Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Dane Allard, Claudia Klein, Tom Eichinger and Ann Morris. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Dane Allard, Claudia Klein, Tom Eichinger and Ann Morris. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha opened his report to Hillsboro City Council at their Feb. 10 meeting with news they have been waiting years to hear: The Parker House Hotel building is ready for demolition, with plans to begin the process later this month.

“The City of Hillsboro has received a deed for the Parker Hotel,” Harsha told council. “We have a resolution before council so we can move forward with the demolition of the Parker House.”

Harsha said that the city has already taken multiple steps toward preparing the structure for demolition, including hiring Rainbow to remove asbestos from the building; receiving a certificate of appropriateness from the city’s Design Review Board; and meeting with neighboring property owners who will be affected by the demolition.

“The timeline looks like the 26th, hopefully, will be the day for the start of the demo,” Harsha said. “It looks like hopefully within two or three days, it will be on the ground and taken care of.”

As previously reported, counsel for the city and for the building’s longtime owner Jack Hope each filed affidavits in the Highland County Recorder’s Office after the city claimed they never agreed to a transfer of the hotel property at 137 West Main Street. Former Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings had alleged during the Sept. 10 city council meeting that the Hope family “prepared a deed, signed it over to us without anybody accepting it, took it to the county and had it recorded and had it put in our name.” Hastings told council at their December 2019 meeting that the parties were “caught up in legal” proceedings.

Linda Doerger, power of attorney for Jack Hope had filed a quit-claim deed releasing the property at 137 West Main Street to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation. The document was prepared by Taylor Trout of Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL. It was recorded Aug. 26.

According to the Highland County Recorder’s Office, a quit-claim deed, signed Jan. 16 by HAEDC president James Gibbs and recorded Jan. 21, releases the property to the City of Hillsboro.

Council voted 6-0 to approve an emergency resolution authorizing the demolition of the structure.

Council also voted on several other pieces of legislation Monday night. Following the ordinance’s third reading, council voted 6-0 to approve a modification to city ordinances codified in sections 35.90 and 116.10 of the City Code, which modifies the city’s lodging tax code.

As previously reported, council president Tom Eichinger told council in December that city law director Fred Beery drafted the ordinance “to address an ongoing issue that has shown up in audit reports over the last number of years, I believe, where there was a conflict of understanding or wording in our ordinances as it relates to lodging tax, etc.”

In section 35.90 of the city code, the phrase “The lodging tax levied in excess of 3%” will be changed to “The regulatory fees assessed.” For section 116.10, the phrase “a tax of 7%” will be changed to “a tax of the maximum amount permitted under Ohio Revised Code 5739.08 and 5739.09.” Several paragraphs on “the maximum allowable” were also added to 116.10. There was no discussion of the ordinance prior to the vote Monday.

• Council voted 5-1, with Claudia Klein voting no, to authorize and direct the safety and service director to provide water and sewer service to the Highland County Justice Center without charge to the county.

“This used to be 90 percent, and now they’ve requested we offset the full 100 percent,” Eichinger said. “The recommendation from the utilities committee was to go ahead and do that.”

• Council voted 6-0 to approve an ordinance creating a residential board of building appeals within the city of Hillsboro and to declare an emergency. According to Harsha, code enforcement officer Jon Salyer, Sarah Roe and Barry Stratton have agreed to serve on the board.

“Three really good people who will do a good job with that,” Harsha said of the board. “This kind of all came up from [Hillsboro chief building official] Steve Rivera, who thought it was very important for us to have this.”

The ordinance says that the Residential Board of Building Appeals will “have full authority to enforce all laws, statutes and regulation as provided and authorized in the Ohio Revised Code to hear and decide appeals from adjudication orders pertaining to the enforcement of Revised Code Chapters 3781 and 3791 and the rules of the Ohio Board of Building Standards, enforced within the City of Hillsboro.”

• Council voted 6-0 to authorize the safety and service director enter into an agreement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for a grant application for the Moberly Branch Connector Trail - Pedestrian Bridge.

“We’re applying for a grant for capital funds for the pedestrian bridge that will connect Liberty Park to Richard Shaffer Park,” safety and service director Brianne Abbott told council.

• Council voted 6-0 to authorize and direct the safety and service director to purchase a 2019 Ford F550 dump truck with a snow plow through Lebanon Ford in the amount of $71,000. Council member Ann Morris and Eichinger both said this was already included in the budget.

• Council voted 6-0 to authorize the safety and service director to enter into a contract with Stantec Consulting Service, Inc. for the design and engineering of infrastructure improvements, including replacement of water main as needed, to Springlake Avenue in the amount of $62,500.

• Council also heard the first reading of an ordinance to update Chapter 98 of the Hillsboro Code of Ordinances to reflect current technology regarding automatic alarm systems, as further discussed during the street and safety report.

• • •

In addition to discussing the Parker Hotel demolition, Harsha reported that he and other city administrators have held “20 to 30 meetings” in the past month with various public officials and representatives of area organizations. Among those meeting with the city were Highland County commissioner Jeff Duncan; Greenfield city manager (and former Hillsboro safety and service director) Todd Wilkin and Greenfield public service director (and former Hillsboro city auditor) Gary Lewis; representatives of the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association; and Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia John Carey and Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission Executive Director John Hemmings.

Another local public official who met with the city is Highland County engineer Chris Fauber, whom Harsha said approached the city to pursue an agreement to share “what we are planning on using as a dump site — which is the land we got from the Butlers, the old quarry, to put some clean fill in.” According to Harsha, the county is “running out of areas to put clean fill,” and the city is working on a mutually beneficial “agreement” with the county.

“It hasn’t been completed yet, but there are some things the city will hopefully get from them in return,” Harsha said. “We’re thinking possibly a road to the dump site from North East Street that it sounded like they’ll provide us with, and fencing and security.”

Also in the past month, Harsha met with the city’s Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) and Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation (HAEDC), where it was determined the city will “take the parking lot back behind the Colony Park.”

“We’ve got some plans there for some electric car charging stations and are going to be holding some events in the park, so we thought it was very important to have that parking lot,” Harsha said. “We’re going to get that parking lot back and move forward with some striping.”

Harsha added thanks to council member Dane Allard, whom he said has “offered to donate one of the charging stations.”

Harsha told council that he also spoke with Ron Ward, a member of the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District board, regarding the city’s use of the old firehouse building, which the city cannot sell until 2023.

“In the use agreement, it was only set up for storage, but moving forward, we’d like to use that for events and different things,” Harsha said. “We are amending that so we can use it for any city events.”

Harsha said he also “met with some representatives of AT&T” at a cell tower on Coss Road, where the company hopes to expand “5G communications” and “rural internet” in the area.

In other events in the past month, Harsha presented his “first proclamation” as mayor to representatives of Hillsboro City Schools in honor of National School Counseling Week. (For more, see: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/National-School-Counseling-Week-observed-Feb-3-7/2/20/55248).

• • •

Along with the meetings mentioned during the mayor’s report, Abbott said she has met with city building official Steve Rivera and former interim safety and service director Gary Silcott of Stantec, an engineering firm with which the city frequently contracts. Silcott “discussed past, present and upcoming projects” involving the city, she said.

Abbott said she also met with Katy Farber and Taylor Stepp of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth to “brainstorm” potential economic development ventures.

In other discussion, Abbott reported:

• The “Imagine Hillsboro” city plan is “ready to move forward with just a few minor tweaks and will be coming to council” in the near future.

• The Hillsboro Police Department underwent an on-site inspection by the Ohio Department of Criminal Justice, which they “passed with flying colors,” according to the safety and service director. “This is a great accomplishment for the police department as well as the city of Hillsboro,” she said.

• The city met with Hillsboro City Schools superintendent Tim Davis to discuss plans for an access road to and from the high school/middle school building from state Route 247, which was approved by the school board at their Jan. 27 meeting. “We’ll be in the works of annexing and extending corporation limits as they wish to open the access road in fall of 2020,” Abbott said. “We look forward to building a great relationship with the schools and working together in the future.”

• The first phase of the city’s storm sewer project has begun.

• Following review by Abbott and discussions with city department heads, revisions to the city policy and procedures manual will be forthcoming to council.

• Abbott said that she is continuing efforts toward improving communication throughout city departments and has “implemented monthly department head meetings.” Abbott said she also has “been working with the public on complaints, permits and blighted properties.”

Abbott concluded her report by seeking “public help” for upcoming city projects.

“We’re looking for some community involvement and recommendations for the revitalization project,” Abbott said. “Also, we are in search for volunteers who would like to help with the community garden, new walking trails and butterfly garden at Harmony Lake and Liberty Park. If you have recommendations or would like to volunteer, please visit our social media, our website or call the office at (937) 393-5219. Any input or help would be much appreciated.”

• • •

In the standing committee reports, Eichinger read the report of the street and safety committee, as chair Adam Wilkin was absent. The committee met Jan. 17 regarding two previously discussed items, “electric vehicle charging stations and alarm codes for the city of Hillsboro,” with the meeting being “just a formality to move forward with what has already been discussed.”

Wilkin said that Abbott is “taking over” the electric vehicle charging station plans and also thanked public works superintendent Shawn Adkins for his assistance. Wilkin added that the charging stations will make uptown Hillsboro “a destination for people with electric cars who would otherwise drive right past.”

The committee also discussed an ordinance to modify the city code for automatic alarm systems, which council member Patty Day repeatedly said she believed was “targeting the elderly” during November’s council meeting. According to Wilkin, city law director Fred Beery “was able to satisfy all the committee’s concerns” with the legislation.

In other reports:

• Morris asked the public to contact her at amorris@hillsboroohio.net “if you have any ideas or any concerns” regarding property maintenance and restoration in the city.

• Allard said that the civil service and employee relations committee held its first meeting with him as chair, as he is “still pretty new” to council. (Allard was appointed to council and took office in January to replace Harsha.) Allard said that department heads are working to make recommended modifications to the personnel manual, as discussed by Abbott.

• Day, who is in charge of the city’s 2020 census committee, said that she has met with county census representatives Virginia Purdy and Sue Smith and that they are “planning a community event” in April. She said that citizens will receive three mailings, beginning March 12, asking them to complete the census before workers visit homes.

“This year it’s nine simple questions,” Day said of the census.

Day also spoke about meeting with Greg Hawkins, executive director of the Highland County Homeless Shelter, and her concerns about the homeless community in the city, with 142 individuals served by the shelter. During the new business portion of the meeting, Day told council she wanted to “challenge us to do something about our problem” with homelessness.

“I’m troubled by the population of folks that are truly on the street,” she said. “I don’t believe I’m the only person in this room that has noticed we have a growing population of folks literally on the street.

“I just want to pose the question: is this something we can work together to maybe reach out to the coalition of homeless to try to evaluate just what our population on the street actually is? Those would be the first I would want to see get services. My husband and I were driving the other evening and it was 31 degrees out and a couple was literally on the street, and I think it was 10 o’clock at night. That troubles me.”

• • •

Council also heard a 2019 end-of-year public works report from Adkins.

“One of the things we talked about at our pre-council meeting is not only how much is going on in the city, but how much is actually going on in the public works department,” Harsha said. “I would really like for the public to hear just a little bit about what’s going on because there’s so much happening.”

According to Adkins, in 2019 the public works department repaired 40 water main breaks; repaired or replaced 15 service leaks or curb shutoffs; made nine water taps; replaced or rebuilt four fire hydrants; mowed and bushhogged reservoirs and water towers; assisted with a survey to find leaks within the system throughout the entire city; flushed fire hydrants for water quality; and flow-tested fire hydrants for Stantec Engineering’s water model project.

For sewer projects, the department cleaned and inspected 2,934 linear feet of sewer mains; replaced eight manhole rings and lids; responded to multiple sewer lift station alarms; pulled two grinder pumps for replacement or repairs; delivered a pump to Roberts Electric for rebuild; mowed and bushhogged sewer rights-of-way and lift stations; and started a pilot program for inflow and infiltration (I&I).

Other general maintenance for the water and sewer department included 600 locates for the Ohio Utilities Protection Service; Durapatching water cuts and potholes; mowing; repairing yards from service leaks; repairing and winterizing the restrooms and Liberty Park; assisting with code enforcement; plowing alleys and city parking lots; and completing around 100 work orders.

For the streets department, Adkins added that the Ohio Department of Transportation also paved all of state Route 50 within the city and painted streets paved with thermal paint, while A&A Safety painted streets with thermal paint. PDK Construction was also hired to replace guardrails within the city. The department is currently working to replace street signs within the city.

Public works projects in 2019 included building and paving a walking trail, building a restroom and putting out a community garden at Liberty Park; finishing work on the pocket park at the old Colony Theatre space; and starting work on the new water fountain at the Highland County Courthouse.

Eichinger thanked Adkins for his report and for his department’s efforts.

• • •

In other discussion:

• Council voted 6-0 by voice vote to approve John Kellis as Jim Gibbs’ replacement on the Design Review Board. Harsha noted that Kellis is his uncle but that “before I took over as mayor, Jim Gibbs had talked to John Kellis” about the position.

“That appointment will be replacing Jim Gibbs because since he sold his business downtown, he’s no longer able to be on the board,” Harsha said.

• Council voted 6-0 to excuse the absence of council member Wilkin, who was unable to attend Monday night’s meeting.

• Council also received notification of a liquor license permit change from the Hillsboro Giovanni’s restaurant.

• At Klein’s request, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner spoke at the end of the meeting and answered questions on local concerns about a Cincinnati media outlet’s story on childhood cancers and other diseases in Highland County. Warner said he’d already met with city officials to discuss the report.

“In 2016, we had a concerned citizen whose family member was a child diagnosed with childhood leukemia, and that was very concerning to them, so they wanted to do some research to see if there was more childhood leukemia in the county, and if so, if it was a significant issue for the health of the community,” Warner said. “I sat down with her and her family members at the health department and talked through what their concerns were.”

Warner said the Ohio Department of Health and Hamilton County Public Health Agency epidemiologists reviewed information submitted by Highland County and said that there was “nothing happening in Highland County that’s out of the ordinary.”

Warner said that typically, “we don’t know why” childhood cancers occur, and the recent media report on Highland County included “complications to viral infections” and other diseases that aren’t cancer-related.

“We really focus on specific individual diseases when we try to identify if there’s an increase in a particular diseases or not,” Warner said. “What we don’t do is lump them all together regardless of what causes them.”

From all the data the health department has collected, “we cannot identify any issues of concern,” Warner added.

Warner used an analogy to further explain the study. “It would be like if Hillsboro city council was worried about the number of automobile accidents in Hillsboro, so you go out and gather all the number of automobile accidents that have occurred, but then you also gather all the bicycle accidents and the rollerblade accidents and the skateboarding accidents and put all those together in a group,” Warner said. “You can’t really use all those numbers to claim there’s an automobile accident. That’s the way disease research is. You have to focus very specifically on each disease because most of the diseases on the list do not have the same potential factors that cause them. The majority of them, we simply do not know why they occur.”

Klein asked if there was any evidence to show that Hillsboro’s tap water would “cause leukemia.”

“One of the frustrating things about leukemia is we don’t always know why it occurs,” Warner said. “We cannot identify any water sources that are specifically contributing to these cases. Of the 23 cases they were looking at in that community study, three of those cases were on the city of Hillsboro’s water systems. To make that claim or to infer that claim, there’s no evidence.”

Warner offered to answer any other questions after the meeting.