In a meeting that almost was not because of quorum difficulties, Hillsboro City Council members found plenty to discuss Tuesday regarding property sale and fire district issues.
Council member Shelby Dirks never showed, and Marlene Fast arrived 20 minutes late. She was just in time, however, to get in on Economic Director Clint Seibel’s presentation of a couple’s request that the city relinquish special assessment rights on a Western Heights purchase.
The couple, Kevin and Angy Jost of Jost Fabricating, have offered $25,000 to buy all of lot 2 and 130 feet of lot 1 in the Western Heights addition. They plan to build a new sales office and fabrication facility west of the Country Haven Inn.
“Stipulations in the contract include that the seller shall pay all real estate taxes to date of possession and the city is not to make improvements that would result in special assessments without the buyer’s consent,” Seibel said. “If we were someday to develop Hickory Street, which is highly unlikely, we would not be able to offer any specials to any other developers.”
Seibel said that last fall the city approved a truck parking lot plan for the area straight west of Western Heights, but Hickory Street was still a vacant area.
“They are ready to move on this and have already made an earnest payment,” Seibel said. “The time for twiddling thumbs is already past.”
However, council member Bob Watson said he struggled with the concept that the city would relinquish total control of the right to put special assessments on an undeveloped area.
“Have we ever totally relinquished the right to establish special assessments before?” he asked. “If we ever put in Hickory Street and open it up to other property owners, how do we ask for special assessments if we have relinquished all rights? It could create problems for someone on down the road.”
Seibel said former city attorney Dan Baldwin had researched the situation and saw no reason why not to agree to the buyers’ request, but Watson argued that forever could be a very long time.
“I would suggest you make a motion for a counter-amendment that would withhold special assessments for a period of five years, for example,” City Administrator Larry Paine said. “After that time, the council could re-evaluate the contract and add more years if needed.”
Watson made a motion to approve the purchase contract as presented by Seibel, except to limit the exclusion of special assessments to five years. The motion died for lack of a second.
Marlene Fast then made a motion to accept the buyers’ contract as presented.
“We hire Clint to do this work and bring the contracts to us ready to sign,” she said. “I think we should support his recommendation and just accept it as it is.”
Fast’s motion also died for lack of a second.
Paine suggested more years be added to the exclusion compromise, thus giving the city time to see whether the area would advance with additional development.
Watson moved that the council accept the Jost Fabrication purchase proposal with a 10-year special assessment exclusion. Council member Byron McCarty seconded the motion; and it passed unanimously.
Dissension about fire district contract plans surfaced when Liberty Township representatives Clark Wiebe and Jared Jost brought their concerns to the council.
“I have questions about the fire district protection contract that Larry has offered us,” Wiebe said. “Is there any negotiation for the figure quoted as a budget amount for the operation of the fire department?”
Paine answered that each township would have an equal share of the fire department’s budget based on assessed values.
Wiebe also questioned the city’s carte blanche estimation of replacement equipment costs passed on to townships in mill levies.
“From my perspective the increase required in mill levies is excessive,” Wiebe said. “I currently pay 1.67 and it would raise my taxes 3.3 mills if the current contract is approved. All those figures should be negotiable per situation, not just blanketed across the board.”
Paine said discussions between township representatives and fire district members led him to believe the differences in ways of purchasing equipment were a result of differing financial worldviews. However, he expressed a desire to work with Wiebe to come to a compromise and continue discussion at a meeting following the conclusion of city council.