Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Lee Koogler, Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Lee Koogler, Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
A two-hour and 19-minute Hillsboro city council meeting Tuesday included 40 minutes of discussion on a proposed city-wide trash ordinance; a 30-minute executive session followed by an attempt to pass an ordinance to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District; the emergency passage of an ordinance modifying the “animals” chapter of the Hillsboro city code; and talks on fire inspections to uptown Hillsboro businesses.

The meeting was held Tuesday evening due to the Columbus Day holiday on Monday.

Council members heard the first reading of an ordinance – introduced by council members Wendy Culbreath, Claudia Klein, Brandon Leeth and Ann Morris – to establish municipal garbage pickup, fees and requirements. Under the proposed legislation, the city would “provide uniform garbage pickup” for Hillsboro residents. Along with guidelines on “authorized containers” and types of trash, the ordinance said that a trash service provider, or providers, would be selected after the safety and service director collects bids and chooses “the lowest and best bid.” The safety and service director would also have the authority to “modify the terms of service specified in this ordinance to the extent necessary to acquire the lowest, responsible responsive bidders and shall report the deviations to council together with his recommendations.”

 


Prior to the meeting, Culbreath offered to those in attendance a stack of handouts entitled “The Good News About Trash” refuting several possible objections to the ordinance, including the citizens’ right to choose their own provider and the potential to put smaller trash providers out of business – both of which points were raised by citizens in attendance Tuesday.

In the handout provided by council, it says there will be “an ‘opt-out’ choice” for citizens who complete a form and show evidence “that you have privately engaged the services of a trash service.” (However, this is not reflected in the language of the proposed ordinance, which says that it affects “all single-family and two-family residential dwellings in the city.”)

“There are approximately over 6,000 citizens of the city who may actually like the cost saving service provided by the city,” the handout says. “If you are someone who doesn’t mind the higher cost of a trash service and can afford it, then by all means ‘opt-out.’”

The handout also says that the city has “the right to contract with multiple providers for a specified quadrant of the city or multiple quadrants of the city by those who submit bids,” which will “enable smaller trash providers with lesser resources to bid competitively.”

“The sponsers [sic] of the City Trash Service [sic] have only one intention: to save our citizens money and to make our city a cleaner, more attractive place in which to live and do business,” the handout says. “We have been elected to make the right decisions for ALL citizens and we are committed to do so.”

Morris said that council introduced the legislation to propose a cost savings for citizens complaining about the cost of water and sewer bills in town.

“A lot of people were concerned about the water bills and sewer bills being so high,” she said. “This was a way we were going to compensate. We met with Leesburg and different people, and their trash bills are $12 a person. We thought that was just a way to save money for people.”

One local trash provider, two former county commissioners, two other citizens and even the city auditor addressed council regarding the proposed ordinance, with all of them opposed to the legislation.

Rhonda Tener spoke first, reading a prepared statement on behalf of her family’s trash removal service, Tener Trash Removal LLC.

“We are a two-generation locally owned and family operated residential and commercial trash removal company,” Tener said. “We serve in Highland County and into Adams County. The root of our business, however, is within the city of Hillsboro.”

The company serves “a little over 1,000” customers within the city. Tener said the ordinance “alarms” her and her family. “It greatly alarms me that with a stroke of a pen, council can take away our business and everything that we’ve worked for,” she said.

Tener said that her family participated in discussions with the city administration, council committees and other local trash providers last year, as Hastings had asked council to look into the implementation of city-wide trash collection at the March 2017 council meeting.

“Some suggestions were made to address concerns, and they were good suggestions,” Tener said. “On our part, after the meeting, we went so far as to begin our collection on Mondays two hours earlier so we could be out of town earlier. We also limit our pickup in town to Sundays and Mondays.”

Tener said she asked the city last year to include her in future discussions on trash collection, but she was not informed of any other meetings.

“I respectfully implore that the ordinance before council this evening be tabled and be put into committee,” she said. “This will allow the collective voices of our community to be heard. It would also allow for the proposed solutions discussed in the summer of 2017 to be adequately explored.

“This is our business. This is our home. This is what we’ve built, how we live. We enjoy it. We enjoy serving the community and providing a good service. To quote my son today, he said, ‘Mom, why won’t they just let us work?’”

Council member Mary Stanforth thanked Tener and added that she is a longtime customer and “very satisfied” with the Teners’ business.

Former Highland County sheriff and county commissioner Tom Horst said that he hoped council would allow for public meetings to get input from the community “before you get any farther on it” and echoed Stanforth’s support of the Teners’ business.

“The biggest complaint I’ve heard, and I’ve heard it my whole career that I’ve been here, was the amount of trucks that we have on the road and the days of the week,” Horst said. “It’s every day of the week we have trucks. I don’t know if you’ve thought about putting down certain days that they can pick up garbage and the guys could set that up as a plan.”

Another former Highland County commissioner, Gary Heaton, called it “a very poorly conceived ordinance” and praised Lawwill Trash Removal as well for their service to the community.

“I think we should be supporting our small businesses instead of trying to run them out of business,” Heaton said.

Hillsboro resident Gary Bego said that when he lived in California, similar legislation was enacted. Two years later, the winning bidder “jacked the rates out of sight” on trash collection services.

“Finally, the county broke the contract,” Bego said. “I’m sure it cost a lot of money just to get them out of there. It was that bad. They kept jacking prices. They are not on your side. They’re not going to give you a deal.”

Larger trash collection companies can also cause damage to small streets with “their huge, massive trucks,” he added.

“Keep the money in town, by God,” Bego said. “This is all baloney. What they do to your streets and tear it up is horrible.”

Bego asked council to use “common sense.”

“Why would you want to bring an out-of-state company in to pick up your trash?” he said. “Why? There’s no reason. You don’t need to fix what’s not broken.”

Hillsboro resident Cindy Bego also spoke and said that the language on the ability to opt out “isn’t clear.”

“If you can opt out, you’re going to have all the same trucks on the road on all the different days, and you’re not going to end up, seemingly, to solve any of the problems you’re working on solving,” she said. “I hope you let the small vendors continue to keep their businesses.”

Hillsboro city auditor Gary Lewis was the last individual to comment on the proposed legislation, with several audience members applauding after he spoke.

“It just seems to me this is a solution looking for a problem,” he said. “These trash haulers have been doing a fantastic job.”

“I think you made your comments online,” Morris said to Lewis.

Safety and service director Mel McKenzie said that if the legislation is enacted, he would choose “the lowest and best bid,” which doesn’t necessarily mean he’d select the bid with the lowest cost.

“We could look at both local companies and say ‘this money’s staying here, this is the bid we’re going after,’” McKenzie said.

Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings said that he had not participated in any discussion over “the current incarnation” of the trash pickup legislation.

“I have always been opposed to it being a single low bidder for a single trash collector,” Hastings said. “I’ve always felt we need to maintain our local trash haulers.

“It doesn’t even have to go to a situation where it’s all or none. It can be a ‘here’s your list of four vendors that you can pick from. We don’t care who you pick, just pick one, and that’s your vendor,’ which would solve, I think, a lot of the concerns brought up this evening.”

Koogler placed the matter into the utilities committee, and Leeth, the committee’s chair, encouraged the community to attend a meeting to further discuss the legislation. He thanked those in attendance as well as individuals on social media for their input.

“I do appreciate the folks coming forward,” Leeth said. “What I wanted to do was I wanted to see the input from the community.

“When I saw the feedback and all these posts – people saying ‘what about this’ and ‘what about this’ and ‘what about this’ and everybody was mad – one thing I do really appreciate is loyalty. I’ve heard nothing but good about [local trash collectors’] service. This was just an idea. When we all get together, we all discuss and talk about our differences, then we can come to an agreement.”

• • •

Following a 30-minute executive session to discuss the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, council members heard the first reading of a resolution to join the district. After a motion by Morris to suspend the three-reading rule failed with Justin Harsha, Stanforth and Adam Wilkin voting no, Morris requested that council schedule an emergency meeting “in two weeks” to hear the second reading of the resolution.

“I will work with everybody’s agenda in setting a special council meeting later this month,” Koogler said.

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, council voted 5-1 March 12 against joining the district. Stanforth, Harsha, Wilkin, Leeth and Culbreath each voted no, with Morris providing the lone yes vote. (Klein was absent.) However, Leeth and Culbreath are now joining Klein and Morris on presenting the legislation to council.

Three months after that vote, at council’s Monday, June 11 meeting, Resolution No. 18-30, “A resolution to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District,” was introduced. After being tabled for several months for committee discussions and numerous executive sessions, the same resolution was presented Tuesday.

At the March 12 council meeting, it was alleged (by the mayor, by way of McKenzie) that council had not given enough thought to the legislation, despite having five months of discussion as the mayor first presented his proposal to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District on Oct. 10, 2017.

In the mayor’s March 12 report – which was read by McKenzie – Hastings said that he had concerns that the finance committee had not “done their homework” on the matter. A public hearing on the proposal had been held Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, followed by another public meeting Monday, Nov. 6, 2017.

During both meetings, council members and citizens were able to give feedback on the proposed resolution and ask questions. Highland County auditor Bill Fawley attended the Nov. 6 meeting to provide more information on the impact on citizens’ property taxes. Citizens who spoke at those public meetings were overwhelmingly opposed to joining the district.

There was no discussion of the proposed resolution in open session Tuesday.

• • •

Following several meetings of the street and safety committee, an ordinance added late to the agenda passed by a 7-0 vote Tuesday after suspension of the three-reading rule. Introduced by the street and safety committee, chaired by Wilkin, the ordinance modifies certain sections of the city code pertaining to keeping animals in the city.

Among the changes implemented by the legislation are:

• Adding cats, in addition to the previously established statute regarding dogs, as an animal for which the owner will be “liable for all damages caused by the animal.”

• In a current section prohibiting animals or fowl “other than dogs or cats … to be housed in any building, coop, cage, or enclosure of any kind or description which is nearer than 100 feet from any inhabited dwelling within the city,” the committee added a provision for “noncommercial keeping of chicken hens and rabbits for personal use,” including for 4-H projects, “provided the keeping complies with” statutes on the removal of animal waste.

• In a section that deems it “unlawful for any owner or harborer of any dog to suffer or permit the dog to go on the grounds or property of another, to destroy the garden or yard of another [or] to get into or dump over and spill any garbage,” the committee has also added that it is unlawful for a dog “to molest or chase animals kept on such other property.”

• In addition to being found guilty of a minor misdemeanor for violating Chapter 90 of the city code, “upon application of the city, the judge may require a defendant found guilty under this section to obtain education on the care or training of an animal.”

• • •

Council members heard from local business owner Mike Morgan, who spoke about concerns with a recent conversation with a new city building inspector, Tony Weissman. Morgan said the inspector told him that he would need to make up to $70,000 in upgrades on his uptown properties to comply with fire code, despite not having been inside Morgan’s properties. Morgan said that his business is now operating online only and that he has tenants renting parts of his properties.

“He’s basically telling me I’m going to have to put a three-hour fire-retardant ceiling wall between my apartment and my downstairs building that I already have rented out,” Morgan said. “It’s been that way since 1882 or something. It’s been there a long time. Or I’d have to put a sprinkler system in.”

Morgan said the sprinkler system was presented as the “cheapest” option but would cost up to $20,000 and would also require the installation of new furnaces in both floors of each building he owns. He was also told that he cannot use his basement and middle building, that he needs to clear out his buildings and that he cannot use his wooden shelves, on which he said he’s spent “thousands of dollars.”

“It’s totaling up to $50, $60, $70,000, and he’s telling me ‘you have a year,’” Morgan said. “He’s not even stepped foot in my building yet, so who knows what else he’s going to find. I don’t understand how I’m expected to put all this money in a year’s time into these buildings and still make a living and operate. It’s just going to be impossible. Where’s the money going to come from? Where’s the time going to come from?”

Morgan told council and administration, “I’m not the enemy,” and pointed out the time and money he’s spent working on his buildings uptown.

“I know good and well probably 90 percent of the businesses uptown have the same issues,” Morgan said.

Morris, who owns a neighboring business, told Morgan that her property had already undergone a fire inspection and that “everyone uptown has to follow the same rules.”

“I’m sure you don’t have sprinkler systems in your building,” Morgan said.

“There’s probably a reason for that,” Morris said.

Koogler asked Morgan to continue working with administration because council “is not equipped to give you the answers that you want.” McKenzie said the inspector “is not following anything but Ohio building code” and that Morgan “is not being picked on or singled out.” The safety and service director added that he is “willing to work with you or anyone” on the one-year time limit to bring Morgan’s buildings up to code.

“We have to show progress, moving along, moving forward and getting things done,” McKenzie said. “We can’t be here a year from now and you’ve still got the same issues. I understand from a financial standpoint that’s going to be difficult or a strain, but you’re going to have to – if you, Tony and I need to sit down and focus on what the critical needs are and what you need to concentrate on first, we can do that. But we have to show progress on getting the repairs fixed. You can’t just idly sit by and wait.”

McKenzie said that Morgan “can’t wait until three years from now when you sell everything and have enough money to do it.”

“Where’s the money supposed to come from?” Morgan said.

“That’s the price of being in business,” McKenzie said.

Culbreath told Morgan he should try to “put a positive spin on it” and to “start working on it little by little.”

“I could let my house overwhelm me,” Culbreath said. “I go to one room and start cleaning it up, and then I go to the next room and start cleaning it up. Before I know it, my whole house is clean. That’s what you’ve got to do. Does that make sense?”

• • •

In the community enhancement committee report, Klein reported that council members determined a parks and recreation district proposed by the mayor and safety and service director in July 2017 was “unattainable.” Their proposed solution instead is to hire a city recreation director, she said.

“We have as a committee decided that we can hire someone to manage the city parks district and make sure they’re maintained and kept clean,” Klein said.

Klein said that a job description will need to be drafted, but employee relations and civil service committee chair Stanforth said that she had already spoken to McKenzie about the matter and was told “the position has already been established” in the past and should be on file with the city.

• • •

In the mayor’s report, Hastings said that he wants the revolving loan fund committee and CIC (community improvement corporation) to work together to “once and for all get the old BP station developed by somebody and back in marketable condition.”

The mayor said that he has been in talks with Rural King, who announced in August that they had purchased the former Hillsboro Kmart building on North High Street.

“They sent me a long list of incentives that we might be able to give them, from income tax abatements to a number of other things,” Hastings said. “I’m not particularly enamored with carte blanche giving away incentives for businesses coming in like that. I frankly told Rural King that the best incentive they had is they just paid $3.6 million for that site, and that seemed to be a big enough incentive to get anything open.”

Hastings also discussed the city’s comprehensive planning process during his report and the Hillsboro planning commission report. (For more on that process, click here.)

Also in the planning commission report, Hastings announced that four-year commission member Ruth Robbins has resigned and that the commission began discussing “small cell zoning and the possibility of reviewing an update to current legislations in light of new efforts to return control back to the communities.”

• • •

In his report, McKenzie gave updates on several ongoing city projects, including;

• The East Main Street project, which is “wrapping up and will greatly alleviate stormwater issues residents and businesses have been dealing with for quite some time;”

• The park project at the former Colony Theatre site, which is “ready for brick pavers and the addition of lights and a sidewalk leading to the gravel lot behind, which will be paved shortly after;” and

• The “greenspace” around the courthouse square, which has recently seen the addition of “lights, pavers and trees.”

McKenzie also presented several items to be assigned to council committees, which were distributed as follows: the “cleanup of city code” and discussions on contracting with a firm to assist in that process was placed in the street and safety committee; the city’s building fees, which are “lower than the going rate,” and the 2019 budget were placed in the finance committee; and discussing a possible solution for stormwater runoff was placed in the utilities committee.

• • •

At the beginning of the meeting, council members heard from Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss, who gave a presentation on Issue 1. Coss distributed a handout he wrote regarding how passage of Issue 1 would change Ohio law, as well as an opinion by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on the “hidden disaster of State Issue 1.”

To read more about Judge Coss’ concerns on Issue 1, please see the three-part series, starting here, at highlandcountypress.com or read a letter to the editor signed by local judges here.

Hillsboro citizen Letcher Langston, who spoke during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, added that he is also against Issue 1.

“Criminals don’t need protection,” Langston said. “If they do the crime, they need to do the time.”

• • •

In other business, council approved the following resolutions:

• Council voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution to provide for an application, acceptance and entry into a Water Pollution Control Loan Fund or Water Supply Control Loan Account by the city for financial assistance for planning, design and/or construction of wastewater or water facilities and designating a dedicated repayment source for such loan. The resolution is for funding construction of a belt press.

• Council voted 7-0 to increase appropriations in the Street Fund, specifically Street Construction, by $44,588 “due to the [ODOT PID 95563 US 50 Project] bidding higher than the ODOT estimate.”

“Just because they’re asking if we’re willing to throw in our percentage of it, it doesn’t mean they’re going to take these contracted bidding prices,” McKenzie said. “They were 23-percent above what their estimate was on the job and 25-percent above the two bids. Their contract awards could kick it back, and usually they do if it’s 10-percent more than the estimated costs, so we may be doing this all over again. This is just us saying if they do accept this low bid, we’re willing to up our ante on the payment.”

• Council voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution of authorization to provide for an application by the city for financial assistance from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources through the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Program. The application is for funding for a pedestrian bridge between Liberty Park and Shaffer Park.

• Council voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution authorizing the safety and service director to apply for, accept and enter into a cooperative agreement for construction of a walkway project between the City of Hillsboro and the Ohio Water Development Authority. The application will be for a walkway at the Selph Road reservoir and at the Liberty Park reservoir for safety and maintenance purposes.

• Council voted 7-0 to increase transfers from the General Fund to the Street Fund by $45,000 to pay the increased costs of the joint project with the Ohio Department of Transportation on US 50.