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Hillsboro City Council members propose change to election terms; introduce minimum water bill ordinance

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Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro City Council members Adam Wilkin, Mary Stanforth, Greg Maurer, Jason Brown, Dan Baucher, Don Storer and Jo Sanborn. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
By
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Hillsboro City Council members recommended a change to their current election terms and heard the first reading of a new ordinance implementing a minimum water bill during their Thursday, March 14 meeting. 

Prior to conducting their regular business, council president Tom Eichinger made note of the fact that this was council’s first regular meeting in their new council chambers on the top floor of City Hall.

“I'd like to thank the city for making this facility available to us,” Eichinger said. “We've always had to borrow space in the past, and now we have our own space. In light of that, I'd like to also thank the former Municipal Judge McKenna and the current Municipal Judge Randolph for allowing us to use their courtroom for council meetings for forever, it seems. We very much appreciate that we had that place to work from.

“We will be meeting here from now on, and hopefully, this will meet everybody's needs very well.”

Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha spoke about the completion of the long-planned council chambers project during his report to council.

“When this building was built, the whole intention for this upstairs area was to house council chambers and have a permanent home,” Harsha said. “This building was built when my father [the late Sandy Harsha] was mayor [his two terms began in 1995].

“The vision has finally come to fruition, and here we sit. Council will be able to enjoy this room for council meetings and committee meetings and public forums and what have you. I’m just glad that after when I became mayor, seeing all the boxes and all the stuff up here, it’s finally done and we can check one off the list. I hope you're all happy with it, and I’m looking forward to meeting up here from now.”

Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott said during her report that it will be “nice to have a home base,” as council committee meetings have been held in various locations over the years, including different rooms in the city building and both firehouses.

“I especially want to thank Shawn [Adkins, public works superintendent] and his team for all the work they put up here,” Abbott said. “Our IT has put a lot of work in here. Council, you've put a lot of work in here. I'm grateful for that.”

Highland County Auditor (and former city auditor) Alex Butler, who was also in attendance, spoke about the new chambers as well during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting. 

“I just wanted to come and witness the first meeting in the new council chambers and congratulate council on this nice facility,” Butler said. “I can remember when council met at the old police station across the street, and then for a brief time — the building's not even there anymore — by the old wastewater treatment plant across from Southern State.

“Now council finally has their permanent home, so congratulations.”

Back to the legislation portion of the meeting, council voted 7-0 (during “new business”) to recommend that city law director Randalyn Worley draft legislation to change the terms for the ward representatives on city council for one time only, in order to stagger the terms for council members.

Current ward representatives are Adam Wilkin (Ward 1), Don Storer (Ward 2), Dan Baucher (Ward 3) and Mary Stanforth (Ward 4). The at-large members are Jason Brown, Greg Maurer and Jo Sanborn.

Eichinger said this is an idea he presented at a recent council workshop, to avoid a situation in which, potentially, all eight city council members could be replaced in an election.

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Council president Tom Eichinger.

“The situation is that while everybody has a four-year term, it turns out the way that they are currently set up — the way they are timed — they all expire at the same time,” Eichinger said. “That's coming up for voting in 2025, for terms that start in 2026. 

“It is potentially possible that you could have [eight] new council members that have no idea about the process, or what have you, and it could become very disruptive, at least for the first several months to a year.”

Eichinger said that the Ohio Revised Code allows for council to enact legislation to “stagger” their terms.

“Basically what it says is that if you already have four-year terms for all of your members, that through legislation, you can identify the particular terms that you want to be staggered from what it is today,” Eichinger said. “Through that legislation, we can instruct the Board of Elections, the next time, to take those and put them through as two-year terms once, and then four-year terms from then on.”

Council clerk Whitney Aliff said that the council members were polled, with the majority indicating that they would rather change the ward seats to two-year terms in the next election and leave the at-large seats as four-year terms. 

Maurer made the motion to request Worley to “legislate the wards being staggered,” which passed by a 7-0 vote.

“I will work on legislation,” Worley said. 

In other legislation:

• An ordinance amending section 51.076 of the codified ordinances of the City of Hillsboro pertaining to water rates was introduced.

According to utilities committee chair Maurer, his committee recently met to discuss a minimum/maintenance fee for water bills. Maurer said that the committee recommended “to make an ordinance to make there be a minimum monthly bill for water customers that shut off meter to property.” They debated between making the fee $25, he said, and determined to set it at current minimum bill of $15.08.

Eichinger pointed out that in the proposed legislation, it specifies that “The minimum monthly rate, as set forth in the water rate schedule, will be payable irrespective of whether any water is used during any month.”

In response to a question from Brown, Adkins said that this minimum fee was proposed due to individuals leaving their houses in the winter and due to landlords “shutting the water off so they don’t have to pay their water bill until they get their places rented.”

“What happens if someone shuts off the water service at a property because they just don't want it anymore?” Brown asked. “If I was to just shut it off completely — I may not turn it back on for five years, I may turn it back on in a year — how will that be billed?”

“The $15.08,” Adkins said. “The only way you won't get a bill is if you disconnect from the city main, and if that's the case, then we will disconnect it from the main, but if you need water back there, then you will pay for a new water tap. It’s a maintenance fee, so we can pay for the maintenance on our lines.”

Abbott added that this is “pretty consistent” with other utility company fees.

• Council voted 7-0 to approve two ordinances making supplemental appropriations.

The first was an appropriation in the amount of $112,376.16 in the “New Employees” line item, to account for a new custodian and new code enforcement official.

The second was a $1,125 appropriation to account for donations to the city’s “Movies Under the Stars” event series.

• Council heard the second reading of an ordinance amending section 110.99 of the Codified Ordinances of the City of Hillsboro pertaining to amusement device penalties.

In other reports:

• Abbott gave an update on some ongoing city projects and events during her report to council.

According to Abbott, the Roberts Lane extension project is still on target for an August completion date. The city is still awaiting word on their Appalachian Community Grant application for funding for Crossroads Park (for an amphitheater).

Upcoming city events include a trout fishing day at Harmony Lake planned for April 27 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; the “Burgers in the Boro” community cookout uptown, set from May 3 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; and the return of the Hillsboro Farmers’ Market uptown, scheduled for May 18.

For private developments, Abbott said that Five Below has opened in the past month, while the city received “permits for the Marriott Hotel project” as well as information on Horizon’s fiber to home project recently. Abbott reported that the city issued eight commercial and seven residential building permits in the month of February.

“I also wanted to get it on council's radar that in the upcoming months, you could probably expect some legislation with some changes to our existing code of ordinances,” Abbott said. “There are some antiquated ordinances in there, and we are just kind of thumbing through a few of them, looking to update so we're in compliance with state law as well as other agency requirements that we deal with on a daily basis.”

During the Hillsboro Planning Commission’s February meeting, Abbott said they “reviewed a commercial site plan” for a South High Street location, “discussed auto repair shop standards and also updated a street name.” 

• Street and safety committee chair Wilkin reported on his committee’s Feb. 26 meeting to discuss park security and uptown hourly parking.

According to Wilkin, the committee was asked to look into ways to “protect” Shaffer Park from vandalism. He said the “committee heard from Mr. Tim Hamilton, who already handles security systems for some of the city’s other properties including the police department, the city admin building, the water plant and the sewer plant. This committee has asked that Mr. [Caleb] Gregory, our parks and recreation director, take Mr. Hamilton to Shaffer Park in order to assess our needs and present us with a price for the service. We plan to revisit at the next committee meeting.”  

Regarding uptown parking, Wilkin said that representatives from some uptown businesses attended the committee meeting. Additional comments are “welcome and appreciated,” he said, as the members of the committee are looking to “reach out to different portions of our community to find out more information and overall sentiment from the public” to discuss at a future meeting.

“The problem is that we have people who visit the uptown area to shop and do business, but we also have people who work and live in and around the uptown area as well, which often takes up parking spots all day long, which of course are meant to be temporary,” Wilkin said. “We are currently reviewing several options that will, hopefully, find a solution that best serves our city and the businesses within it while also considering those that may require more than two hours to conduct their business, or those that live in the uptown area.”

• In addition to discussing the previously mentioned minimum bill ordinance, Maurer reported that the utilities committee reviewed a report from engineers that the city is “out of compliance” with their own ordinance on sewer minimums. 

According to Maurer, an ordinance passed in 2017 set a rate of $31.07 for minimum bills and $8.33 overages per 100 cubic feet. The city is currently still operating under a $28.02 minimum bill and $7.52 overage rate.

“Following the committee meeting, I discussed with legal counsel and was advised additional legislation is not needed to implement the sewer rate change,” Maurer said. “The utility committee has instructed the utility office to move forward with updating the sewer rates following Ordinance 2017-03, with the rate being updated to the minimum of $31.07.”

Stanforth asked, “When does this take effect?”

“Immediately,” Maurer said.

Regarding a proposal for citywide waste collection, Maurer said the city “administration is going to reach out to get” requests for proposals for the committee to review.

• Community enhancement committee chair Sanborn said that her committee revisited a long-discussed proposal for an ice skating rink, with the group voting to again table the idea for now due to the price.

“A quote was originally received from Glice out of Colorado back in 2022 for roughly $45,000 to rent [a portable ice rink] for 60 days,” Sanborn said. “The updated quote was for over $190,000 with a 15-percent discount if rented.”
 
• City auditor Dawson Barreras said that he would have information regarding the Treasury Investment Board and “new investment policy” for the finance committee’s review; Storer said the parks committee plans to meet in the coming weeks; and Wilkin said he would like to again revisit mobile food vendors in his committee.

For more from Thursday's meeting, see the story at: https://highlandcountypress.com/news/uptown-pedestrian-safety-project-r….

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