolution.

“I spoke with all of you beforehand, and the indication I got was that this was fine, but it hasn’t been approved,” Hapner said. “We’re happy to meet with you to discuss it, negotiate it, find out what the holdup is.”

Daniels said during the Sept. 30 commission meeting that “with the passage of the state budget this year, the indigent defense has been funded at 100 percent.” Hapner discussed that as well on Wednesday, saying “it’s not costing” the county anything.

“As a bar, we’re getting a little irritated,” Hapner said. “It’s 100-percent reimbursement to the county, so it’s not coming out of your funds.”

Britton asked how the bar reached the $85 amount they were seeking. Hapner said that it was based on a discussion she had with John Cornely of the Ohio Public Defender's Office of the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.

“I think that since then, they have backed off $85 and gone to $75, but at the time I spoke to him, it was $85,” Hapner said. “I think as a bar, we’re perfectly fine with $75.

“If that reimbursement goes less than 100 percent, we’re perfectly willing to come back and discuss lowering that rate, but we’re just a little frustrated that we haven’t heard any feedback.”

Daniels told the attorneys that the commissioners’ “understanding is that the amount of money that was budgeted in the public defender’s fund was based on” past data.

“If we raise above what that is, and every other county does, then all of a sudden we find ourselves in a situation where that rolls back,” Daniels said. “If that’s what the deal is, we have to have that conversation.”

“I understand that,” Hapner said. “From our perspective, other counties have already raised their rates. If that 100-percent — those funds — are expended and ours never goes up, we’re basically getting the short end of the stick. That seems absolutely unfair to us because we have the same type of cases.”

She added that Highland County attorneys defend murder, rape and serious “drug cases just like every other county has.”

“It doesn’t seem fair that our reimbursement rate is less than it is in other counties when we’re doing the same work, and putting the same amount of time into it,” Hapner said. “If it were costing the county money, we could understand it, because some counties are better funded than other counties. But as long as it’s 100-percent reimbursement, it just from our perspective seems like we’re getting the short end of the stick.”

Horne pointed out that the resolution passed by the county bar includes a provision for the rate being “subject to further review in the event the reimbursement rate changes through the State of Ohio.”

“I don’t think any of us would argue with that,” Horne said.

Duncan said the commission would “let them know as soon as we can” what their decision is.

• • •

In other discussion:

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a Road Use, Repair and Maintenance Agreement (RUMA) for Willowbrook Solar I, LLC, an already-approved 150-megawatt solar-powered electric generation facility located in Highland and Brown counties.

• In an unrelated solar update, Britton announced that the proposed Palomino Solar project is “on hold due to some documentation incompleteness.”

“That came from the Public Utilities Commission and Power Siting Board,” he said.

Julie Graham-Price of the PUCO emailed commissioners Tuesday that the PUCO “sent the developer an incompleteness letter, notifying them there are areas in their application that need further detail. As a result, the project application has been put on hold.”

The letter refers to “insufficiencies” in “landmark mapping” and “impacts on landmarks.”

• Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley distributed copies of the October 2021 permissive sales tax receipts, with a total of $727,530.35 reported this month, compared to $637,061.33 in October 2020.

“Those continue to be good,” Duncan said. “We’re $90,469 above this time a year ago, for October, and that puts us about $1.3 million above last year.

“We’re still doing real well in that respect, so I think a lot of people are continuing to shop locally. Maybe that trend will continue. I hope so.”

Year-to-date, the January-October 2021 total receipts are $7,419,959.99, compared to $6,160,139.14 for the same months last year. The first 10 months are just $81,016.35 less than the complete 12-month totals for 2020.

Since July 2020, the monthly receipts total has not dropped below $600,000, and in that 16-month span, there have been nine months above $700,000.

• Duncan announced that the commission has hired two individuals to work at the Highland County Dog Pound. The commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the employment of Brittany Sever and Mark Rand, whom Duncan said would be sworn in at a later date.

• The county received notification of a liquor license renewal request for the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop on U.S. 50 in Rainsboro.

“They’re just trying to keep their license current,” Duncan said. “They currently don’t have any facility down there.”

Duncan said they would wait a week before taking any action, pending any public comments or objections.

• Duncan said that the county is “still waiting to resurface the parking lot at the Highland County Justice Center.”

• Four contracts were unanimously approved, including: a representation letter; an audit waiver letter (waiving meeting in person for the audit); a CORSA surety bond indemnity agreement for the underground storage tanks at the Highland County Airport; and a fourth-quarter payment to the RPHF Solid Waste District for Highland County Recycling Outreach.

• Commissioners also approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within Y-20 DETAC, Treasurer, in the amount of $8,000.

An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within S-24, Family & Children First, in the amount of $45,955.80.

A reimbursement of funds from Public Assistance, H-00 to Child Support Enforcement, C-00 in the amount of $32,303.01.

A reimbursement of funds from Public Assistance, H-00 to Children Services, S-03 in the amount of $85,096.37.

An additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue within T-58 to Program Expense in the amount of $9,136.75.

• Commissioners received 11 communications regarding solar developments from residents in the past week, with all 11 letters in support of solar projects.

• Commissioners also issued a proclamation in honor of Red Ribbon Week. For more, see the story at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Highland-County-commissioners-issue-proclamation-for-Red-Ribbon-Week/2/20/73363.