Pictured at the Oct. 15 council meeting are Hillsboro City Council members Tom Eichinger, Patty Day, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin and clerk Heather Collins. (Caitlin Forsha/The Highland County Press.)
Pictured at the Oct. 15 council meeting are Hillsboro City Council members Tom Eichinger, Patty Day, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin and clerk Heather Collins. (Caitlin Forsha/The Highland County Press.)
Hillsboro city council members continued discussions on utilities and heard updates on several items affecting the uptown area, including the demolition of three buildings and an affidavit filed on the Parker House, during their Oct. 15 meeting.

After a separate 50-minute special meeting to discuss issues with inflow and infiltration prior to the regular city council meeting, the city heard other requests regarding another utility. Both Southern State Community College, through a letter addressed to city council, and the Highland County Fair Board, through comments at Tuesday night’s meeting, have spoken out against the new stormwater utility charge being assessed.

As previously reported, council voted 6-0 in August to establish a stormwater utility in the city of Hillsboro.

The utility will be funded by local property owners, as “all properties having impervious area within the city shall be assigned an Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU), or a multiple thereof, which will be at a minimum one ERU.” An ERU is “equal to 2,899 square feet of measured impervious area and is equal to the average amount of impervious area of typical residential properties within the city.” Property owners will be charged $5 per month per ERU starting this month.

According to the letter from SSCC Vice President for Business and Finance James Buck, the college is facing an “additional charge of nearly $12,000 annually.” The letter requested “an exemption” from the stormwater utility charge, arguing that the college’s “facilities are used at little, or more often than not, no cost to the community that we all serve.” Buck pointed out that the college’s parking lot, which “represents a substantial portion of this assessment,” has been used as the site of the Festival of the Bells for the past two years, with the walking track – “again a portion of the assessment” – also open to the community.

“We have accommodated businesses displaced by contraction in the downtown area,” Buck wrote. “We offered substantial cooperation with the extension of Hobart Drive and facilitate the flow of state funds for numerous local projects including the walking path that extends to our campus.

“The city’s return on investment in processing any runoff water is incidental in comparison to an estimated one quarter of a million dollars over the last three years in local taxes paid by our employees and the affordable higher education offered to our students providing greater opportunities and skills needed in the local economy.”

Council president Tom Eichinger placed the request in the utilities committee for further consideration.

Similarly, Highland County Fair Board member Dave Stratton addressed council during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting. Stratton told council that he had already spoken to safety and service director Dick Donley and invited anyone in the city interested in coming to the fairgrounds to see how their stormwater system is set up away from the city’s utility.

“I think it was $775 a month the [stormwater utility] was going to put on the fairground and charge us,” Stratton said.

No action was taken on Stratton’s request.

• • •

In his report, Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings told council that the city has filed an affidavit on behalf of the city’s CIC [Community Investment Corporation] “basically saying that the Parker House was improperly deeded to the CIC” and that “there was never any agreement in any fashion to accept that property.”

As previously reported, Hastings told council during their Sept. 10 meeting that “dealings with the Parker House have “taken a turn for the weird.” Hastings alleged that the Hope family, who own the property at 137 West Main Street, “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.”

According to the Highland County Recorder’s website, the document filed is 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.

Another attorney with that firm, Joseph L. Trauth, Jr., sent a letter, dated July 23, on behalf of Linda Hope Doerger that was given to council ahead of their August meeting.

“My client has an agreement with the City and the Mayor, which we expect to be honored,” Trauth wrote. “In that agreement, signed April 29, 2019, by the Mayor, and notarized, the Parker House is to be donated to the City of Hillsboro. A deed to that effect has been delivered to the City. The Parker House property will be demolished by the City, at its expense. All six of the provisions of that agreement have been fulfilled, and we would expect to receive a written notice from the City immediately stating that the City will honor that agreement as of July 10, 2019, when the deed was delivered to the City.”

Hastings – who said last month he thought “we’ll definitely be in court over this” – told council Tuesday that the affidavit was “the first step in the legal process to getting this … resolved.”

“There was an affidavit filed at the Highland County Courthouse in the recorder’s office,” Hastings told council Tuesday night. “That’s just the first step in the legal process to getting this Parker House issue resolved.”

According to the Highland County Recorder’s Office website, the CIC’s affidavit was filed Sept. 19. In the affidavit, signed by Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation president James R. Gibbs, the CIC says that “at no time has there existed an agency agreement between” the HAEDC and the city “respecting the real property … nor had Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation entered into negotiations with the City of Hillsboro, nor with Jack I. Hope, nor his representative, terms regarding the transfer of the premises.”

The affidavit also claims “at no time” did the HAEDC “accept delivery of the said deed" and that the deed was recorded by Timothy Doerger, “a person unknown” to Gibbs and whom the city argue did not “have any contact” with the HAEDC.

According to the records, the affidavit was filed “in furtherance of setting aside the purported transfer” of the Parker House property.

(Linda Doerger, who is representing her father, Jack Hope, in matters involving the Parker House property, released a timeline on the property transfer in a letter to the editor in September, prior to the filing of the affidavit. For more, go to: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/Opinions/Opinion/Article/Timeline-released-on-Parker-House-Hotel-property-transfer-to-the-city-of-Hillsboro/4/22/52589.)

“That’s aggressively being pursued so we can continue with trying to get that thing torn down,” Hastings told council.

Hastings had opened his report by saying he “wanted to go on record voicing my concern” about an Aug. 22 hearing conducted at the Highland County Board of Elections regarding a challenge to former city building inspector Anton Weissmann's declaration of residency at 211 South High Street, Apt. A.

“I don’t bring this up because I have a particular support or love for this candidate,” Hastings said. “But it’s his right to try to run for mayor. There were mistakes made on a number of fronts with this Board of Elections mess, and every elected official in this room should be concerned, but to me the most outrageous part of this was that at the hearing held by the Board of Elections, they allowed two residents of Adams County to come up and question this mayoral candidate.”

As previously reported, Secretary of State Frank LaRose asked why “Rory Ryan and David Osborne, Jr. … questioned the candidate at the hearing” in a Sept. 24 letter issuing an opinion. Both are Adams County residents who own properties in uptown Hillsboro.

Hastings told council to “think about … if you were running for office in the city of Hillsboro and two people from another county drove in and questioned whether or not you should be able to run for public office, you’d be outraged. And yet that’s what happened.”

“The confidence in our county elections process has been somewhat undermined, I think,” Hastings said of allowing them to speak, and said that he hoped the board would ensure this wouldn’t happen in the future.

As previously reported, Ryan – one of the two Adams County residents – did not question Weissmann, but addressed the board of elections or its legal counsel, Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins.

"Given that there have been a fair variety of spellings on the surname and given name of the write-in candidate – including an Ohio court notation of same – I asked the board how many spelling variations of the candidate’s first and last name it would accept," Ryan said.

"My second question also was directed to the board, but intercepted by its legal counsel. I asked Collins what address the candidate provided to the city of Hillsboro while he was employed by the city. He replied that it was a post office box in Franklin.

"How either question undermined the elections process is beyond me," Ryan said.

(Editor’s note: Current Highland County Board of Elections director Debbie Craycraft – who helped facilitate the hearing – testified against Hastings during a November 2016 trial, in which one of the four counts the mayor faced was election falsification. While Hastings was ultimately acquitted on all charges, Craycraft reviewed several documents listing four different addresses for the mayor between September 2010 and January 2015. https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/UPDATED-Hastings-found-not-guilty-on-theft-election-falsification-two-charges-dismissed/2/20/35770?s=1)

Later, in the Hillsboro planning commission report, Hastings told council that the commission heard requests for variances from the Northside Church of Christ, Alley 21 and Jason Brown; discussed new “gateway” signs that will be placed at the city entrances; and received updates on the land bank and proposed master plan.

• • •

Donley gave an update on the planned demolition of three buildings in uptown Hillsboro, after one of the three buildings partially collapsed on Monday, June 3. The buildings at 115, 117 and 119 West Main Street are scheduled to be demolished, following a June 20 Hillsboro Municipal Court filing against the property owners. The parties were scheduled to appear in court Oct. 16.

“All of the contracts have been signed with Evans Construction, and they’re going to be moving in, maybe tomorrow, to do some preliminary removal of some things,” Donley said. “Probably next week, he’s going to move in with his heavy-duty stuff and start getting things going and cleaning up the eyesore.

“All three of the property owners were receptive to the bids that went out from Evans Construction. We had a couple different ones that sent bids back, and he was most cost-efficient to all three of them, so they signed the contracts.”

Council member Mary Stanforth asked if the Gross Feibel building would also be demolished. As previously reported, Hastings told council during their Sept. 10 meeting that bids for that building’s demolition were requested in conjunction with bids for the demolition of the three West Main Street properties. Donley said, “not yet,” although there have been discussions on adding both demolition work at that site as well as removing the canopy from the former BP station on West Main Street, which the HAEDC owns.

Council member Ann Morris, who also owns a business in uptown Hillsboro, asked if the city could do anything to alleviate parking issues in the uptown district.

“For parking, it would just be really nice if the city could use that [the BP lot] until it’s sold,” Morris said. “We’re losing parking with the Parker House being blocked off.”

Donley said that once the buildings are demolished, there will be “eight to 12” parking spaces opened, along with moving barricades near the Parker House once those properties are “stabilized.”

“We have a responsibility to our residents, and to our people using our streets and sidewalks, that they can do it safely,” Donley told Morris.

Also in the safety and service director’s report, Donley said that he has spoken to a developer who is interested in erecting condos on North West Street near Pea Ridge Road and will be addressing the Hillsboro Planning Commission in the near future.

Donley concluded his report by cautioning drivers and pedestrians to be careful, following an Oct. 9 accident in which a driver — mayoral candidate Phillip Loveless — was cited after reportedly hitting a 73-year-old man in a crosswalk.

“We have several crosswalks in Hillsboro, and people need to be cautious when they come through town,” Donley said.

• • •

During the unfinished business portion of the meeting, council heard the first reading of a resolution to adopt a policy to permit employees who separate from the city for reasons other than termination for disciplinary violations to acquire personal use property at fair market value.

The ordinance came about because, as the mayor said, he will “need a laptop” upon leaving office and wants to keep his current computer.

“I have a laptop that I acquired when I first took office. It’s now eight years old,” Hastings said. “I’d kind of like to get it if I can, to use it.”

Hastings said that he asked city law director Fred Beery on how to acquire “city property that probably is going to go unused after this because of its age and obsolescence.” Donley added that the city is “kind of hoarders when it comes to equipment.”

“We’ve got one room full of used computers,” Donley said. “The way this ordinance is written, it says ‘fair market value.’ If we go to a public auction with some of this stuff, you might get $10 for it.”

Council member Justin Harsha agreed about the significant number of computers stored at the city building. Morris suggested that the city needed to hold a public auction.

The proposed ordinance specifies that it will affect property valued under $1,000 that is “personal to separating employee and is not relied upon by any other department or employee of the city.” The employee would have to pay the “fair market value for the property” to the city auditor, who will also determine said value. Before the laptop or any “property with digital memory capacity” would be released, the systems administrator would “insure that public records for which there are no other recordings are saved in the city record archives.”

Council member Brandon Leeth asked if the city had looked into the Ohio Revised Code before drafting the ordinance. “I would really be surprised if the ORC hadn’t made some mention about this,” he said.

Hastings said that they “left that up to Fred,” whom Donley said “probably researched it.”

Eichinger told council that the resolution would not require three readings, but Leeth asked that council not take action Tuesday night.

“I want to make sure we check the proper procedures,” Leeth said. “Once Fred shows us this is feasible and OK, I would feel better about going through and doing that, rather than assuming Fred hasn’t checked or assuming Fred has.”

Stanforth said she also had concern for the computers already stored at the city building and whether their hard drives were still intact before passing the legislation.

Eichinger asked the civil service and employee relations committee to look into the resolution and “get clarification.”

• • •

The only council committee report was given by Patty Day, who is the chair of council’s 2020 census complete count committee. Day said that she and fellow committee member Stanforth voted to make several recommendations, including the following:

• That the city have “a goal of 100-percent awareness of what the 2020 census is by March 1” for Hillsboro residents;

• That each council member “assist in establishing trusted voices” to serve as “ambassadors” to help raise awareness about the census;

• That the city recognize April 1 as National Census Day; and

• That censuses be completed before the month of May, before the census collectors begin visiting homes.

• • •

In other action, council voted 7-0 to approve the following legislation:

• Council passed a resolution to increase appropriations in the police budget by $1,000, specifically Small Tools/Donations, to accommodate a donation received by the department.

• Council suspended the three-reading rule and approved an emergency resolution to authorize the safety and service director to enter into a contract for the emergency repair and replacement of the Harry Sauner Road storm sewer and to authorize the auditor to increase appropriations in the TIF fund by $180,000.

• Council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and to pass a resolution authorizing the lease/purchase of equipment.

“Our loader is an ’07,” public works supervisor Shawn Adkins told council. “Our rims are rusted, so we’re having trouble keeping tires on the rims. Each tire is $5,000, to replace a tire and rim.”

According to the resolution, the agreement is for a Komatsu WA2 00-8 high lift wheel loader, 2020 model, with zero hours. The lease payment is not to exceed $27,472.50 per year for a period of four years with a $1 buyout at the end of the lease.

• Council approved a standard annual resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the Budget Commission and authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying them to the county auditor.

Another resolution listed on the agenda, to approve the conveyance of Colony Theatre property, was not ready in time for the meeting and was not considered.