In a June 9, 2018 column (https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/Opinions/Rory-Ryan/Article/Why-is-Hillsboro-council-plowing-the-PC-ground-again-/4/83/44789) headlined "Why is Hillsboro council plowing the PC ground again?" I questioned the logic of city council members entertaining new thoughts of joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District.

I am still questioning the city’s logic. More importantly, perhaps, I question the administration’s motives.

For some background information, after five months of discussion, Hillsboro City Council wisely voted, 5-1, on March 12, 2018 against joining the Paint Creek district.

Now, five months later, city council is considering Resolution No. 18-30, “A resolution to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District.”

I'll ask the same question today that I asked in June: Why? Who is pushing this senseless resolution – and why? (Yes, it’s a rhetorical question. Anyone who’s closely followed the issue already knows the answers.)

If, in fact, city council members approve the unnecessary action and force the city into the PC district, it would behoove them to include in the language an automatic elimination of the additional city income tax that now funds the same services. Failing to do so is a direct insult to taxpayers. Joining the district means adding property taxes to city property owners – over and above the additional city income tax. This is preposterous. It is clearly a double taxation for zero additional service.

As we reported, the mayor first presented his proposal to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District on Oct. 10, 2017. On March 12, 2018, council members Mary Stanforth, Justin Harsha, Adam Wilkin, Brandon Leeth and Wendy Culbreath each wisely voted no, with Ann Morris providing the lone yes vote. (Council member Claudia Klein was absent. Given her history, though, she would have added a “yes” vote to placate the mayor. That’s just how it is. Period.)

The mayor has loosely accused council of not doing its homework on the proposed legislation. From a city property owner's perspective, I would offer that maybe council did its due diligence on the issue from October 2017-March 2018 and appropriately voted this boondoggle down.

For some more background (yes, I've written on this ad nauseam, but some folks need a reminder), the entire issue – some would say debacle – began when the Hillsboro mayor met in special session with the PC district board six years ago – without the knowledge of Hillsboro City Council, according to council president Lee Koogler in a June 2012 interview with former HCP reporter and current attorney Brandy Chandler. (See https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/UPDATED-Hastings-meets-with-Paint-Creek-fire-district-in-special-session/2/20/13311.)

Let's take a look at the Ohio Revised Code; Divisions (D) and (E) of Revised Code Section 102.03 provide:

(D) No public official or employee shall use or authorize the use of the authority or influence of his office or employment to secure anything of value or the promise or offer of anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon him with respect to his duties.

(E) No public official or employee shall solicit or accept anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon him with respect to his duties.

Council members would do well to keep this ORC section in mind when they consider certain dubious proposals.

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• At a well-attended November 2017 council meeting (see https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/City-community-discuss-financial-impact-of-joining-Paint-Creek-district/2/20/41338), Hillsboro resident Chris Mathews told members of council: “I am flat opposed to joining Paint Creek.

“You work for the taxpayers. The taxpayers pay their share. The city’s not hurting for money. Joining the district just to have one vote on the Paint Creek Board is not worth it. This is just like double-taxing your taxpayers for a municipality we’re already paying for."

Exactly.

At that same meeting, Hillsboro City Auditor Gary Lewis pointed out that the city of Hillsboro is situated in Liberty Township, which – hello! – has a representative on the district, in former Sheriff Ron D. Ward.

“The last time I checked, Hillsboro’s in Liberty Township,” Lewis said. “Liberty Township has a representative. His name is Ron Ward. I think if I had a concern about the way the district is run, I could contact Ron this evening and he would listen to my concerns.”

Lewis added that the city’s current position of contracting with the Paint Creek district makes the city “better off than we would be if we were a member, because we do have a nonvoting member who sits in on those meetings, plus we have a Liberty Township representative.”

Hillsboro resident and advocate for good government Barb Cole said at the November 2017 meeting the choice to council is really whether they want citizens to pay more in taxes. She’s right. This is an issue of higher taxes, not improved or additional services. Period.

“Right now, the taxpayers and residents of Hillsboro are paying taxes for the fire out of the general fund,” Cole said. “The proposal is going to be that they pay more taxes, and almost pay twice. What the council has to vote on is ‘we’d like you to pay more.’ Is that correct?’”

Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley answered: “What would happen is we would add it to your tax bill, and then next year when we collect your tax, we would send that money directly to the fire district,” Fawley said. “The city would never see any of that. That does not affect their general fund.”

Bill, you were wrong. It most certainly improves the city’s general fund if the new property tax increase pays for Paint Creek’s service, while the city continues to collect its additional income tax for same.

“[Paint Creek] is getting paid now,” Cole replied. “They’re going to get paid next year. The only difference is we’re paying now from the taxes, and we’re going to be asked to pay more for what we’re already getting. Is that right?”

“Yes,” Fawley admitted.

“City council essentially has the choice if they would like to raise taxes for all the taxpayers in this city,” Cole said. “That is the choice. Would you like to raise taxes to the residents?”

So, after all the public meetings and proverbial sidebars, executive sessions and political arm-twistings by the party in power, here we are almost a year later, and some on city council are still actively thinking of joining the district – and with no announced confirmation of eliminating the additional income tax.

That is sheer audacity. I’ll give you that much.

Can anyone who supports joining the district without eliminating the additional income tax – which was earmarked for these services – explain why any of us should pay twice for the same service? How is this arguably fair to the small business owners who own property in the city, pay all their obligatory payroll taxes, and whose employees – whether they live in the city or elsewhere – also pay the city income tax? Are you contemplating double-billing for water and sewer next? (I know. I know. Don't give them any more ideas.)

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• Lastly, a number of city officials contacted me today about this PC district matter and also some recent public criticism (actually, more like childish whining) wrongly directed at Council President Lee Koogler and Council Clerk Heather Collins.

Neither Mr. Koogler nor Ms. Collins asked for any support from me. However, from all that I have witnessed in local government for almost 40 years (I moved to Hillsboro in 1977), I'll stand with Koogler and Collins on this one. Without a shred of doubt, they are the more honorable and ethical in the latest detraction from good government perpetrated by the usual suspect.

The following – which ought to bring some light to the “administrative boycott” – is taken from the city of Hillsboro Code of Ordinances:

§ 30.13 – SAFETY AND SERVICE DIRECTOR

The Safety and Service Director SHALL attend all meetings of the City Council, unless excused by the Council. He shall keep the Council fully advised as to the financial condition and needs of the city. He may make recommendations to the Council and may take part in discussion on all matters concerning the welfare of the city. He shall have a seat but not vote in the meetings of the Council.

§ 30.27 – AGENDA

All reports, communications, ordinances, resolutions, contract documents, or other matter to be submitted to the City Council shall, at least by noon on the Wednesday preceding each Council meeting, be delivered to the Clerk of Council, whereupon the Clerk shall immediately arrange a list of the matters according to the order of business. The Clerk shall furnish each member of the Council, and the Law Director, with a copy of the agenda at least 24 hours prior to the Council meeting or as far in advance of the meeting as time for preparation will permit.

The citizens and taxpayers of Hillsboro need to make their voices heard. Many of you, admirably, did so last November. You can send another message on Nov. 6 to distance our community from the king and his court.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper – with absolutely no entangling alliances.