Hillsboro City Council on Monday approved an emergency ordinance to repeal incremental water and sewer rate increases that were scheduled several years ago, while ordinances to disband the Community Improvement Corporation and the Design Review Board failed, leaving both those entities intact.
The effort to provide water and sewer bill relief to Hillsboro residents began more than two years ago when the Hastings administration recommended moratoriums on scheduled rate hikes which were originally implemented back in 2008 to help pay off loans associated with the new water treatment plant.
But the discovery of additional grants that had not been collected led to two straight years of moratoriums on scheduled increases, followed by a series of 30-day moratoriums at the end of last year, all at the recommendation of Rebecca Wilkin’s Utilities Committee. Monday’s action kills the rate increases permanently. Any future increases will require a separate act of council.
Council, at the request of members Ann Morris, Tracy Aranyos and Claudia Klein, had held two readings on ordinances to disband the CIC and the Design Review Board, after those council members had questioned their effectiveness.
But after a series of meetings and discussions, the ordinance to repeal the CIC died Monday for lack of a motion to approve it, and the ordinance to kill the Design Review Board failed by a 5-2 vote, with Aranyos and Klein voting to do away with the board, but with Morris voting with Wilkin, Dick Donley, Justin Harsha and Bill Alexander to preserve it.
Morris said prior to the vote that her questions about the board had been sufficiently answered. Design board members were in the audience Monday as council decided its fate.
In another matter, Mayor Drew Hastings told council that he had entered into a short-term agreement with Gary Silcott of Stantec Engineering to coordinate infrastructure projects until a new safety and service director is hired.
Stantec, which has been involved with a number of Hillsboro projects, provides various infrastructure services and consultation on a regular basis, and in some communities which do not employ full-time service directors the company fills that role.
According to company information, Silcott “has over 17 years of hands-on experience in the fields of engineering and design, having worked in both the private and public sectors of engineering consulting. He is experienced in water and wastewater system projects, design of road improvements, storm water management, and site design for private sector developments.”
Hastings announced that a new business, Harbor Freight, is moving into the old Pepsi distribution building on North High Street, and a Harbor Freight representative was on hand to ask council for a sign variance, which was approved.
According to a website description, Harbor Freight offers discount tools “from hand tools and generators, to air and power tools, from shop equipment to automotive tools…” The company “offers more than 7,000 tools and accessories at quality levels that match or exceed competing brands.”
The mayor also said that a gun store and gunsmithing shop is preparing to open in a building he owns in the uptown area.
Hastings said the city is moving ahead with Phase 2 of the North East Street improvement project, estimated to be completed this summer. He said more funding is being sought for the North High Street corridor project, along with funding for sidewalks along West Main Street from West Street just past Glenn Avenue. He said the Colony is ready for demolition under a plan approved by council that would save the façade, with the bidding process beginning soon.
Hastings described a plan he said he is working on with the Street Department to place new signage on the north side of town that would require large semi trucks to use the new Carl Smith Drive and Careytown Road for deliveries to Walmart, Lowes and other retailers on Harry Sauner Road, rather than permitting southbound trucks to turn onto Harry Sauner from U.S. 62 at Pizza Hut. He said the police department will help enforce the new route until trucks become accustomed to it.
The mayor said that a large development appears to be ready to locate next to Lowes and First State Bank, adding that he hoped to have more information at the next council meeting.
The mayor also urged council to approve a change in the hotel tax ordinance that would devote more revenue to the Highland County Visitors Bureau. Hastings said he had met with the new director of the bureau, Destiny Bryson, and was “really impressed.”
An ordinance prepared by the administration would devote 50 percent of annual hotel tax revenue – about $12,000 – to the bureau, with the appropriation reexamined each year, an action which Morris said would provide “an incentive to do a good job.”
Gary Lewis, the city auditor, suggested that council could simply appropriate the money to the bureau without tying it to the lodging tax, in case the tax is someday ended. County officials have occasionally raised objections to the city collecting a lodging tax, since the county collects one too, and some county officials have said it is illegal for both entities to do so.
But Hastings said that connecting the money for the Visitors Bureau to the lodging tax creates a situation where it is in the county’s interests not to object to the city lodging tax, since ending it could then be a detriment to the county’s Visitors Bureau.
On this – as well as another ordinance presented by Morris, Aranyos and Klein regarding city dispatch services, which was placed into the Street and Safety Committee – council President Lee Koogler reiterated his preference that resolutions or ordinances be prepared at least three business days prior to a council meeting. Hastings said he thought the ordinance had been prepared in advance, with Koogler acknowledging that delays can happen during the holidays.
After examining the hotel tax ordinance, Donley, whose Finance Committee has been considering the matter, recommended passage, along with committee members Morris and Alexander.
But an effort to suspend the rules and pass the measure immediately failed, with Harsha and Wilkin voting against it, Donley, Klein, Aranyos, Morris and Alexander voting in favor, falling short of the six votes needed to suspend the rules. The result is that the ordinance has had its first reading and will have a second reading next month on the way to three readings and passage at the March meeting, if the votes stay the same.
On other business, council:
• Placed an ordinance to establish a charge to fund inflow and infiltration abatement in the Sewer Department back into committee after Lewis noted discrepancies in ordinance numbers referenced in the legislation.
• Heard a notice from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control that Slow & Low Barbeque is requesting a D1 license for its location at 115 W. Main Street.
• Heard Hastings report that Buck Wilkin had resigned from the Planning Commission, with Joe Mahan replacing him.
• Heard Koogler ask council members to let him or the mayor know of any suggestions of someone to represent the city on the county’s new land bank board.
• Saw Koogler place into the Finance Committee a request from the mayor for a committee to look at various permits and licenses which he said are outdated, with Donley joking that he was “thoroughly excited” to examine it.
• Heard Harsha report that he attended a Festival of the Bells committee meeting, with planning ongoing for the next festival in July and another meeting is set for Feb. 6 at the Scott House.
• Heard Lewis report that the city has $6.7 million on hand.
• And adjourned into a 37-minute executive session to discuss potential litigation with an attorney representing the city, likely in regard to Todd Wilkin, the former safety and service director who was fired by Hastings in November.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.