From left, Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha, safety and service director Brianne Abbott and public works superintendent Shawn Adkins are pictured during the mayor's State of the City report. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha, safety and service director Brianne Abbott and public works superintendent Shawn Adkins are pictured during the mayor's State of the City report. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro City Council voted to change their regular meeting schedule for the first time in many years and heard the annual State of the City report from Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha during their Monday, Jan. 10 meeting.

City council has historically met on the second Monday of the month, or the following day, if the second Monday falls on a federal holiday. Through a new ordinance passed Jan. 10, council will now meet on the “first Thursday after the second Monday.” Meetings will still begin at 7 p.m.

Council president Tom Eichinger explained the reason for the proposed change.

“There have been numerous questions and concerns over the last year about the amount of time that council has to review all of the material they get in order to be in a position to make timely and meaningful decisions,” he said. “So we've entertained the thought of moving the council meeting a little later in the month. That was received, in general terms, quite favorably.

“I asked the law director, Mr. [Fred] Beery, to put this legislation together, which basically simply modifies two paragraphs in the Chapter 30 ordinance, which is what covers how council operates. The first one has to do with the date that we would plan to meet. The second one has to do with when materials need to be made available to council members.”

Under the new ordinance, the council clerk will receive materials for the meeting “at least by noon on the Wednesday that precedes each council meeting by eight or more days.” Council is to receive their packet “no later than the Friday prior to the council meeting.”

“That gives council about five more days — four to five more days — and it also gives administration that much more time to get together, get questions answered and be in a better position to make timely and thoughtful decisions,” Eichinger said.

He told council that they had “two options” — to either suspend the three-reading rule and pass the ordinance Monday “so this would take effect” for the February meeting, or give the legislation three readings.

“Either way, it’s your input and your previous colleagues’ input that got us to this point, so it’s up to you to decide what you'd like to do,” Eichinger said.

Council member Patty Day moved to suspend the three-reading rule, which passed, 5-0. A motion to approve the ordinance, made by Mary Stanforth, also passed by a 5-0 vote.

Eichinger said that council clerk Kimberly Newman will prepare a “new annual schedule for all council meetings once this goes into effect.”

Monday’s meeting began with Eichinger welcoming two of the three newly elected city council members, Dan Baucher and Jason Brown, to their first official meeting. Council voted 5-0 to excuse the absence of the third new councilman, Don Storer, as well as council member Greg Maurer.

“Thank you for joining us,” Eichinger said. “I’m glad that you’re on board and looking forward to working with you.”

Harsha also welcomed all council members at the start of his report.

“I’d like to welcome our new and returning council members tonight,” he said. “We all appreciate your service and look forward to working together on all the exciting things coming for city.”

Harsha then moved into his annual State of the City report, beginning by sending condolences to those who “lost loved ones” in the past year.

“I’d like to express my sympathy to all the families who have lost loved ones over the past year,” he said. “Our world has changed in so many ways, and losing a family member makes it even more difficult to navigate these changes.

“Despite everything we have faced, we push forward and try to find a sense of normality. 2021 was a very busy year, and I anticipate nothing less for 2022, bringing new challenges and obstacles to overcome.”

Harsha recapped some of the many infrastructure projects started or completed by the city in the past year, as well as grants, economic development updates and plans for 2022.

Infrastructure improvements included the widening of Springlake Avenue, with new pavement, curbs and sidewalks; the phase three paving project on North East Street from Collins Avenue to state Route 138; and resurfacing of Northview Drive from U.S. 62 to Northwoods Drive.

Through the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program, new sidewalks have also been installed “on both sides of Route 50: from Oak Street to Elm Street on West Main Street, and then from North East Street to Greystone and Key Street on East Main Street,” according to the mayor.

“Also, a new pedestrian bridge was installed between Shaffer Park and Liberty Park and now connects to pedestrians from our downtown to Liberty and Harmony Lake,” Harsha said. “This will continue to promote the walkability within our city.”

For an overview of grants awarded to the city, Harsha began by discussing the $3.2 million grant announced by the State of Ohio in December for the city’s phase three storm sewer improvements.

The city was also awarded a $29,985 NatureWorks grant to install a playground at Harmony Lake at Liberty Park, which was discussed later in the meeting, and a $150,000 grant for car charging stations at the Colony Park.

“We're extremely thankful for every dollar awarded to keep projects moving within our city, and we'll continue to apply and search for grant opportunities,” Harsha said.

The mayor said the city has “multiple new projects to work on” beginning in 2022, including a proposed extension of Fenner Avenue and Roberts Lane and additional plans to improve the city’s park system.

As previously reported, the city and Hillsboro Planning Commission held an initial joint hearing in October to discuss the city’s vision for the road extension, including announcing a proposal for eventually converting U.S. Route 62 and state Route 73 to one-way routes through town.

“There's a huge need for commercial property and to encourage future development,” Harsha said. “With this expansion, we not only solve this problem, but also create another thoroughfare to ease the burden of traffic congestion.

“We're also working on the possibility of changing Routes 62 and 73 into one-way streets. Step one is moving forward on a traffic and safety study. Roberts Lane and Springlake [Avenue] improvements will be key components of this project, making traffic between the one-ways much easier.”

Along with needing more commercial space, the city also wants to promote industrial development in the Hobart/Carl Smith Drive area, the mayor said.

“We'll work with the property owners to see what can be done to encourage industrial development to choose Hillsboro for their needs,” Harsha said.

For additional park expansions, Harsha spoke about wanting to add more trails as well as a green space on West Main Street.

“Walking and bike paths on the railroad beds, which have already been cleared — we'd like to see those paved and install new lighting and benches, multiple trailheads and picnic areas, to continue tying our parks and neighborhoods together,” Harsha said. “On West Main Street, at the former Union Stockyards/Highland Enterprise properties, we have plans to create a green space for our community, something that we hope our citizens will be proud of and can enjoy for years to come.

“We hope to present our vision and some of the possibilities of this project soon, and we'll be eager to get feedback from the community.”

Harsha added that all of these proposals are contingent upon funding, and “we are continuing to explore any and all opportunities which will help bring these projects to fruition.”

The mayor concluded his report with an update on business development in the city over the past year.

“It’s very encouraging, and we are thankful for those willing to invest in our city, bringing new and exciting things for citizens to enjoy,” Harsha said. “We want Hillsboro to be the place your business calls home and continue in our efforts to help them in any way possible. We strive to be business-friendly. No matter if you're already established or thinking about building, don't hesitate to reach out. Our team is here for you.”

Some of the businesses open in the past year, as outlined by the mayor, included Maplecrest Meats on South High Street; Hill City Endurance on Dunlap Road; White’s Bakery (new location) on West Main Street; Magic Tunnel Carwash, Burkes Outlet and Dunham Sports on North High Street; The Porch on North West Street; and Goodwill on Harry Sauner Road.

“Looking forward to 2022, there are many things coming,” Harsha said. “We’re continuing to work with developers on the Marriott Hotel project on Harry Sauner. Right now, they're working on state funding, and we hope to hear soon what the next steps might be to help them in their endeavors.”

Other new businesses being developed in 2022 include Fenner Ridge Apartments, Marshall’s, Mimi's Kitchen, The Patriot Public House restaurant and the new Buckeye Family Eye Clinic location.

“Driving through town, seeing all the improvements and developments that have happened over the last year, remind me that the state of our city is stronger than ever,” Harsha said. “We will continue working hard to promote our city and make Hillsboro the place where families want to live, work and play.

“Lastly, I want to extend my appreciation to every city employee that works day-in and day-out making sure the city's the best that it can be. All the positive feedback and the good things happening are a direct reflection of this amazing job they do.”

City auditor Alex Butler also gave council an overview of 2021 finances, although he said they were still in the process of “closing out the year.”

“Things will shift just a little bit, but for the most part, this is where we’re going to be,” Butler said.

The auditor noted several positives, including the city’s 2021 revenues ($12,815,000) coming in $588,000 higher than the estimated revenue ($12,227,000).

“For 2021, things were quite uncertain and unpredictable, so the decision was made to not only be conservative on expenses, but have a more conservative approach on what we anticipated in revenue,” Butler said. “So that's why we have that difference of revenue being more than we anticipated. And that's a good thing, because to me, that indicates that economic activity was not as slow as we thought it would be. Unemployment was not as devastating as we thought it would be or could be. So we're sitting in a positive position of where things could have been or expected to be with the COVID situation.”

In addition, income tax revenues ($4,365,000) were $865,000 higher than the anticipated income tax estimate ($3.5 million), as well as being $498,000 higher than the 2020 total. The anticipated unencumbered carryover for 2021 was $2,125,000, while the 2020 carryover was $1,634,000, Butler said.

Challenges faced by the city in 2021 included rising operating costs, which he said will likely continue to be a factor in 2022.

“That's not unique to the city,” Butler said. “I know the average citizen experienced the same thing. For the city — and again, you know, we can say it's because of the supply chain crisis, COVID-19, inflation — whatever was the driver of that, or the various drivers of that, the costs were higher than originally anticipated.

“For us, that looked like fuel costs; the cost of repairs of city equipment that broke down and parts and supplies and things of that nature; salt; gravel; chemicals for our utility plants. But that is one of the variables that is out of our control, so we do the best we can with what we have, but that was one of the main challenges of 2021 and will likely be a challenge in 2022.”

Other 2021 highlights, aside from the “round numbers” mentioned earlier in the report, were receiving the first of two American Rescue Plan Act payments in the amount of $343,269.22; “reduced debt service payments as a result of the refinancing” the city worked on in 2020; slight increases in water, sewer and storm sewer revenues; and donations throughout the year, particularly for the Hillsboro Police Department, the Veterans Park at Liberty Park and the Hillsboro High School scholarship project started by the city in 2020.

“Some challenges, some opportunities, some successes, and we made it through another year,” Butler said. “So 2022 will, again, have opportunities and challenges as well. We will make it.”

In her report, safety and service director Brianne Abbott agreed with Butler and Harsha that “2021 was a great year for the city of Hillsboro.” She added that in 2021, the city “handled an impressive 135 commercial building permits and 90 residential."

“As the mayor mentioned, there's been a great deal of development over the last year and more to come in 2022,” she said.

In her otherwise brief report, Abbott said that the city departments were working hard at completing all end-of-year reporting in recent weeks.

She also reported on recent Hillsboro Planning Commission business, including the proposed rezoning of parcels on Elm Street and 849 South High Street, the latter of which was on council’s agenda Monday; discussion of the Patriot Public House and “a demolition proposition for its adjacent property;” a conditional use permit on Uhrig Street; and “an expansion of a nonconforming use” on North West Street.

Day asked Abbott if there were “any updates on the culvert issue” at a shopping center on North High Street, which has been ongoing since June 2021.

“Nothing from the property owner,” Abbott said. “We did have a conversation this morning with the revolving loan fund, just to discuss a few options, but no progress yet. He probably has about 60 days left to do something.”

• • •

In addition to the aforementioned meeting schedule change, council also approved several other items of legislation.

• Following its third reading, council voted 5-0 to enact an ordinance amending Section 153.05 (B) of the City Code to clarify registration fee amounts. The change was to clarify the two-year registration fee for vacant commercial or industrial buildings is $2,000.

• A resolution to transfer appropriations of $40,500 from Law Director Wages to Professional Services was also passed by a 5-0 vote. According to Butler, “circumstances have changed” from when the 2022 budget was completed, and law director Fred Beery “will now be paid from the legal fees line item.”

Day asked the reason behind the change. Butler said that Beery retired as law director, with Eichinger adding that Beery “continues to be on a contract with the city.”

• A resolution authorizing the city of Hillsboro to participate in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources NatureWorks Grant Program and to execute contracts as required was approved, 5-0. Abbott said this was necessary to officially accept and execute the city’s aforementioned grant for an “ADA-accessible playground at Harmony Lake.”

“The city will be looking into additional grant funding and donations to complete the project,” Abbott said.

Stanforth asked if the city knew where the playground would be placed. Abbott described the area near the shelter houses and said the city also has “some drawings” council could look at. Stanforth said she wasn’t sure she was “in favor of it being there” due to the “lot of geese that fly over there.”

Harsha also spoke about the playground, saying they “saw a need” as there are “a lot of families” using the shelter houses while there “isn’t a lot for kids to do” during get-togethers.

“The other thing to point out too is the city doesn’t have an ADA-accessible playground currently, so this would provide that,” Abbott added.

• Council approved a resolution to authorize and direct the safety and service director to provide for application and submission of grants and other funding opportunities for fiscal year 2022. Abbott said this would allow the city to submit “routine grant applications” without seeking individual approval from council, with council being provided a list of said grants.

“These are typically the standard grants that we as a city go after every year or whenever they're available,” Eichinger added. “This would allow us actually to eliminate the problem of trying to get the grants moved forward one by one through the year. This allows all of the application work to be done, and then when the time comes that decisions have to be made about matched fundings and etc., those then go back to council.”

• Council voted 5-0 to approve a resolution naming public works superintendent Shawn Adkins as the city’s representative on the District 15 Public Works Integrating Committee.

• The annual ordinance to authorize and direct the safety and service director to enter into an agreement with the Highland County commissioners to provide for indigent defense counsel in the courts passed, 5-0.

• A resolution to authorize the mayor to enter into an agreement with the State of Ohio, Ohio Development Services Agency, for the administration of the city’s Housing Revolving Loan Fund for CDBG and home activities was also approved, 5-0. According to Abbott, this is a “standard three-year agreement.”

• A resolution to amend the zoning map of the city received its first reading. As proposed, 849 South High Street, Auditor Parcel No. 25-56-001-018.00, would be zoned as Business and Residential “D.”

As noted during a joint council and planning commission hearing in December, the parcel — where Hillsboro Christian Academy is located — is not currently zoned.

In other discussion:

• At the beginning of the meeting, Eichinger asked for a motion to elect council president pro tempore. Day moved to name Stanforth as president pro tem, saying she “has the seniority on council and certainly the leadership.”

“Thank you,” Stanforth told her.

The motion passed, 5-0.

• Council also voted 5-0 to approve an updated city records request policy to “meet the necessary requirements of the state.”

• The council agenda included new committee assignments. Chairs of the standing committees are as follows: finance, Stanforth; property maintenance and restoration, Storer; civil service-employee relations, Baucher; street and safety, Adam Wilkin; utilities, Maurer; zoning and annexation, Brown; and community enhancement, Day.