Hillsboro city auditor Alex Butler is pictured during Monday's Zoom meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro city auditor Alex Butler is pictured during Monday's Zoom meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
During a rare afternoon meeting, Hillsboro city council voted Monday to move forward with plans for bonds to pay off loans from 2005, updated the city’s code of ordinances on alarm systems and approved a resolution for the remaining Parker Hotel’s wall.

Council held a virtual meeting at 2 p.m. in lieu of their usual monthly evening meeting at Hillsboro Municipal Court. The meeting, held on Zoom, included participation from city administration and six city council members, who voted to excuse the absence of the two other council members (Patty Day, who had a prior engagement, and Claudia Klein, who was unable to connect to the meeting.)

Following a presentation by Mike Burns, managing director of financial services firm Robert W. Baird & Co., council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and enact three separate ordinances related to refunding the city’s USDA loans for water systems.

“Basically, we’re going to refund or refinance some debt we have,” city auditor Alex Butler told council before introducing Burns. “We’re going to save money, and it’s going to be a good deal for the city.”

Burns said that the Butler is referring to United States Department of Agriculture loans, Series 2005 A&B, that were issued to the city Dec. 2, 2005. Butler told The Highland County Press that the loans were used to build the water treatment plant on North High Street and “can now be paid off early with no penalty to the city.”

“We’re going to refund them as bank qualified,” Burns said. “We’re going to maintain the same final maturity of the loan, so we’re not lengthening the term, we’re not shortening the term. We’re keeping everything the same.

“One difference here instead of this being a loan, we’re going to change it to a bond. Essentially, from your perspective, it’s exactly the same thing.”

The Baird firm as well as the city’s bond counsel, Dinsmore, has already finished some preliminary work in the refunding process, he said. Among the next steps is for Burns to complete a rating presentation for the city to give to Moody’s.

“You’re not rated right now, so we have to go out and get the city a bond rating,” Burns said. “When you go to a bank to get a mortgage loan or a car loan, the first thing they do is pull a credit report.

“Same exact thing here, except for in this case we’re going for a bond rating, and the stronger your bond rating, the lower your interest rate’s going to be.”

Burns said that he would complete the rating presentation on the city’s behalf to “highlight the strengths of the city to help position itself to achieve the highest rating possible.”

“At the end of the day, the reason we’re going through all this work is we’re going to generate a lot of savings for your city,” Burns said. “That’s going to be very, very important in today’s world.”

After discussing trends in the tax-exempt bond market, which he described as “crazy” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Burns said that he had initially estimated the city’s potential savings at $696,927 in February. As of April 9, the savings is estimated at $429,820, or approximately $17,198 per year, a 13.31-percent savings of refunded bonds. The final maturity date of the bonds would be Nov. 1, 2045.

“It’s nothing you could have done,” Burns said. “We couldn’t have moved any quicker. It was just bad timing, all of this happening since then.”

Burns added that the city is currently paying a 4.25-percent interest rate but that he is “estimating conservatively a rate of 3.15 percent” on the proposed bonds. He likened it to refinancing a home at a lower interest rate.

“My suggestion to you as a city is to move forward with this refunding quickly and get us to the point where we can jump quickly and sell the bonds if the market starts to move in our favor even more,” Burns said. “Or vice versa — if the market starts to go up a whole lot, we want to lock the rates in before they spike up.”

Council member Mary Stanforth, who also chairs the finance committee, asked Burns if the rates would be locked in.

“They will be once we sell the bonds,” Burns said. “The last time we did a refunding, we did what we call a direct placement, and I was able to lock those rates in within about two weeks.

“This is a different approach. We’re doing this as a public offering with a bond rating and official statement, so the time period of when we can lock the rates in is about 40 days from now.”

Butler told council that he was recommending the ordinances to be passed as an emergency as “time is of the essence.”

“You saw how volatile the market has been,” Butler said. “We want to get the work done on our end to be ready to strike when the iron’s hot, so to speak.”

Council president Tom Eichinger and city law director Fred Beery advised that council would need to suspend the three-reading rule on each ordinance separately and to pass them each separately.

After voting unanimously to suspend the three-reading rule, council voted 5-0 to pass each respective ordinance, including:

• An ordinance providing for the issuance of not to exceed $475,000 of bonds by the city of Hillsboro for the purpose of refunding water system bonds in the city, and declaring an emergency;

• An ordinance providing for the issuance of not to exceed $1,957,000 of bonds by the city of Hillsboro for the purpose of refunding water system bonds in the city, and declaring an emergency; and

• An ordinance providing for the issuance of not to exceed $2,432,000 of bonds by the city of Hillsboro, Ohio for the purpose of refunding water system bonds of the city, and declaring an emergency.

According to Burns, the city is not obligated to go through with the refunding, even after passing the ordinances, if they later determine it does not make financial sense.

• • •

Council also voted 5-0 to approve and adopt an ordinance to update Chapter 98 of the Hillsboro Code of Ordinances to reflect current technology regarding automatic alarm systems, after the legislation’s third reading.

The ordinance was initially introduced at the November 2019 city council meeting, at which time council member Patty Day repeatedly said she believed the ordinance was “targeting the elderly.” The street and safety committee reintroduced the ordinance in February, as chair Adam Wilkin said city law director Fred Beery “was able to satisfy all the committee’s concerns” with the ordinance.

Under the new legislation, Chapter 98 of the Hillsboro Code of Ordinances is repealed and replaced with more up-to-date information, as most of the code was last updated in 1982.

The section on automatic alarm systems is designed “to reduced the number of false alarms and increase time for police officers to respond to actual emergencies and other legitimate calls for service,” the ordinance says. “Studies have consistently shown that 98 percent of the alarms to which police respond are false.”

Under the updated ordinance, alarm companies are required to file for permit and administer a $15 fee each time an alarm system is installed at a residence or business in the city. Those who do not comply will receive a written notice upon “the first false alarm,” after which the alarm owner will be assessed a $100 fee for a subsequent false alarm.

Each alarm system is also allowed two false alarms in 12 months, after which “a progressive fee” ranging from $35 to $100 will be assessed depending on the number of false alerts.

• • •

In other discussion, city council passed a resolution regarding a shared wall left behind at the site of the former Parker Hotel and received an appeal from the hotel’s neighboring property owner on a notice of violation.

Council voted 5-0 to approve the resolution authorizing the transfer of real property belonging to the city to enable an adjoining property to properly maintain a wall. The resolution allows the city to enter an agreement with the property owners at 137 West Main Street “to transfer to said adjacent owners so much of 137 West Main Street as is necessary and prudent to enable adjacent owners to repair and maintain the wall existing between the two parcels in accordance with city ordinances.”

“The City of Hillsboro wishes to deed the shared wall of the Parker House/Parker Hotel to the adjoining part to be able to maintain that wall,” safety and service director Brianne Abbott told council. “It was a shared wall, and now that the Parker Hotel is no longer there, the city has no need for that wall, so we’re deeding it to the adjoining property owner.”

Council member Brandon Leeth asked about the condition of the shared wall and whether the city would be held liable for its repairs after the transfer.

“The wall is not our liability, but as far as the transfer, we have no need for that wall any longer that the hotel is not standing,” Abbott said. “We want to go ahead and deed the wall to the property owner so they’re able to make the repairs that are needed to be made.”

Mayor Justin Harsha added that the remaining wall is “part of the Parker Hotel wall that was left to help support the neighboring property.”

Stanforth asked how large the amount of property being deeded is. Abbott said it was “less than two feet.”

“The property is just where the buildings were adjoined, so it doesn’t go from the front all the way to the rear of the property,” Harsha said. “I think it was 40 to 50 feet of where the buildings were connected, so that’s the piece of property we’re talking about.”

Under correspondence, it was noted that the city has received a letter from uptown property owner Dr. David Osborne, Jr. as “formal notice of the appeal of the notice of violation dated March 3, 2020 of the building at 131-133 West Main Street, Hillsboro,” adjacent to the now-demolished Parker Hotel. Osborne, who is a member of the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group, said they were also “filing an appeal with the Board of Building Appeals in Columbus.”

Osborne wrote that the current pandemic and associated state-mandated stay at home order, they “have a predicament.”

“Currently we are looking at least 10 witnesses (two of which are professional engineers), numerous pages of documentation and other accompaniments from our side, not to mention what the city will have to call up,” Osborne wrote. “We hope for a speedy resolution to this appeal. However, we understand the constraints put on us, and the committee, due to the Governor’s Stay at Home order.

“As such, we are willing to work with the committee as much as is reasonable to assist in the speedy conclusion of this appeal during these trying times.”

The appeal will be placed in the property maintenance and restoration committee for their consideration, Eichinger said.

• • •

In other legislative action:

• Council voted 5-0 to approve a resolution authorizing the safety and service director to enter into a mutual aid agreement with the Village of Greenfield. Abbott said that the resolution was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This particular resolution is so that we can provide and also receive police protection with the city of Greenfield,” Abbott said. “We feel like it’s important anytime, but particularly now, with COVID-19. If one of the departments were to contract it and get sick, we would like to have the ability to provide mutual aid.”

• Council unanimously approved a resolution to reduce appropriations to the Drug Law Enforcement budget by $12,681.45. Butler explained that a “clerical error” prompted the resolution.

“We need to adjust some numbers to reflect monies that we actually have available in the Drug Law Enforcement Fund,” Butler said. “A clerical error recorded that we had $14,000 available, but we did not. We had $1,318.55.”

• Council also voted 5-0 to approve a resolution to increase appropriations in the Police Small Tools - Donations line item by $8,500 to “accommodate a donation.”

In the first reading of ordinances and resolutions, council heard at the first reading of a resolution to authorize the adoption of the City of Hillsboro’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan, also known as “Imagine Hillsboro.”

Eichinger placed the proposed plan and associated resolution into the zoning and annexation committee for further review.

Council also heard the second reading of an ordinance to amend portions of the zoning code and to amend the zoning map.

• • •
Under new business, council was informed that Richard Spoor, bond counsel for the planned Marriott Hotel project in Hillsboro, has sent a proposed public improvements purchase agreement.

“It outlines the specific infrastructure improvements for that project, as provided in the TIF agreement,” Abbott said. “The city has made the changes that we wish to see, as far as the infrastructure goes.”

Abbott said that the city will submit that revised proposal once it is approved by council. Eichinger asked if there were many changes from the original agreement.

“There are quite a few,” Abbott said. “We wanted to get pretty specific and outline anything in particular that would benefit the city and make sure that happened in this agreement, so that includes sidewalks, street lighting and just things that will improve the city through those funds. That was our main concern.”

Abbott said that the purchase agreement they received also included “quite a few additional items from what had been passed at the earlier council meeting when they first brought the $3 million in TIF to the table.”

“We expressed some of those changes and concerns to Mr. Spoor, so he corrected a lot of those,” Abbott said.

“Is this going to delay the groundbreaking of this hotel project?” Stanforth asked.

“My understanding is no,” Abbott said. “I believe they’re still going forward with everything, but they do need this agreement, obviously, before any infrastructure construction takes place.”

Stanforth asked if the investors were still wanting to begin construction in May.

“There’s been several different start dates, and I believe May was the most recent, but unfortunately with everything going on, it’s going to continue to get pushed back, it looks like,” Abbott said.

Eichinger said he would place the revised agreement in the finance committee for further consideration prior to council’s vote.

• • •

There were no council committee reports, as no meetings have been held in the last month due to the stay at home order. With the unconventional meeting format, there were also no public comments or reports from the mayor and safety and service director. However, both administrators submitted written reports to council.

In both of their reports, Harsha and Abbott reiterated some of the points regarding the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as previously reported in The Highland County Press (http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/TOGETHER-we-can-make-it-through/2/20/56514).

“Last week we worked on an emergency budget with a 20-percent cut across the board,” Harsha wrote. “This is a bare-bones, worst-case-scenario budget guideline. We will continue to monitor the budget closely and if needed, implement additional steps to avoid employee layoffs.

“Moving forward, nobody knows what the new normal will be. I can tell you that I couldn’t have more confidence in our team and the decisions being made. There is something to be said about having the right people in the room.

“Our community continues to amaze me with its compassion and support,” Harsha continued. “Whatever becomes normal, I am honored to call Hillsboro my home.”

Also in the safety and service director’s report, Abbott said she toured Highland District Hospital’s expansion prior to the stay at home order; thanked Rural King for donating essential products to the Hillsboro Police Department; and said that the first phase of the storm sewer project and the foundation project in front of the Highland County Courthouse are still underway.

In other discussion, Eichinger reminded the community to complete the 2020 Census.

“In light of everything that’s been going on lately, I would say that’s even more important for the city of Hillsboro than ever before because the more funding opportunities we have, the better able we’ll be to recover,” Eichinger said.