Council members Patty Day and Adam Wilkin are pictured discussing a proposed ordinance to update the city code on alarm systems. Also pictured (in background) are council president Tom Eichinger and clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Council members Patty Day and Adam Wilkin are pictured discussing a proposed ordinance to update the city code on alarm systems. Also pictured (in background) are council president Tom Eichinger and clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro city council heard the first reading of several items of proposed legislation, as well as updates on the demolition of several city properties, during their Tuesday, Nov. 12 meeting.

Two items of legislation presented Tuesday night have been placed back into committee. An ordinance “to update Chapter 98 of the Hillsboro Code of Ordinances to reflect current technology regarding automatic alarm systems” was presented Tuesday night at the recommendation of the street and safety committee. However, that ordinance was tabled until city law director Fred Beery could answer several questions posed by council member Patty Day, who repeated on several occasions that she was concerned the ordinance was “targeting the elderly.”

 


Council member Adam Wilkin, who chairs the street and safety committee, said that the ordinance was presented to update the current city code regarding alarm systems, as Wilkin said that particular code was primarily written in 1982. (All but one section of that code was last updated in June of that year, except for one section from 2004.)

In addition to updating the language of that ordinance, it is also being proposed “in order to reduce the number of false alarms and increase time for police officers to respond to actual emergencies and other legitimate calls for service.” The ordinance cites a statistic that “studies have consistently shown that 98 percent of the alarms to which police respond are false.”

Wilkin said they hoped the updated ordinance “will help eliminate a lot of false alarms,” but Day asked Wilkin to explain the “98 percent of the alarms … are false” statistic.

“What can you give to the committee to show how that was established?” Day asked. “Like, the average age — we know the elderly tend to have security systems because they’re frail and they need help. Can we identify the average ages of these false alarms?”

Wilkin said Beery included the statistic in the ordinance, and “where the 98 percent comes from, I’m not sure.”

Day also objected to “charging people for false alarms.” Under current city code, it says “there shall be a charge of $25 for each false alarm after the third false alarm in a 30-day period and a charge of $100 for each false alarm after the third false alarm in a 30-day period to the Fire Department.” The new city code says that “two false alarms in a rolling 12-month period are allowed without a penalty assessed. However, after two false alarms, a progressive fee will be assessed beginning at $35 for the third false alarm and up to and through the eighth false alarm at $100.”

“I understand the need to fix those user errors, but it seems the targeted population is the elderly, and charging up to $100 every time the alarm goes off — our church had a bat get inside and set the alarm a couple times,” Day said.

“Where does it say it’s targeting the elderly?” Wilkin asked.

“I’m not,” Day said. “I’m saying, where is that 98 percent coming from? We don’t know. We don’t have enough information on this the way it’s written, in my opinion, to make a decision. I’d like more data.”

Wilkin said he would request more data from Beery before the second reading of the ordinance. Council president Tom Eichinger said that “would be a good idea,” adding that “98 [percent] does seem to be a very high number.”

(Editor’s note: In a study by the U.S. Department of Justice last updated in 2011, it was determined that “the vast majority of alarm calls — between 94 and 98 percent (higher in some jurisdictions) — are false.” For more, see: https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-p014-pub.pdf.)

In the proposed ordinance, Beery also points out that “Each alarm response requires a minimum of two patrol officers and averages 15 minutes per officer, per alarm. This equates to hundreds of hours of Hillsboro Police Department time diverted away from actual police work.”

Day said that statistic “would be a good reason to want something in place, but if we’re also going to financially create a financial obligation that may be targeting our elderly, then we need more data.”

Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings asked if the main issue was with commercial businesses’ alarms.

“Yes,” Hillsboro police chief Eric Daniels said. “If you read the ordinance as presented, it’s alluding to commercial alarm activations. Thankfully, a lot of them are false.”

Daniels added that he thinks Day is “trying to touch upon medical” alarms, “which I don’t think that particular ordinance references medical.”

“It says ‘Every residence or business operating an alarm system in Hillsboro must obtain a permit,’” Day said. “Maybe that’s the thing we’re missing, that there is more commercial than residence, and that would be good to know, but it doesn’t really tell us that as it’s written.”

Day noted that the new ordinance would assess a $15 fee for the residences and businesses within the city that install an alarm system. However, the ordinance says the “alarm company is required to register your alarm and administer the one-time permit fee of $15.” This is an update from the 1982 code, which discussed alarms being connected “to the public telephone lines so as to contact the Police Department or Fire Department,” and which assessed a $25 fee.

Day said again that she was talking about “elderly, period. It doesn’t necessarily mean medical.” “Elderly have vision issues, or tend to,” Day said. “Being a nurse, I tend to think about that being the case, and they’re frail.”

Wilkin said he didn’t know if medical alarms would even constitute a “false alarm.”

“The safety and service director has to be the one to field anyone who has a false alarm to not have to pay the penalty of the fine, so I’d imagine that’s going to increase a lot of phone calls over there, too,” Day said. “I just would like more information.”

Eichinger said they would table the ordinance and place it back into committee until Beery could provide more data.

Council also tabled a resolution to adopt the 2019 updated policy and procedures manual presented Tuesday. Council member Mary Stanforth said that her committee has not had the opportunity to “fully review” the proposed legislation, so Eichinger placed it the civil service and employee relations committee for further consideration.

The text of the proposed changes to the manual were not presented, as the resolution said they were “too voluminous to reprint herein.”

Also on Tuesday night, council heard the first reading of an ordinance to authorize the sale of the city interest in the former firehouse on North High Street.

Council member Ann Morris said that the property maintenance and restoration committee made the recommendation for that ordinance following a meeting last week.

“It was determined that the appraisal that was most recently done, in the amount of $80,000, would be the baseline for the sale,” Morris said.

According to the proposed ordinance and Morris, the committee recommended a “sealed bid auction to sell the old firehouse building” with that $80,000 reserve bid. The sale will be a “phase installment plan,” if approved, with “the title/deed [to] be handed over at the the end of the sale agreement which is December of 2022, to coincide with the completion of bond payments on the new firehouse at which time city receives legal title to the old firehouse.”

Morris said that the bids would be submitted at the city building over a 30-day span, with the bid awarded on or around the 30th day.

There was no further discussion by council, with the ordinance having its first of three scheduled readings Tuesday.

• • •

In his report, Hastings gave an update on the potential demolition of the Gross Feibel property. According to the mayor, Evans Landscaping has given the city an estimate of $135,000 to demolish the property.

“That’s a really doable figure,” Hastings said. “I think I can get the Revolving Loan [Fund Committee] to commit the $50,000 they have toward this because they really would like to see some economic development, and they would like to see that site prepared for some kind of industrial park or development.

“I think we [the Revolving Loan Fund committee] probably could to commit $50 [thousand], which would leave only about $80 [thousand] for council to put into the budget. I’d really like to see this go into the budget, the balance of this, and have this done. Evans seems to think they can do this pretty quickly.”

Safety and service director Dick Donley added in his report that Evans’ estimate for the Gross Feibel property is for demolition “clear down to the ground,” including resealing and leveling the property to make it “very attractive for someone wanting to do a small industry in that area.”

“We’re working with them, and they’re excited to get started on it,” Donley said. “We’re working on the budget now.

“By the looks of the way the finances are running so far this year — and we’re getting close to the end of the year — I think we’re in pretty good shape, and I think we could work that into our budget for 2020 to get that eyesore out of there.”

Also in the mayor’s remarks to council, Hastings discussed economic development in the city, including updates on several area businesses. He told council that he attended the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony at Shafer Heating & Cooling, which moved into a new location inside the city limits at 970 West Main Street, and that Rural King has announced a spring opening at the former Kmart building, as previously reported by The Highland County Press.

In other discussion, Hastings reported that he attended an event involving the installation of a ramp at a local veteran’s home Monday. Operation Ramp It Up organized and built the wheelchair ramp for the veteran. Hastings said the organization “builds specially built ramps for disabled veterans that can’t get out of the house,” and it was “a very nice” event.

Hastings said there “wasn’t much to report” from the Hillsboro planning commission meeting, other than the city’s master plan is “in its final draft stage” and that the county has approved the annexation of a North West Street business that is currently zoned within the county instead of the city.

• • •

Donley updated council members on several different projects, including the demolition of three properties on West Main Street in uptown Hillsboro, during his report. The buildings at 115, 117 and 119 West Main Street have been already demolished by Evans Construction, and cleanup of the sites is ongoing.

“It’s coming along real well,” Donley said. “Evans has been very cooperative to work with. They’ve bent over backwards to do things we’ve requested and make it look good. It’s not complete yet but should be when the weather breaks again.”

Once that happens, Donley said Evans Landscaping will be replacing the sidewalk in that area “to make it safe for everybody.”

Now that three buildings have been removed, the neighboring building needs work completed on the formerly adjoining wall to “make it look a little more pleasant” and to make it safer, Donley said. He said that the city has been talking with the building’s owner about possible options.

“We’re having another Design Review Board meeting Wednesday, and I invited him to stop by if he has any questions and they could give him some information on what would be permitted to fix that wall up,” Donley said. “I hope it’s something that we can talk him into that’s not just temporary. I hope it’s something we can make it more structurally sound rather than just cover it up for somebody else to deal with 10 or 15 years down the road.”

Also discussed was a storm sewer replacement on Harry Sauner Road, which council voted to authorize at their Oct. 15 meeting.

“We’ve had some meetings with our engineer and construction for the storm sewer replacement,” Donley said. “Shortly after the first of the year, I think we’re going to get some of these projects moving.

“Just to kind of warn people a little bit, there’s probably going to be some traffic issues along with it, but without progress, you don’t have traffic issues. They have guaranteed they will work with the city and the businesses that are going to be somewhat affected to make sure they can stay open.”

Donley also reported that the representatives of the city’s building department, including building inspector Steve Rivera, held an “informal meet and greet” event at the Hillsboro Lowe’s recently to help call attention to the fact “there is a building department, and we have building codes that need to be followed and enforced.”

“There are codes that affect residential and commercial buildings,” Donley said. “That could be just minor repairs, a roof replacement and things people just don’t understand you have to have a permit for, but which our building code does cover and requires you to get a permit.”

Donley encouraged anyone with questions on the permit process to call the city office and “do things the right way.”

In other business, Donley asked council to consider “revisiting” the pay scale for various city departments after having discussions with department heads on retaining employees.

Donley also announced the hire of two new city employees and the retirement of one longtime city employee. Robert Creamer, who is the wastewater treatment plant superintendent, will be retiring after approximately 30 years of service to the city, Donley said. A reception in Creamer’s honor will be held Nov. 30 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the wastewater treatment plant.

“Everybody’s invited to come out and wish Bob good luck in his retirement years,” Donley said.

New employees include Bob Brown in the income tax office and Charlie Duff in the wastewater treatment plant. Donley told The Highland County Press that Duff will be an Operator 1 at the plant, while Tyler Warnock will replace Creamer as plant superintendent.

“Tyler presently works at the plant and has a class III license, which is required to be Plant Superintendent,” Donley said.

Donley also shared thanks for a number of individuals during the safety and service director’s report, including the street department for cleaning the roads during Tuesday morning’s snowfall and thanking “every employee the city has” for their ongoing cooperation. “We have got a really good bunch of people working for us,” he said. “I think they don’t get the credit sometimes they deserve.”

Donley also thanked all veterans in honor of Veterans Day.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all veterans — past, present and future — that have made our country so great,” Donley said.

• • •

In the standing committee reports:

• It was reported during the communications portion of the meeting that the Highland County Water Company has written a letter appealing the stormwater sewer fee imposed on their property. As previously reported, Southern State Community College and the Highland County Fair Board have already made requests for exemptions of the stormwater fee.

Council voted 6-0 in August to establish a stormwater utility in the city of Hillsboro, with property owners being assessed a fee of $5 per month per Equivalent Residential Unit, which is “equal to 2,899 square feet of measured impervious area and is equal to the average amount of impervious area of typical residential properties within the city.”

Eichinger said he would place the Highland County Water Company’s request in the utilities committee for further consideration along with the college and fair board’s requests. At that point, Hastings made another suggestion for the stormwater fees to be placed in committee.

“I probably get three bills a month for like nonexistent structures where I get a $5 a month that I am supposed to pay,” Hastings said. “It’s a real hassle — and I can’t be the only one, that’s what made me think of this — that gets $5 bills each month and doesn’t have a water account on something.

“It’s just a lot more billing, and I was just wondering if there’s a way it could go into committee to look at creating a way of paying those types of bills annually. It would get the revenue for the city, which they’re getting prepaid $60 or $120, and it would make it a lot easier for property owners, I think.”

Eichinger said it would make sense to “streamline” billing in that way and asked the mayor to email him his thoughts on the matter.

• In addition to discussing the proposed firehouse ordinance, Morris reported that the property maintenance and restoration committee discussed the Parker House. As previously reported, counsel for the city and for the building’s longtime owner Jack Hope have each filed affidavits in the Highland County Recorder’s Office after the city claimed they never agreed to a transfer of the hotel property.

Hastings had alleged during the Sept. 10 city council meeting that the Hope family, who own the property at 137 West Main Street, “prepared a deed, signed it over to us without anybody accepting it, took it to the county and had it recorded and had it put in our name.” A counter affidavit filed by Hope’s power of attorney argues that “on April 29, 2019, the City of Hillsboro entered into a contract with Jack I. Hope, by and through his Power of Attorney Linda Doerger, whereby … Hope agreed to donate, and the City of Hillsboro agreed to accept,” the Parker House property.”

The property maintenance and restoration committee has been discussing the Parker House’s acquisition and subsequent planned demolition for months, although Eichinger changed “property acquisition” to “property disposition” on the agenda Tuesday night.

“The city is looking into legalities of the ownership discrepancy of the building,” Morris said. “As soon as this is resolved, the demolition process can begin.”

Morris said that Evans Landscaping has provided an estimate of $97,000 for the former hotel’s demolition and added that they had also discussed the possible demolition of the Gross Feibel building, although at the time the committee had not received the estimate mentioned by the mayor. She said that it was possible the Revolving Loan Fund committee could help put $50,000 toward demolition.

Stanforth asked if the Revolving Loan Fund could provide $50,000 for both demolitions or just one. Donley said it would have to be “one or the other, but most likely Gross Feibel.”

“That’s all that’s, essentially, in there [the revolving loan fund],” Hastings said. “There is money that comes in from loan proceeds monthly, but it takes a while for that to build up. Normally, the balance is about $50 [thousand].”

Stanforth asked if the city was taking any action to collect from people who’ve “defaulted on their loan” through that fund. Hastings said the city hired a law firm “known for collections of this type” who looked into some of the revolving loans that “have gone bad.”

“There was nothing that could be done about them,” Hastings said. “He verified that. We did make a loan about three years ago, and they subsequently filed bankruptcy. We tried really hard to pursue restitution of that money, and that’s tied up in bankruptcy proceedings.”

• Stanforth reported that the civil service and employee relations committee met to discuss a resolution proposed in October after the mayor said he wanted to keep his current laptop from the city after leaving office at the end of the year.

As proposed last month, the ordinance specifies that it will affect property valued under $1,000 that is “personal to separating employee and is not relied upon by any other department or employee of the city.” However, Stanforth said her committee is recommending changing the resolution to read “property valued under $500.”

“We felt that you can buy new computers for less than $1,000, so we bumped it down to $500,” Stanforth said.

No further action was taken on the resolution Tuesday. Due to its change, Eichinger said the resolution’s reading Tuesday would be considered its first reading again.

• Finance committee chair Justin Harsha said that his committee will be meeting soon to work on the 2020 budget. Eichinger also placed Donley’s wage scale request in Harsha’s committee.

In other action:

• Council voted 6-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt a resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application for the FY19 Community Development Critical Infrastructure Program (CIP). The award is for up to $500,000, and Donley said the application “needs to be submitted as soon as possible.”

• Council also voted 6-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to pass another ordinance as an emergency. The ordinance was presented to vacate an alley at a property on East Pleasant Street.

“This came up last month, and we tabled it until we got some more information,” Eichinger said. “It turns out that this alley does not exist. It happens to be on a map of possible future actions, and the only property owners that are affected by this are the person that’s asking for it.

“It’s more a formality than anything. We’ve also gotten clarity from our legal counsel that we can move forward on this.”

• Council voted 6-0 to excuse the absence of council member Brandon Leeth, who was out of town on a business trip.