From left, council president Tom Eichinger, safety and service director Brianne Abbott and auditor Alex Butler are pictured during the June 8 council meeting via Zoom.
From left, council president Tom Eichinger, safety and service director Brianne Abbott and auditor Alex Butler are pictured during the June 8 council meeting via Zoom.

Hillsboro council members voted to approve three emergency ordinances regarding the city’s bonds and heard from administrators regarding city projects and finances during their Monday, June 8 meeting via Zoom.

As previously reported, city auditor Alex Butler and Mike Burns, managing director of financial services firm Robert W. Baird & Co., gave a presentation to council at their April 13 meeting. Council then voted to suspend the three-reading rule and enact three separate ordinances related to refunding the city’s USDA loans for water systems. Due to low interest rates, it was determined that the city could bond the money to repay loans issued to the city in 2005 for the water treatment plant at a significant savings. (For more information, see the article at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Hillsboro-city-council-approves-bond-ordinances-alarm-system-update-OKs-transfer-of-Parker-Hotel-wall/2/20/56678.)

During Monday’s meeting, council voted on three more emergency measures, this time combining the water refunding bonds with additional bonds for a planned pedestrian bridge.

“I know we’ve had a lot of those [emergency ordinances], and we want to try to minimize the emergency ordinances we have,” council president Tom Eichinger said. “In this case, in order to get the bonds valued and out so that they can be purchased at an interest rate that is favorable to us, we need to move quickly.”

Butler explained to council that the three ordinances are “all connected with the same project” and will permit the city to “sell an additional $250,000 to the ordinances that were passed … for the purpose of completing a pedestrian bridge project.” That $250,000 is for “15 years at an approximately 2.2-percent interest rate,” according to the auditor.

“That won’t be totally final on the interest rate until we go to sell the bonds in a few weeks, but that would be just shy of $20,000 per year,” Butler said. “It’s not going to be a major burden on city funds, and it’s not going to adversely affect the bottom line, so to speak, over the long run.

“Because we have the other bond issue on the table right now and are proceeding with that, it just seems like a good time to bond this additional money.”

Safety and service director Brianne Abbott announced in March that the city has been awarded a $150,000 recreational trails grant for the proposed pedestrian bridge. Also during their March meeting, council voted 5-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve an emergency resolution to authorize and direct the SSD to enter an agreement with Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., for professional services related to the Moberly Branch Phase One Project.

“We’ve talked about this pedestrian bridge in the past,” Abbott said. “It would be a pedestrian bridge to connect Liberty Park to Richard Shaffer Park. We actually already have, I think, a little over $300,000 worth of grants for this project that we will essentially lose if we don’t complete within a specific time frame.

“This project, within itself, is the largest component in really creating a trail system for the city. It’s a major step in the right direction to have the trail system, a bike path, things like that. Also, we don’t really want to lose the grant funds that we have acquired.”

Butler added that the funding secured by city grant writer Kirby Ellison covers “over half the project already.”

“Spending $250,000 on this does seem to be, with the way the timing works, the cheapest that this project will be, given how much grant money we do have available at this time,” he said.

Eichinger asked about a “ballpark number” of savings for the city, as they had been estimated around $429,820 as of April 9. Butler said that “as of today, that savings is getting closer to $600,000.”

“Our numbers have improved dramatically,” Butler said. “It is important to note, though, that this is not general fund money that we’re saving. This is what’s called an enterprise fund, and it’s for the water plant, so you can move general fund monies into an enterprise fund, but you can’t move enterprise fund monies into the general fund.

“What it will do is give us more money in the long run within that enterprise fund. That’s an important distinction to make, that this approximately $600,000 savings is not going to translate into more money in the general fund.”

Council member Patty Day asked if the $600,000 savings was contingent only upon passing the three ordinances regarding the park project.

“Is that the only way we will have a $600,000 savings, if we join those two together?” she asked “It seems that it would make bookkeeping more complicated to join bonds together like that, when they’re not related.”

“The bonding of the $250,000 we’re discussing tonight does not affect savings with the water bonds,” Butler said. “We will account for them differently, and it’s not going to be any trouble at all to keep those payments separate.

“It expedites the process a little bit with the bonding of the $250,000 since we’re already in a position to bond. If we would bond at another time, the terms may not be as favorable as they are now.”

Butler also pointed out that if the city waited too long, “it may not be relevant to do it because we would lose the grant money.”

“As far as having both projects in the same bonding process — the water department and this $250,000 for the pedestrian bridge — from a bookkeeping standpoint, it will not be an issue on my end,” he added. “They’re two separate issues, two separate payments, two separate projects.”

Council voted to approve the three ordinances for the pedestrian bridge project, including:

— An ordinance providing for the issuance of not to exceed $250,000 of bonds by the city of Hillsboro, Ohio, for the purpose of constructing park improvements in the city, and declaring an emergency;

— An ordinance providing for the issuance of not to exceed $2,682,000 of bonds by the city of Hillsboro, Ohio, for the purpose of refunding water system bonds of the city and constructing park improvements, and declaring an emergency; and

— An ordinance amending ordinance No. 2020-05 to permit combining park improvement bonds with the water refunding bonds and declaring an emergency.

During the safety and service director’s report, Abbott spoke about the city’s work on their bond rating presentation. Burns had said in April that the city did not have a bond rating and 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.”

Abbott told council that she, Harsha and Butler “worked pretty hard putting together a presentation to get a rating, and we worked really well together as a team.”

“We’re looking forward to finding what kind of rating we have,” she said. “We’re hoping for an A rating, and we hope to save the taxpayers a lot of money in this refinancing. Alex has been working really hard on it, so we’re excited.”

Also during her report, Abbott announced that the city building and Hillsboro Police Department lobbies are now open to the public, although visitors are asked to follow social distancing practices. In addition, city employees are on “normal schedules” at their regular places of business.

Another change to the COVID-19 closures is the reopening of city playgrounds, as Governor Mike DeWine announced last week that playgrounds can reopen June 10.

“I was really touched because we had a citizen reach out, and it’s probably been a month ago at this point,” Abbott said. “He wanted to donate the supplies and his time to disinfect all of the playgrounds for our children. There’s another example of a great deed done.”

Abbott also thanked the donors and contractors for their contributions to the fountain project at the courthouse. The fountain is now up and running, and crews worked on the landscaping around the fountain late last week. (For photos, see: http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/Social/Article/Crews-work-to-complete-landscaping-at-courthouse-fountain-/2/74/57804.)

“It’s beautiful,” Abbott said of the fountain. “There’s been a lot of hard work put into that by all the contractors and city crew. I want to give a really special thank-you to the Bagshaw family for the donation. I feel like the fountain has really added value to the city, and the aesthetic is gorgeous. We’re really thankful to that family for their donation, and I know the citizens will enjoy it for years to come.”

In other announcements, Abbott said that the second phase of the storm sewer project is underway and will “probably continue throughout summer.” She also thanked city employees Kimberly Newman, Lauren Walker and Paulette Goerler for their efforts in organizing “great events for the city.”

Those events include Bikes in Bloom, which had numerous participants creating bicycle displays in front of their businesses; the Hillsboro Farmers’ Market, which begins June 13 and will continue through October; and Pack the Park, a “community lunch gathering” on Thursdays featuring food trucks in uptown Hillsboro.

Both Abbott and Hillsboro mayor Justin Harsha also commented on a peaceful protest held in Hillsboro June 6 in their respective reports.

“It was a long week working with the police department, the sheriff’s department and everybody within the city to make sure it was as peaceful as possible,” Harsha said. “The event went really well. They had a great turnout and were able to march through town. It couldn’t have been better.”

Abbott said the protest was “a really great example of Hillsboro coming together again and peacefully protesting for a positive change.”

“That was really nice to see,” Abbott said. “I was proud of our town and our community.

“Eric Daniels with the police department, [public works superintendent] Shawn Adkins and his crew, Donnie Barrera at the sheriff’s office — we were all together the entire week trying to make sure we thought of everything to make sure everything went well, and it did. Those groups really put forth the effort, and they deserve credit for that.” 

According to Abbott, citing the city auditor's numbers, the protest cost the city $801.85 in additional pay and benefits.

In his report, Harsha gave an update on city property transfers. As previously reported, council passed an emergency ordinance to enter into a purchase agreement for three parcels on West Main Street — including the lot that formerly housed a vacant building that collapsed last summer and two neighboring properties — during a brief special meeting May 18.

The ordinance proposed that the city transfer the parcels at 115, 117 and 119 West Main Street to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation or the Community Improvement Corporation, which in turn would transfer the parcels to the Arven Group LLC pursuant to their purchase agreement with the city. The HAEDC or CIC will then “collect and disburse the proceeds of sale” back to the city “to be placed in the general fund.”

According to Harsha, the “CIC accepted the agency agreement for the Arven Group for the three properties uptown, so it is in the stages of getting paperwork done for closing.”

“Hopefully, that will be wrapped up real soon,” Harsha said.

A bid by White’s Cake Box has also been accepted for the former BP station on West Main Street, “and they’re moving forward with a purchase agreement,” he said.

For another building update, Harsha reported that Wallick Communities “has received tax credits, and they’re now in the stages of securing financing” for a housing complex on Fenner Lane.

According to their website, “Wallick offers high-quality, professionally managed rental housing, including apartments for low-income families and seniors based on their income. Wallick's communities include subsidized housing and low-income apartments in Ohio as well as Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin.”

“Hopefully, everything goes well and we can accommodate them to come to town,” Harsha said. “It will be a great addition to Hillsboro.”

In other discussion, Harsha said that Butler has been appointed to replace Steve Ventura on the revolving loan fund committee.

“That will be a very positive thing to have the auditor involved in that, since he so closely works with the finances and works with Kirby [Ellison] on a regular basis,” Harsha said.

Harsha also thanked Avery Applegate for planting flowers at the Colony Park, and Buck Wilkin for donating the flowers, which he said “look amazing.” In addition, the parking lot behind the former Colony Theatre has been striped, the mayor said.

Harsha gave a “personal thanks” as well to a city employee, Aaron Milburn, for a recent act of kindness that was brought to the mayor’s attention.

“He was riding his motorcycle, and there was a lady broken down in the middle of an intersection,” Harsha said. “He stopped, got off his bike and went out in the middle of traffic. He got everybody to slow down enough so she could get off the road and helped push the car out.

“It was a good deed done by an employee of the city. I thought it needed to be recognized, and I personally called him and thanked him.”

• • •

Butler asked to give a brief update on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on city finances during Monday’s meeting. He said that the city’s primary revenue source, income tax, was understandably “negatively impacted” during the stay-at-home order.

Prior to the pandemic, the city had seen a “nearly 20-percent” increase from January 2019 to January 2020 and a “nearly 30-percent” increase from February 2019 to February 2020, he said.

“In March, when the stay-at-home order went into effect, we obviously saw revenues go down,” Butler said. “I’m glad to say that the month of May — although revenues were still down compared to where it was last year — revenues are up from April.

“I think we’ve turned a corner and are headed in right direction. Our projected losses aren’t quite as severe as I thought they’d be.”

Butler added that the city is still likely to receive more income tax revenue, with the filing deadline moved from April 15 to July 15.

“I do anticipate some nice revenue this month and next month that we otherwise would’ve already had, but because of that deadline extension, I think people are taking advantage of that,” Butler said. “Things are looking better.”

• • •

Council members also passed the following legislation Monday:

• Council voted 6-0 to approve the “Imagine Hillsboro” comprehensive plan. For more information, see the article at http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/City-council-approves-Imagine-Hillsboro-comprehensive-plan/2/20/57846.

• Council voted 6-0 to “authorize and direct the city auditor to disburse scholarship awards” to three Hillsboro High School 2020 graduates, each receiving $1,000: Katie Condo, Joe Helterbrand and Gideon Pickering-Polstra.

As previously reported, Harsha issued a proclamation designating the week of May 11-15 as “High School Senior Recognition Week” within the city of Hillsboro. The city made an announcement last month seeking participation from businesses or individuals, including offering perks for seniors or accepting donations for the scholarship fund. Harsha said that “any monetary donations will go toward a city scholarship, which the city has agreed to match up to $1,000,” and told council last month that he hopes to offer the scholarship each year.

During her report Monday, Abbott said that the senior week project “went wonderfully.”

“We had a great turnout from local businesses who donated and allowed the seniors to have discounts at their businesses and things like that,” Abbott said. “It was a really great way to honor the class of 2020. They’ve been presented with some challenges, so it was nice to do something special for them.”

• Council voted 5-1 (with Day voting no) to approve the mayor’s appointment of two design review board members. The resolution names Abbott as a “city resident” member of the board, fulfilling the unexpired term of Sally Renk, and John Kellis as the Historical Society representative, completing the unexpired term of Jim Gibbs. Council had approved Kellis’s appointment to the board in February by voice vote. (As also noted during the February meeting, Kellis is Harsha’s uncle. Harsha told council at that time that “before I took over as mayor, Jim Gibbs had talked to John Kellis” about the position.)

During the mayor’s report, Harsha said that Renk resigned from the board, as he thanked for her service.

“John Kellis is taking her spot as chair, and I am asking for council to approve Brianne Abbott,” Harsha said. “I have talked to Fred Beery and Tom Eichinger both to make sure that there’s no conflict of interest.

“I thought it would be really good to have her a part of that because I’m not always able to attend those meetings, and it would be nice to have someone from the city kind of sitting in, knowing what’s going on and keeping us up to date.”

Harsha added that Abbott will not vote on “anything to do with her husband’s company,” Chad Abbott Signs.

• Council voted 6-0 to make the following transfers and supplemental appropriations: appropriations to the 201.612.524360 Street Repair and Maintenance fund are reduced by $30,100; and appropriations to the 101.740.525200 Equipment funds are increased by $30,100.

As previously reported, Highland County commissioners voted Wednesday, June 3 to fund a $92,300 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application from the city of Hillsboro in the amount of $62,200, asking Hillsboro to provide a $30,100 match. The application was submitted for tornado siren upgrades.

“The city has three tornado sirens located in different places in the city, and they need to be replaced,” Butler said. “The remainder of the cost of the project after the grant money from the county is applied is that amount that you see right there, approximately $30,100.”

Council member Claudia Klein commented on the project, saying that she is “really glad they’re being replaced because most of the residents can’t really hear” the sirens.

“Shawn made the mention that some of the sirens we have now that are starting to break down you can’t even get parts for, so this is a very important thing for us,” Harsha said.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve a resolution making the following transfers and supplemental appropriations: appropriations to the 201.610.525400 Street Construction fund is increased by $68,419.51. According to Butler, this resolution “is to accommodate a rebate check we received last year when U.S. 50 was paved.”

“It’s my understanding the city had to front some of that money, but it has been refunded,” the auditor said.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve a resolution increasing appropriations to the 206.310.525300 Shaffer Park Buildings & Structures fund by $35,600.

“If you remember the bad storm we had a month or so ago, there was a lot of damage at Richard Shaffer Park,” Butler said. “Work is going to need to be done really quickly. This morning in the mail we got checks from the insurance company, so that was not accounted for in the original budget.”

Butler said that the resolution allows the city to “get the process moving and get the park back in shape.”

In other discussion:

• Council heard the first reading of an ordinance to amend the city’s ordinance on minimum fire connections on commercial buildings. As described by Abbott, the ordinance would amend the legislation’s current first sentence to read: “Any commercial structure to be submitted for approval of plans by the State of Ohio, or by a local certified building department, which is served by the City fire department, or by a joint fire district department in which the City participates contractually or as a member, shall have the following.”

“The old ordinance just accounted for the city of Hillsboro fire department,” Abbott said.

• Day, chair of the city’s 2020 Census committee, gave an update on local and national response. She said that on May 19, Sam Knight of the U.S. Census Bureau told her that 59.6 percent of U.S. households have completed the census, along with a 59.1-percent response rate in Highland County and 59.9 percent of Hillsboro households responding.

“They have increased the date to respond to October the 31st for the final completion of the census,” Day said. “The nonresponse followup of them going door-to-door is slated right now to start August 11.”

• Council member Ann Morris said that she sent Eichinger “a letter concerning mobile vendors uptown” and asked him to place the matter into a “committee for discussion.”

“I think the only appropriate committee to put it in would be street and safety,” Eichinger said. “I will put a review of the ordinances and related topics that affect how, basically, food trucks are administered in the city.”

The city is hosting several food trucks in the uptown area for the aforementioned farmers’ market and “Pack the Park” events. Morris’s family owns a restaurant in the uptown district.

• Council voted 6-0 to excuse the absence of council member Mary Stanforth.