From left, council members Adam Wilkin, Tom Eichinger, Brandon Leeth and Dane Allard are pictured at their Monday, July 13 meeting. Also pictured (in background) is clerk Kimberly Newman. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, council members Adam Wilkin, Tom Eichinger, Brandon Leeth and Dane Allard are pictured at their Monday, July 13 meeting. Also pictured (in background) is clerk Kimberly Newman. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
After three straight months of holding special and regular meetings via Zoom, Hillsboro City Council met in person Monday, July 13, with much of the meeting devoted to updates on financial matters.

The council meeting at the Paint Creek station began with a presentation by Mike Burns, managing director of financial services firm Robert W. Baird & Co., who gave a final overview of refunding the city’s USDA loans as well as their financing for a planned pedestrian bridge.

As previously reported, council voted 5-0 at their April 13 meeting 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.

During their June 8 meeting, council voted 6-0 to approve three more emergency measures, this time combining the water refunding bonds with additional bonds for a planned pedestrian bridge.

Burns told council Monday that the city had a “very successful initial bond rating,” crediting mayor Justin Harsha, safety and service director Brianne Abbott and auditor Alex Butler. According to his presentation, Hillsboro “did not have an underlying bond rating previously,” and the pandemic made it “bad timing to request an initial bond rating,” but “great timing to issue debt due to very low interest rates.”

“This is a very detailed, long, drawn-out process,” Burns said of preparing for a bond rating. “I like to try to take as much of the work on as I can, on your behalf, but a lot of it falls downhill to the auditor, mayor and safety director. They did an outstanding job.

“When I saw that all three of them were relatively new, it did make me a little nervous going through this whole process. This is a lot of work, but they really hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Burns said that the three city administrators “went above and beyond and got us a stronger rating than we ever thought we would have” and provided each council member with a copy of the city’s presentation to Standard and Poor’s. He told council that he had estimated an “A” bond rating, but the city achieved an “A+” rating, which is the highest under the “good quality” indication scale for investors and the fifth-highest rating overall.

“They got one rating notch higher than we thought during probably the worst time to get a rating, and again, this is your initial rating,” Burns said. “They didn’t know anything about the city of Hillsboro.”

He added that after the presentation, he spoke to the analyst, who was “very complimentary of the city.”

“They were very, very impressed with the three people — the mayor, the safety service director and auditor — and thought they did a great job,” Burns said. “They thought they were very proactive with their management and financial practices.

“They liked their financial management style, they liked the strong budgetary flexibility, the liquidity and the limited amount of debt. That’s really hats off to the three people I just mentioned, but also to you as city council.”

After sharing and explaining trends in the tax-exempt bond market, Burns said that the city’s “bonds sold near the all-time low for the AAA MMD Index in most maturities” on June 22. The final pricing resulted in $698,988 in total cash savings to the city, or $27,800 in annual cash savings starting in 2021.

Burns pointed out the percentage savings of the refunded bonds was 22.49 percent, while the Government Finance Officers Association advises that “anything over three percent is worth pursuing.”

“The reason why it was such a strong refunding opportunity is because interest rates dropped from 4.25 [percent] — that’s what you’re paying currently — down to, all in, about 2.45 [percent],” Burns said. “You lowered your rate by almost two percent.”

Burns also provided information on financing the pedestrian bridge. 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.

According to Burns’ handout, the bridge financing “allowed the city to take advantage of grants to finish the project; reduced overall closing costs by combining with refunding; allowed for a 20-year fixed rate; and is callable on Nov. 1, 2029.” The financed amount was $250,000, for an average annual payment of $15,416, Burns said.

“When [Abbott] mentioned that as a capital expense coming up, I recommended throwing it into the refunding, and the auditor thought it was a great idea,” Burns said. “We’re not only killing two birds with one stone — we’re doing the refunding anyway and doing all the work — but we’re able to capitalize on really low fixed long-term interest rates for your pedestrian bridge as well.”

Butler and Burns both told council that the bonds will be closed July 14, and Burns said “once it’s closed tomorrow, everything’s locked in for the term of the bond.”

“I’m very, very pleased with this whole situation, this whole bond issue,” Burns said. “It went smoothly from day one.”

There were no questions from council, but council president Tom Eichinger thanked everyone involved for their work on the refunding project.

“On behalf of council, I’d like to thank you, Mike, for all you’ve done for us, and also I’d like to extend a thanks to our administrative officials who killed this thing,” Eichinger said.

“And the staff,” Butler added. “Nothing happens without the staff.”

• • •

Prior to their regular meeting, an approximately 10-minute hearing on the tax budget was held. Later, council voted 7-0 to approve a resolution adopting the proposed 2021 tax budget for the City of Hillsboro.

Butler said that he worked with Kirby Ellison, city department heads, former city auditor Gary Lewis and county auditor Bill Fawley “to make this worth our while, not just throwing numbers on paper, so it’s helpful down the road.”

“These numbers will change, as our economic outlook and fiscal outlook becomes more clear later in the year,” the auditor said.

Butler provided council with complete versions of the proposed 2021 budget, which also included previous years for comparison. He first highlighted the anticipated expenditures for the General Fund, which are estimated at $4,899,208.62.

“This is based primarily on the fixed costs that we have every year, that we know we’re going to have, and also the budget requests from the department heads,” Butler said. “I told them, ‘don’t go crazy, but put it in there what you need and a little bit of what you want, so we have a ballpark of where we’re going to be.’”

The city’s anticipated revenues are estimated at $4,901,050. Butler said this is based on both “what it has historically been” as well as an “educated guess” based on COVID-19’s impact on their finances.

“You will see that we will be in the black $1,841.38,” Butler said. “We know that’s not going to work, and that’s why this is just an estimate. This will change, but based off the information we have now, based off requests from the department heads, that’s where we are.”

Council member Brandon Leeth said he was “concerned about the revenue” for next year with the unpredictability of the pandemic. Butler said that “the general rule we’re following now is to anticipate 10-percent less” due to COVID-19.

“Will it actually be 10 percent? I hope not,” the auditor said. “We will have more clarity on that later in the year. We’ll be able to estimate our carryover better when we get further in this year.

“We were rocking and rolling the first quarter of this year. It was good, the best year we’ve had in a while, and then COVID happened.”

Council member Patty Day asked Butler to clarify a portion of the tax budget labeled as “other local taxes,” which are estimated to increase in 2021. “Are we really expecting it to go that much higher?” she asked.

Butler said that he would clarify that after checking the line items in that portion of the spreadsheet Tuesday morning.

“Thank you for getting this going so early,” council member Ann Morris said. “It’ll be a nice start to the end of the year.”

Council passed only one other piece of legislation Monday night, voting 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to pass a resolution for the creation of a new fund, CARES Act Special Relief Fund, “for the purpose of depositing and expending monies to pay for expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As previously reported, council voted in a special meeting June 25 to pass a resolution seeking their County Coronavirus Relief Distribution Fund allocation through the county.

“We are required by law to create a special fund exclusively for this,” Butler said.

Council also heard the first reading Monday of an ordinance to amend 154.42 of the city code to provide sidewalk requirements in all approved developments and improvements in the city.

“This kind of came to our attention in working on the Marriott project, that there was not an ordinance in place for sidewalks for all developments,” Abbott said. “We did have a place for subdivisions, where any new subdivision has to provide sidewalks. We just wanted to make it across the board for any new development in the city, you have the requirement of putting in the sidewalk.”

Chapter 154 of the city code refers to “subdivision regulations.” The proposed section change, however, adds that sidewalks “shall be installed” in subdivisions as well as “approved developments, and installed in conjunction with all improvements or modifications to real property authorized by the planning commission, except as otherwise specified.”

Eichinger said he would place the ordinance in both the street and safety committee and the community enhancement committee for further consideration.

“The one question that has come up, and I have that question also, is what kind of development or renovation would it take in order to deliver the need for a sidewalk to be put in if there’s no sidewalk there?” Eichinger said. “I’m not sure it’s clear in the current code how that might fit in. I would hope that those committees would be able to ferret that out and come up with something like we’re wanting to do with the rest of our code — make it as clear and understandable as possible.”

The fourth and final piece of legislation considered was the second reading of an ordinance to provide for the minimum fire connections on commercial buildings. There was no discussion or action taken for that proposed ordinance.

• • •

A lengthy safety and service director’s report included updates on economic development, recent meetings and events and an upcoming volunteer opportunity.

A planned Marriott Hotel development near the intersection of state Route 73 and Harry Sauner Road has been delayed due to the pandemic, according to Abbott, but plans are still ongoing.

“We meet with the developers pretty frequently,” Abbott said. “They are delayed due to COVID. They are working on their financing and so on and so forth, and getting us some cost estimates for the infrastructure as it relates to the TIF [Tax Increment Financing district]. They are still moving forward, so we’re still excited about that project.”

During council’s June 8 meeting, Harsha announced that a bid by White’s Cake Box has also been accepted for the former BP station on West Main Street. Abbott said Monday that the Revolving Loan Fund committee has approved a local CDBG loan for the bakery’s building purchase.

Also last month, Abbott thanked the Bagshaw family, as well as contractors and city crews, for the recently completed fountain on the courthouse lawn. Abbott told council Monday that “some unfortunate vandalism” has occurred at the fountain.

“If that continues, the city will be seeking prosecution, unfortunately,” Abbott said. “We hate to have to do that, but at the same time, it’s such a beautiful addition to the city. We don’t want to see it vandalized.”

For local infrastructure, crews are continuing work on the Walnut Street storm sewer project, and Sunesis Construction has been awarded a bid for the Harry Sauner Road improvement project. The city is also “in the planning stages for the Springlake improvement project and working with Stantec on moving forward with the pedestrian bridge,” Abbott said.

In city board and committee news, Abbott reported that Kirby Ellison is the new clerk for the Revolving Loan Fund committee; that the Design Review Board has approved a certificate of appropriateness to September Six for an insurance business on West Main Street; that the Hillsboro Planning Commission is working on zoning code updates and changes, including a new code pertaining to fences; and that the city administration continues to hold pre-council meetings as well as department head meetings “to make sure everyone is up to speed.”

Abbott also gave an update on the city’s weekly sponsored events: the farmers’ market on Saturdays and Pack the Park, featuring food trucks at the Colony Park, on Thursdays.

“There are a lot of vendors, so it’s definitely a great thing to check out on Saturday mornings,” Abbott said of the farmers’ market. “On Thursdays, we do Pack the Park at the Colony Park. That’s a great event too, just kind of bringing the community together and everyone can have lunch together and kind of just catch up.”

Further speaking of parks, Abbott said that she has been “overwhelmed” with people willing to volunteer. To help organize those efforts, the city is planning to implement a parks committee. An informational meeting has been scheduled for July 28 at 6 p.m. at the old firehouse on Governor Trimble Place.

“We started this back in February, putting together a committee to take care of our parks and raise money to clean up the parks,” Abbott said. “We had to put that on hold for a while, but we are going to resume that.

“If anyone is interested in being a part of that committee, or just a person to help with the cleanup, we greatly appreciate that you come to that [meeting]. Our main focus at the beginning is going to be the old Railroad Street park. A lot of citizens have shown huge interest there in just revitalizing that park, cleaning it up.”

Morris asked if the city was still considering “a skate park or youth center in the future.” The issue has been discussed by council members and the previous administration for several years, including being placed in committee in 2017 and 2018.

“It’s not on my radar, to be honest,” Abbott said. “For the revitalization of Railroad Street, we’ve kind of talked about incorporating a pump track or some kind of bike type track. Something like that, definitely on the radar.”

Council member Adam Wilkin told Morris that the street and safety committee “had tabled it, I think, a while back, because it was going to be a huge expense.”

“If we’re picking the parks up again, I didn’t know if that was something that was included, or if we were just going a different direction,” Morris said.

“That specific thing hasn’t been brought up, but I’m hoping at the parks committee meeting we get a lot of different ideas and feedback,” Abbott said.

Wilkin said that he had “a lot of information” from his research on skate parks that he could provide.

Morris also asked Abbott if there was “any news on the West Main vacant properties” owned by the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation and Investment Group.

Abbott said that the city had a survey done because they are deeding the shared wall of the Parker House/Parker Hotel to the investment group, which is the adjoining property owner. “That survey has taken place, and we’re in the process of preparing the deed to get that delivered to them,” Abbott said. “I’m assuming that will probably happen this week.”

“Are they moving forward with renovations?” Morris asked.

“They are,” Abbott said. “We received, actually last week, several drawings from their engineers. The process is moving.”

“That’s good,” Morris said.

• • •

In the mayor’s report, Harsha announced two recent staffing hires and/or changes, beginning with the addition of a parks and recreation maintenance employee. Rick Tipton, who has volunteered for several years with maintenance projects at Liberty Park, was hired for that position.

“Rick Tipton was the obvious choice there,” Harsha said. “He is doing a lot of planting out at the park, and he’s kind of our eyes and ears. We’ve needed something like that for quite some time, and he’s really working hard out there.

“I’m super happy to have him on board, and we couldn’t have a better person out there.”

Council member Mary Stanforth agreed, saying that Harmony Lake at Liberty Park “looks amazing.”

“Rick has done a fantastic job out there,” Stanforth said. “It’s beautiful.”

Morris said that she “didn’t know that he had been hired” but had wanted to thank Tipton for his “good job.” “The veterans memorial [at Liberty Park] looks so good,” she said.

In addition, code enforcement officer Jon Salyer has resigned. Lauren Walker, who was hired as an administrative receptionist for the city in 2019, was appointed as Salyer’s replacement, according to the mayor.

“She was the perfect choice there,” Harsha said. “She was handling a lot of the building permits that come in, so she was already involved.”

Harsha also thanked Burns, Butler and Abbott for their work on the refunding project.

• • •

Street and safety committee chair Wilkin provided the only standing committee report, on their June 26 meeting. For more on that meeting, see the story at: http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Hillsboro-street-and-safety-committee-assures-food-trucks-We-want-you-here-/2/20/58241.

The committee has already scheduled its next meeting for Thursday, July 16 at 6 p.m. at the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire station.

“The committee meeting will be focused on reviewing ordinances and coming up with ideas that best serve the city, while at the same time helping food trucks and mobile food vendors thrive, with respect, of course, to the established brick and mortar businesses,” Wilkin said.

Although she did not have a committee meeting to review, Morris told council that she “received a visitor that wanted to compliment our city on the progress it’s made.” She also thanked the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association “for their efforts in the uptown area with the flowers and the generous donations that have been given toward that and other projects.”

“If anyone has any ideas for projects they would like to see happen, the property maintenance and restoration committee would be glad to hear that,” Morris said.

Day, who was the city’s committee chair for the 2020 census, encouraged all citizens to complete the census.

“August 11, I believe, is when they’re scheduled to go door-to-door to those that have not completed the census,” Day said. “We’re about in the 60-percent [completion rate].”

Day said that the city of Hillsboro is “right under Greenfield” in terms of communities in Highland County completing the census, and Stanforth joked that Hillsboro should take that as “a challenge.”

• • •

In other discussion:

• Council received a notice from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control for a license transfer from Tipton Enterprises LLC/Ole Depot to Earl Boyd, who purchased the former Ole Depot. There was no objection to the liquor license transfer. During her report, Abbott indicated that the building is being renovated into a new restaurant and that “the city is excited for that new development.”

• Under citizens’ comments, Leeth recognized local first responders for assisting his parents during a car accident last weekend. He thanked police chief Eric Daniels, who attended the meeting.

“Kudos to the police department,” Leeth said. “Paint Creek Fire EMS and the teamwork that happened out there that day was truly amazing, and I don’t think you guys get thanked enough. I want this to go on record, I’m super pleased with how that situation was handled. Good job, and good job to Paint Creek EMS as well.”