From left, pictured are Hillsboro City Council members Claudia Klein, Ann Morris, Tom Eichinger (background), Greg Maurer and Adam Wilkin and clerk Kimberly Newman. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha.)
From left, pictured are Hillsboro City Council members Claudia Klein, Ann Morris, Tom Eichinger (background), Greg Maurer and Adam Wilkin and clerk Kimberly Newman. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha.)
Operating under an abbreviated agenda, Hillsboro City Council members heard updates from city administrators and passed three appropriation resolutions on Monday, April 12.

Four items of legislation were scrapped from the agenda due to the absence of council members Patty Day and Mark Middleton. Council president Tom Eichinger said that a special meeting would be scheduled when council is available in order to consider those proposed ordinances and resolutions. (Council also voted 5-0 to excuse the absences of Day and Middleton.) On Tuesday morning, it was announced that a meeting will be held over Zoom Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Since there were no major legislative items left, the remaining items on the agenda were primarily reports from administrators and one committee chair.

Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott announced that bids for the Springlake Avenue improvements project were awarded to Distel Construction.

As previously reported, in February council approved three related resolutions regarding the improvement project, for which Abbott said the city is seeking “a low-interest loan for road reconstruction, widening, curb and gutter, water line, storm sewer and sidewalks.” The resolutions were passed as part of an “expedited” plan to secure funding and materials ahead of an expected increase, as public works superintendent Shawn Adkins said it was already a $900,000 project.

At Abbott’s recommendation, the community enhancement committee, which is chaired by council member Claudia Klein, will begin working in conjunction with the parks committee.

“Now that the parks committee is really up and running and making a really big impact on our community with the disc golf and several different things, we talked about kind of collaborating with a council committee to just kind of keep the line of communication open,” Abbott said during her report. “That way council knows what the committee’s doing and vice versa.”

Abbott also reported that street sweeping is underway throughout the city.

“It’s a pretty time-consuming process, so we ask for your patience as we work to get the streets clear of grit and debris,” Abbott said. “If you do have the capability of moving your vehicle off the street for our sweeping, it would be greatly appreciated.”

In other updates, Abbott said that new school zone signs and flashing lights “have been installed in front of Hillsboro City Schools” and that the fountain in front of the courthouse will be running again for the season in the coming weeks.

When Eichinger asked if council had questions for Abbott following her report, council member Ann Morris said she “had a couple of them,” regarding the city’s recently installed sign in uptown Hillsboro at the former Colony space.

Crews installed the sign on March 31, and since then the sign has been displaying city events and other public notices.

Section 155.152 of the city’s zoning code reads, in part, that “Proper signage should conform to what is typically associated with the era during which historic structures in the district were built.” Morris said it was her understanding the city is “going to work on those to try to fit them in with the neighborhood,” but that “I don’t think it mentioned what the cost was.”

Morris added that she knew that the money didn’t “come out of the general fund,” as the city used CARES Act money to pay for the sign.

Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha replied that it was “under $50,000,” and Adkins said it was “$49 thousand six something.”

“That was everything included to get it to the point where you see it now,” Harsha said.

(According to Hillsboro City Auditor Alex Butler, the actual cost was $48,340.)

Morris asked, on three occasions, which contractor provided the sign, beginning by saying that the city “never did put it out there what the cost was or who it was awarded with.”

“I thought Alex brought it up during the last meeting in his finance [report],” Adkins said.

“I didn’t see it, but it doesn’t matter, as long as you put it out there,” Morris said. “Who got the lowest bid?”

Harsha said the city sought “quotes” instead of bids because it was “under the threshold.”

“We quoted them out to try to find the cheapest, and we did,” Harsha said. “Where the whole idea came about was some of the municipalities were buying these trailers with one sign on it, like you see on the highway. I think those things were 60, 70 thousand dollars by themselves.

“We were able to get some local contractors to do some of the work involved and get it up, and now we’re at the point we had a Design Review Board meeting, and Avery Applegate’s coming up tomorrow morning, I believe, to work a little bit on some finishing touch aspects. Then, of course, I believe we’ll be bringing that to council.”

“So we got them from…?” Morris asked.

“Chad Abbott Signs,” Harsha said. “He had the ones out in front of his store right when we were talking about this that he was moving out and wasn’t going to be needing, so it was cheaper than the rest of them.”

Chad Abbott is the husband of Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott. According to the company’s website (chadabbottsigns.com), “Chad and his wife Bree opened up their own sign shop near the center of Hillsboro in 2010 and moved out to their current location in 2012.”

Of the $48,340, payments were made as follows, according to the auditor:

• Chad Abbott Signs, LLC – $30,000;

• Dance Excavation, LLC – $12,840;

• Darin S. Schweickart – $1,000; and

• S&S Contractors – $4,500.

"Bree had no involvement in the purchase or erection of the marquee," Harsha told The Highland County Press on April 13. "It has been a standard practice that Bree removes herself from any and all dealings the city has had or will have with Chad Abbott Signs. This was one of the first conversations we had with our law director to make sure this would never be an issue. S&S Contractors, Shaun Dance and the city of Hillsboro did all the work on the installation. The displays were purchased from Chad Abbott Signs, and he did provide training on the program used to display the messages."

At the April 7 Hillsboro Design Review Board meeting, Brianne Abbott stated that she had created the design for the sign. She was appointed as the "city resident" on the Design Review Board by Harsha in 2020.

"I make it a standard practice to remove myself from any conversations, voting, permitting or decision-making involving signage," the safety and service director told The Highland County Press on April 13. "In addition, I would never use my city position for any type of personal gain. I am donating my design; everything is completely donated."

Adkins also commented on April 13, noting that he had spoken with other municipalities in the summer of 2020 regarding the use of CARES Act funds for city signage.

"I had a quote from A&A Safety, Inc. on Aug. 17 and another quote last year," Adkins said. "I had not brought this to the safety and service director's attention. She wasn't aware of this until after the fact."

Adkins said he thought his first quotes seemed high, and he received a lower estimate from Chad Abbott Signs on Oct. 27.

"We do try to use local contractors when we can," Adkins said. "They pay local taxes and contribute to the local economy. We try our best to stay local."

Adkins emphasized that he did not involve the SSD with the sign project.

Ohio Revised Code 2921.42 states: (A) No public official shall knowingly do any of the following: (1) Authorize, or employ the authority or influence of the public official's office to secure authorization of any public contract in which the public official, a member of the public official's family or any of the public official's business associates has an interest.

During the April 12 council meeting, Morris thanked Harsha and said that she was glad that they were able to set up a standalone sign as opposed to one on a trailer.

“That always looks tacky,” Morris said. “I’m really glad that Avery’s cooperating with Design Review Board. I’ve seen her drawing before, what she had in mind, and it’s pretty good.”

According to the Design Review Board minutes, Applegate and fellow board members suggested a “more art deco theme to the marquee.” The minutes indicate that Brianne Abbott came up with the initial design “due to the time constraints with the CARES Act funds requirements.”

Although CARES Act funds were used for the sign up to this point, Harsha said that future expenditures are “going to be city money, so we want to be very careful with what we’re going to do, but I think we can come up with something that’s very tasteful.”

• • •

Harsha discussed the city’s scholarship program for Hillsboro High School seniors as well as the recently opened disc golf course at Liberty Park in his report.

As previously reported, in 2020, the city established a scholarship program as part of an effort to partner with Hillsboro City Schools. Administrators made an announcement last April seeking participation from businesses or individuals, including offering perks for seniors or accepting donations for the scholarship fund, with a similar request made this spring. Last year, the city awarded $3,000 in scholarships.

“We brought in $1,125 in donations,” Harsha said. “Not as great as last year, but still, nonetheless, a really good turnout.

“The city agreed last year and this year to match up to $1,000. Since it ended up at $1,125, we decided to bump that up to $1,500 so we could continue to do the three scholarships like last year.”

Harsha said the city would be meeting soon to review applications and award two $1,000 scholarships and one $500 scholarship this year.

The mayor also reported that 68 individuals competed in a disc golf tournament at Liberty Park recently. He thanked Shawn Adkins and city crews, as well as parks committee members Dallas Hunt and Ben Ludlow, for their efforts in making the disc golf course a reality.

“It’s going to be a great activity for people to enjoy,” Harsha said.

Eichinger asked if there would be a map displayed for the disc golf course.

“Dallas is working with a company out of Cincinnati to lay it out, and then we’ll put it on a kiosk board,” Adkins said.

• • •

As previously mentioned, council passed three resolutions, each by a 5-0 vote:

• A resolution to increase appropriations within the general fund of the city, including $35,000 for the Police Department Professional Services line item and $8,550 for Police Department Small Tools/Minor Equipment.

“The police department’s roof is leaking,” city auditor Alex Butler said. “Insurance will cover it, but we have to front the money now.

“We will get that [$35,000] back shortly, but this way we can lock in the work and the things we need to do.”

• A resolution to amend the credit card/purchasing card policies and procedures. Butler said that the revised language was recommended during the city’s most recent audit.

The policies make the following addition under the “Cardholder” section: “Any City department head or their delegate is authorized to use the credit card. The credit will be signed out/in and will be returned no later than the close of the business day it is signed out. Turn-in extensions can be made for emergencies with the approval of the fiscal officer.”

• A resolution to authorize a then and now purchase order for a $3,312.50 invoice, which Butler said was from the city wastewater treatment plant having “some preventative maintenance done on their generators.”

• • •

In other discussion:

• Butler reported on the city’s allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law last month. A fact sheet provided by the U.S. Treasury Department says “The Rescue Plan will provide needed relief” to municipalities, both through “address[ing] … revenue losses” and “through assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, aid to impacted industries, and support for essential workers. It will also provide resources for state, local, and Tribal governments to invest in infrastructure, including water, sewer, and broadband services.”

According to Butler, the city of Hillsboro will be receiving $1,285,018.09, with a $642,509.05 payment in 2021 and another payment in 2022.

“The first payment will be received — the guidance was within 60 days of enactment of the law,” Butler said. “I would assume rather soon. The second payment is worded like this: ‘not earlier than 12 months of the first payment.’

“We look forward to receiving those funds and putting them to good use.”

Butler added that “no specific guidance has been given” regarding the parameters under which the money can be used, but he’s heard “it will be more broad than CARES Act funds.”

“Hopefully by this time next month, I’ll have the money and have the guidance,” the auditor said.

Butler also noted that after the first quarter of 2021, the city’s finances are “right on track with no big surprises.”

• Council member Greg Maurer reported on an April 1 utilities committee meeting.

The first item on the committee’s agenda was storm sewer billing, after citizens had asked if they could make semi-annual or annual payments, which the city is unable to do under its current billing system.

“After speaking with Kirby Ellison, it would be best if they want to pay in advance, $5 will be deducted off of what they paid, and therefore they won’t have to pay it every month,” Maurer said.

The committee also reviewed tap issues with two ordinances and recommended changes; agreed that the city should enter into an electric contact with Palmer Energy for $13,500 in annual savings; and discussed water rates.

• Council received notices from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control regarding liquor permits for Downtown Boro LLC on Governor Trimble Place and Speedway on West Main Street.

• Council entered an executive session at 7:11 p.m. to “discuss real estate activity the city expects to be involved in,” according to Eichinger. They voted to re-enter open session at 7:28 p.m.