Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
During Hillsboro city council’s regular meeting Jan. 8, Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie announced that the city intends to reimburse sidewalk replacement fees assessed to Hillsboro property owners.

Although McKenzie noted that the city is authorized under the Ohio Revised Code to assess these fees, “it is a relatively new procedure for the city.”

“I’ve had many discussions with the mayor, the auditor and the law director concerning previous sidewalk projects that have been completed, including the east side of the 200 block of South High Street; the west side of the 200 block of South East Street; the south side of the 100 block of East Walnut Street; the north side of the 100 block of East South Street; the North High pathway; and the east side of the 100 block of South High Street,” McKenzie said. “An agreement has been made that these properties will not be assessed.

“Furthermore, any amount of money paid by these property owners on the previous assessments will be reimbursed. The city is financially able to cover these costs because of previously budgeted monies, similar to the funds allocated for this current year’s planned projects. Unfortunately, the money for the past projects will not be regained through the assessment due to procedural oversights by former SSDs.”

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, business and property owners on the east side of South High Street received letters in August 2016 stating that they would be forced to pay for "all costs incurred for the sidewalk replacement process" between 122 South High Street and 142 South High Street.

South High Street business and/or property owners Gary Schraw, Ramona Collins, Rachelle Trefz, Rosemary Ryan and Rory Ryan submitted a letter of appeal to the city over the sidewalk replacement project, with property owner Justin Crosley also attending a council meeting to object to the over $11,000 fee he was assessed.

Despite these objections, the sidewalk construction project began on June 9, 2017, with brick pavers and additional light poles among the additions to the block. A large section of concrete, which was later repaired, collapsed beneath the former Pasquale’s Restaurant during the construction.

During the July 10, 2017 city council meeting, property owners from the west side of the 100 block of South High Street protested after receiving sidewalk improvement requests from the city. McKenzie told the property owners that the city needed to install matching light poles in that section but offered to provide revised cost estimates.

In August 2017, two of the property owners on the west side of South High Street – Wilkin & Wilkin Insurance Agency and Steve Wilkin – filed an administrative appeal in Highland County Common Pleas Court, seeking an “injunction prohibiting the city from making changes to the sidewalk on their property, plus costs, attorney fees and any other relief.” The case is still listed as open in Common Pleas Court.

McKenzie said Monday that the administration’s decision was made “to avoid the development or further spread of distrust and discontentment among community members.”

“My goal and driving mindset as current SSD is to be informed, fair and just in my decision-making processes and to follow the letter of the law, even when that decision is not a popular one,” McKenzie said. “The conversations I’ve had with city officials embody that same mindset. In prior years, the procedures related to the handling of sidewalk notifications were incorrect.

“Thus, to avoid the development or further spread of distrust and discontentment among community members, I am advocating for the decision of not assessing properties in the aforementioned areas that were previously affected by construction. That said, with the support and help of Mr. Beery, I have conducted extensive research into the legal path of property assessment due to improvements set forth by the ORC.”

McKenzie asked council president Lee Koogler to place “discussion regarding the sidewalk program that I will present” into council committees. Koogler assigned the topic to the street and safety committee and the community enhancement committee.

“This will start the proper procedures for sidewalk replacements and a prosperous new year for the city of Hillsboro and its citizens,” McKenzie said.

In his report Monday, McKenzie also told council that the “many projects to continue the growth and development and revitalization of our community” planned for 2018 include “major resurfacing, critical infrastructure rehabilitation and parks and trails upgrades.”

• • •

Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings welcomed new council members Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth, Mary Stanforth and Adam Wilkin during his report.

“My office is always open,” Hastings said. “I’ve always felt that council members could use me a lot more often, if they wanted to.”

Hastings told the new council members that they may “have to deal with things … that you shouldn’t have to because I’m here, because some people don’t understand that I’m merely a guest at these” meetings.

The mayor also said to council that his job is “to make hard decisions” and “to make it easier for you to make hard decisions.”

“I think a lot of what’s been accomplished in the last few years is due to asking questions that needed to be asked, talking about various issues that needed to be thought of as the elephant in the room, not shying away from big projects,” Hastings said. “If this council would like to embark on something, please let me know. I’d be happy to see what can be done.

“I think this administration and city council has achieved much over the last six years, and I think our city shows it. Thank you, and welcome.”

• • •

With the recent change in council members, there were no committee reports presented Monday night. However, council members have been assigned or reassigned to committees as follows:

• Finance: Justin Harsha, chair; Ann Morris; and Stanforth.

• Civil service and employee relations: Stanforth, chair; Claudia Klein; and Leeth.

• Street and safety: Wilkin, chair; Culbreath; and Leeth.

• Property maintenance and restoration: Morris, chair; Harsha; and Wilkin.

• Utilities: Leeth, chair; Culbreath; and Wilkin.

• Zoning and annexation: Culbreath, chair; Harsha; and Klein.

• Community enhancement: Klein, chair; Morris; and Stanforth.

• • •

Morris asked city administrators for an update on Tirrell Cumberland’s planned youth sports center. In December, council approved a resolution transferring two parcels at the Railroad Street city park to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation (HAEDC), one of which is to be used for the sports center.

“They [the HAEDC] are completely open to doing that and overseeing that,” Hastings said. “It’s starting to get under way. I told them time is of the essence.”

Hastings said that he and McKenzie were working to have the property surveyed and to have “engineering drawings” done for the proposed building.

• • •

Council voted to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt two resolutions authorizing the city to apply for grants. The first resolution council approved is to apply to participate in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Recreational Trails Program.

“This is an application for the continuing pedestrian pathways we’re trying to create around Liberty Park,” McKenzie said.

City auditor Gary Lewis said the city is applying for a grant to build “a bridge that goes across Clear Creek that would connect Liberty Park and Shaffer Park together.”

“I know how that park floods,” Leeth said. “Have you thought about where it’s going to go?”

“It hasn’t been in a plan yet,” McKenzie said. “The only one I’ve seen that Stantec did is close to the park and picnic area.”

Lewis said that it will be “a worthwhile project, if it’s successful.”

The second resolution is to apply to participate in the Clean Ohio Trails Fund (COTF).

“This is one we’re doing around Railroad Street park, the old city park and adjoining it in connection with the Gross Feibel property,” McKenzie said. “It will be a good community enhancement project for an area that needs that opportunity.”

• • •

• Council voted 7-0 to approve two resolutions introduced by Lewis: a resolution to increase appropriations in various funds and a resolution for the transfer of various funds for fiscal year 2018. During council’s December meeting, Lewis asked to rescind the transfer legislation until the January meeting in order to correct an error.

“I noticed that the transfers for a new fund, 220 Storm Sewer Maintenance and Repair Fund, was not included,” Lewis said. “I corrected that. It was a glitch within the spreadsheet itself.

“Also, in the process of reviewing my spreadsheets because of that, I just wanted to make sure that everything else was in there as well. I did find two other items in there that were not picked up on the expense budget ordinance. Even though they were included on the expense budget spreadsheet where the committee worked and looked at those numbers and everything, it was not picked up on the actual ordinance itself, so we correct that here with these two items that are listed.”

• • •

Council also heard the second reading of a resolution to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District. There was no discussion of the proposed legislation.

• • •

In addition to welcoming the four new council members, Koogler also introduced a new clerk of council in Heather Collins. Collins replaces Debbie Sansone, who began serving as clerk in August 2013. Koogler said that Sansone resigned in October, with her departure effective at the end of 2017.

Koogler and Hastings both thanked Sansone for her years of service, as well as expressing their condolences as Sansone's husband passed away this week.

“I want to thank Ms. Sansone for all of her efforts with city council for the many years she served as our clerk,” Koogler said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her at this point in time.”

In his report, Hastings said that he would appreciate “prayers for” Sansone during this “very difficult time.” He also said that things “might be a little out of sorts for the next few weeks” during her absence from the mayor’s office.

• • •

At the conclusion of the meeting, Koogler asked council members if they were interested in volunteering to replace former council member Dick Donley as the city’s liaison to the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District board and as council president pro tem.

Harsha volunteered to be the city’s liaison to the Paint Creek board and also volunteered to serve as president pro tem. Klein nominated Morris to serve as president pro tem. After an up or down vote, council members voted, 3-2, to approve Harsha as president pro tem. Harsha and Morris abstained from the vote; Leeth, Stanforth and Wilkin voted for Harsha; and Culbreath and Klein voted for Morris.