Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro City Council members Mary Stanforth, Don Storer, Tom Eichinger, Dan Baucher and Greg Maurer; council clerk Whitney Seitz; and council members Jason Brown and Adam Wilkin. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro City Council members Mary Stanforth, Don Storer, Tom Eichinger, Dan Baucher and Greg Maurer; council clerk Whitney Seitz; and council members Jason Brown and Adam Wilkin. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)

A motion to suspend the three-reading rule to pass an emergency ordinance banning consumer-grade fireworks in the city limits failed during the Thursday, June 16 Hillsboro City Council meeting.

The proposed “ordinance amending sections 91.40, 91.43 and 91.99 of the codified ordinances of the City of Hillsboro to ban the use of consumer-grade fireworks in the City of Hillsboro, and declaring an emergency,” was introduced at Thursday’s meeting in response to House Bill 172, which takes effect July 1.

Although the ordinance was not passed as an emergency ahead of the upcoming Independence Day holiday and several dates in July where fireworks will now be legal in Ohio, it stood as a first reading Thursday night. If ultimately passed, it will “impose a complete ban on the use of consumer-grade fireworks” in Hillsboro.

According to the ordinance, beginning in July, the law will permit “any person authorized to possess consumer-grade fireworks to discharge them on their private property on certain designated days,” including New Year’s Day; Chinese New Year’s Day; Cinco de Mayo; the last Monday in May and the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding that day; Juneteenth; July 3-5 and the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday before and after July 4; the first Monday of September (Labor Day) and the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding that day; Diwali; and Dec. 31.

As explained by City Law Director Randalyn Worley in the ordinance and in her comments to council, the law does have a provision for “local municipalities to restrict the dates and/or times that individuals may discharge consumer-grade fireworks or to impose a complete ban on the use of consumer-grade fireworks.”

The ban is proposed “to be in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of the community for the benefit of the city and its inhabitants,” the ordinance says.

As six of the seven voting members of council were present at Thursday’s meeting, council president Tom Eichinger said suspension of the three-reading rule, required to pass the ordinance as an emergency, would necessitate a unanimous vote. The motion failed 5-1, with council member Mary Stanforth voting no.

Prior to voting, the discussion of the ordinance began with Stanforth asking to clarify that it would mean “a family that would be gathering for like the Fourth of July … would be prohibited from setting off fireworks at their residence.”

“That is correct,” Worley said. “That was the law — that is the law until July 1 in the state of Ohio. The law changes July 1 to allow consumer-grade fireworks to be set off on private property, which, again, has not happened in the past. It’s pretty much keeping things status quo. The new law has a provision that allows municipalities to opt out of the new law.

“In the city, obviously, we're densely populated, so it’s a safety concern.”

There were no other questions, so Eichinger asked if council had a motion to suspend the three-reading rule. Approximately eight seconds elapsed before Eichinger said that since there was no motion, it would instead be considered a first reading. Worley again reminded council that the law changes July 1.

“If nothing happens, then on certain days of the year — certain holidays — you would be able to let off consumer-grade fireworks in the city,” Worley said. “I believe the city administration had safety concerns.”

Mayor Justin Harsha spoke up, telling council that Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels and Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District Chief Dave Manning expressed “concerns that they had” with the new law.

“I see the problems that could arise by making this legal, or allowing it to stay legal,” Harsha said. “It hasn’t been allowed in the past, so we’re trying to keep it the same, but ultimately, it’s up to you.”

Council member Don Storer pointed out that people already shoot off fireworks in the city and asked if there had been “any incidents.”

“We have annoyance calls,” Daniels said. In response to several simultaneous comments from council members, the police chief added that this ordinance would give the police department “the ability to shut it down” if there are safety concerns, not that they would drive around enforcing it.

“I can see it being a real bad situation, with houses all close together, and if we don’t have anything [as an ordinance], there’s nothing you can do about it,” council member Jason Brown said. “I’m all about setting off fireworks too, but I think you’ve got to have a buffer to protect that.”

Brown motioned to suspend the three-reading rule, which failed by the aforementioned 5-1 vote.

“This now moves to a second reading, and that means whenever we do put this in place, it’s going to be after the law has gone into effect,” Eichinger said.

Council did vote unanimously to approve and adopt several other items of legislation (and to suspend the three-reading rule where applicable), including the following.

• Council passed a resolution authorizing the safety and service director to purchase or repair pumps for the wastewater plant without formal bidding and advertising, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 735.051, and declaring an emergency.

The resolution was proposed as an emergency “due to the failure of multiple pumps” at the city’s wastewater treatment plant “that must be repaired or replaced immediately for the continuation of uninterrupted service to the residents of the City of Hillsboro,” the legislation says.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Tyler Warnock explained the situation at the plant to council.

“Typically in our budget, we try to budget for one or two pumps throughout the year to go out that can be repaired or replaced, depending on how things are,” Warnock said. “This year, in one week, we had five pumps go out.

“Most of these pumps typically take 16 to 20 weeks to get in, and most of them will come from Sweden. That was under normal conditions, which everything's been pushed back now.”

In addition to delays in getting equipment, the cost has also been increasing, the superintendent told council. Warnock said things are OK “as long as nothing else happens, but the sooner we can get this moving, the sooner we can make sure that the wastewater plant continues treating.”

He added that they are still trying to determine whether they will have to replace all five pumps or if some or all can be repaired.

“They’re being looked at,” Warnock said. “I don't have all that information back on whether they can be repaired yet. The total cost, if we have to replace all of them, is going to be about $175,000.”

• In a related vote, council approved an ordinance making supplemental appropriations to the Sewer Replace Equipment line item in the amount of $175,000, for the aforementioned pump replacements and/or repairs.

• Another emergency resolution passed Thursday authorizes the City of Hillsboro to participate in the State of Ohio Department of Development Roadwork Development Grant, for fiscal year 2022, and to execute contracts as required.

As announced May 9 by State Rep. Shane Wilkin’s office and discussed by safety and service director Brianne Abbott at the May city council meeting, the city has received a $2.3 million roadwork grant for the city’s proposed Roberts Lane/Fenner Avenue extension.

Abbott told council the resolution allows the city to accept the grant and to “execute contracts when we get to that point — obviously, we are not there yet.”

Eichinger asked why the legislation was proposed as an emergency measure. Abbott said the city received the grant agreement Wednesday, June 15 with a request from the state to return it “as soon as possible.”

“So we definitely don’t want to drag it out for three months,” Eichinger said.

• An ordinance making supplemental appropriations to the Professional Services line item in the amount of $5,500 and the Supplies line item in the amount of $7,800 “in order to repair storm damage to Shaffer Park” that occurred approximately two years ago was approved.

Stanforth asked if insurance had covered any of these expenses, since the storm damage occurred in the spring of 2020. Public works superintendent Shawn Adkins said there were issues going “back and forth with the insurance company this whole time” and figuring out the logistics for the work.

“The prices and time frame for getting stuff has been this long,” Adkins said. “We have to pay for it and have insurance reimburse us.”

“Fully?” Eichinger asked. Adkins said they would “have a deductible.”

“This is basically an appropriation in order to cover the bill until we get the money from the insurance company,” Eichinger said.

• In a related vote, council passed an emergency resolution approving a “then and now” certification by the city auditor, pursuant to ORC 5705.41(D)(1), for the payment of storm damage expenses at Shaffer Park.

Eichinger asked why the resolution required passage as an emergency. Worley said that city auditor Alex Butler advised it needed to be passed as an emergency in order to make the payment, which was not included in the original 2022 budget.

• Council also authorized an ordinance making supplemental appropriations to the Community Enhancement line item in the amount of $3,000, “to appropriate additional donated funds in order to pay for the Hillsboro High School scholarship program.”

Also during the legislation portion of the meeting, council heard the second reading of an ordinance amending section 51.076 of the codified ordinances of the City of Hillsboro to increase the rates charged for water service for the City of Hillsboro.

As introduced, the ordinance proposes a three-percent increase on the overage water rate. The ordinance proposes keeping the billing for water usage at $15.08 for the first 133 cubic feet per month, then increasing the rate from $6.79 to $6.99 per 100 cubic feet above the minimum usage.

The rates were most recently raised in April 2019, increasing the minimum usage from $12.08 to $15.08. At that time, it was the second increase in less than a year, after voting to raise the rates from $9.08 in May 2018.

There was no discussion of that proposed ordinance Thursday.

• • •

Legislation was also discussed in the only committee report of the night. Finance committee chair Stanforth summarized a joint meeting between her committee and the civil service/employee relations committee to discuss the pay ordinance.

In December, council voted to approve a much-discussed proposed pay ordinance for non-union city employees, following discussions that spanned a combined six-plus hours in open session since late October. The committees eventually agreed to work throughout 2022 to develop a pay ordinance that took everyone’s concerns into consideration.

“The discussion centered on the current pay scale of elected and appointed officials, some of which have have not had an increase since 2008,” Stanforth said of the committees’ June 7 meeting. “The committees discussed the need for pay ranges for the SSD, auditor, tax commissioner, wastewater superintendent, utility office manager, mayor, law director and public works superintendent

“Mayor Harsha stated that the current pay for the full-time auditor’s position isn't enough to interest quality applicants. The current salary is $45,000, which was passed in 2008. Alex Butler said that the auditor is a department head and is the lowest paid of all the department heads in the city. When comparing salaries from other cities, it was suggested that the pay rate should be between $54,000 and $66,000.”

Stanforth added that Eichinger advised them “that when comparing salaries to other cities,” the committees should take into consideration the budgets and not the population size of the other cities.

“Also, the rising inflation rate needs to be considered,” Stanforth said. “Job evaluations and vacation and sick leave were briefly discussed.”

Another joint meeting to discuss the pay ordinance is scheduled for June 28 at 6 p.m.

• • • 

In the mayor’s report, Harsha gave updates on the upcoming Festival of the Bells and other activities.

As previously reported, the annual festival is returning to Hillsboro July 7-9 at a planned new green space on West Main Street in Hillsboro at the former site of Highland Enterprise/Union Stockyards. The entertainment lineup for this year includes country artist Caylee Hammack on Thursday, July 7; country artist Elvie Shane on Friday, July 8; and contemporary Christian artist Jordan Feliz on Saturday, July 9.

The festival parade will kick off festivities on Thursday with the theme “Red, White & Boom — We’re Back!”

“They’re bringing back the parade uptown, which is great,” Harsha said.

As noted by the mayor, the Highland County Historical Society is also slated to host their annual Pioneer Day during the festival on Saturday.

“There's going to be a lot going on down there,” Harsha said. “We’re going to have the farmers market uptown. There's going to be a magic show, and artist Gabe Gilliland is going to be performing, so it's just going to be a booming weekend for Hillsboro.”

Harsha also discussed some plans for parking and road closures associated with the festival.

“The good thing is it’s all going to be housed out at the green space, so traffic should be at a minimum,” Harsha said. “North Elm’s going to be blocked off completely, then part of Beech Street, where Beech Street and Railroad Street’s at, is going to be blocked off there. Basically, that whole quadrant will be blocked off for the festival. Traffic should flow through town just fine.

“Across the street from the green space, on the other side of Beech Street, we're going to open it up for parking for the festival, so that’ll add some additional parking. They're also going to have a car show there on Saturday, and I think later on in the afternoon, a motorcycle show.”

Harsha thanked the city crews who have been “working really hard getting the site ready for the festival.”

• • •

Abbott continued discussions of previously announced grant awards, as well as informing council of additional funding, during the safety and service director’s report.

As was announced May 5 by the Ohio Governor’s Office and the Ohio Department of Transportation, the city has been selected to receive $336,000 for pedestrian improvements in the historic uptown district, including “the creation of “new high-visibility crosswalks with the installation of pavement markings, refuge islands and pedestrian beacons,” Abbott said last month.

“We received word from ODOT that they are wanting to set up a site visit to discuss the funding for the pedestrian safety project in the historic district,” Abbott told council Thursday.

State Rep. Wilkin’s office also announced that the state capital budget, signed into law this week by Governor Mike DeWine, includes “$100,000 for the Outdoor Theater and Performing Arts Community Park, to help support restoration work as well as mechanical and infrastructure needs.” The amphitheater will be located at the aforementioned green space on West Main Street.

“We also were notified that we received, fortunately, another pot of money this past month,” Abbott said. “That's $100,000 from the state capital budget that will go toward the West Main Street amphitheater project, so that gives us a great start on funding for that.”

For an economic development update, Abbott said the city issued “20 commercial and five residential building permits” during the month of May, while several planned new businesses are in various stages of development. One of those new storefronts, the Mimi’s Kitchen location on East Main Street, is set to have its grand opening June 21, Abbott said.

“On the industry front, Weastec was honored this past month,” Abbott said. “They received recognition from the EPA. They received an award for their commitment to environmental stewardship, so that's great.”

More on that award can be found at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Weastec-recognized-for-commitment-to-environmental-stewardship/2/20/79492.

In her report for the Hillsboro Planning Commission, Abbott said the group “discussed last month several zoning changes, a new street name and the Imagine Hillsboro annual review.”

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a joint meeting with Hillsboro City Council on Tuesday, June 21 at 5:30 p.m. for the annual review of the Imagine Hillsboro master plan.

Abbott also reminded the community that the city building will be closed in observance of two upcoming federal holidays: June 20, for Juneteenth, and July 4, for Independence Day.

• • •

During the public request portion of the meeting, Randy Proehl, a site acquisition specialist with Horizon Telecom, spoke to council about a proposal to set up a new Point of Presence site for expanded internet services at a city-owned property.

Proehl said Horizon has identified a potential location off of Beech Street, which is owned by the City of Hillsboro, to build their “20 by 20-foot footprint” to expand their range.

Proehl told council that the company has an existing site on state Route 73, near Walmart, and that several area schools, Highland District Hospital and the Hillsboro library are among their customers.

“With private funding that we now have, since we already have this system here, we’re able to expand these to expand the service to offer fiberoptic to the home,” Proehl said. “We want to expand our footprint to homes and small businesses in numerous communities along with the existing backbone for the purpose of providing superior service.”

Proehl added that as “homes are getting smarter” and people depend more and more on the internet for work, education and recreation, “we need this communication system to be much larger than it it is, and it's going to be needed in the future. We're going to need more of it.”

“The city will benefit from the additional revenue of the construction site and building of the facility,” Proehl said. “We have an existing site. We need another site, a smaller footprint of the site that we have.”

According to Proehl, he has been working with the Hillsboro Planning Commission to identify a possible location, but “due to some of the zoning restrictions here, we’ve been having a tough time finding” an appropriate site that is also close to the existing site.

“We need utilities there,” Proehl said. “We need our backbone to be there, the one we'd already built. It needed to be very close to the site.

“We need a good footprint for electrical grounding. We need good access for the crews to get in and out.”

Eichinger said he would place the matter in the community enhancement committee for further review and would invite Proehl to share more details at that meeting.

“Because the property is owned by the city, the city will have to make a decision about whether we can grant an easement, basically, in order to allow this to happen,” Eichinger said.

• • •

Council also heard concerns from resident Sherry Young, who reported that 20 tons of gravel have been dumped on an alley behind Springlake Condos. In addition, she said there is now a shed with people living in it, and it is impeding access to her home.

“I don't have access to go through the alley into my shed because 20 tons of gravel is in there,” Young said. “I can't get in and out, and they’re going through private property to get in and out.”

Young added that she had already spoken to city officials about it and “was told you were going to look into it, but how long are you going to look into it?”

Abbott said the city is “very aware of the situation” and that she and Chief Daniels have served notice of several alleged violations to the individuals living in the shed.

“Right now, we’re on that timeline phase,” Abbott said. “A lot of the violations, they have 14 days to remediate, so we have to allow them those 14 days.

“We’re just waiting on that timeline to expire.”

• • •

At the start of the meeting, council voted 6-0 to excuse the absence of council member Patty Day, who was unable to attend due to a family emergency.

Council also received communication from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control regarding a license for the Patriot Public House on West Main Street. There was no objection to the request.