Roberts Lane expansion, economic progress among highlights in Hillsboro’s State of the City address

Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha delivered his annual State of the City report during the Thursday, Jan. 12 Hillsboro City Council meeting, highlighting several accomplishments of the city in the past year and sharing a positive outlook for 2023.

The mayor began by speaking about the city’s economic status, as he noted that progress has been made since he took office in 2020.

“Our budget was super thin, and every department saw major cuts on an annual basis,” Harsha said. “Our projected carryover for 2020 was approximately $200,000, compared to this year’s budget, with a projected carryover of $1.5 million, with no major cuts.

“Leading up to being elected as mayor, I was the chair of the finance committee. I was aware of the financial struggles our city was facing. In my first term, with all the dated infrastructure and critical projects that needed completed, I had a feeling that it would be a struggle to show any signs of economic progress. But with all the hard work of everyone at the city, we’ve been able to introduce many projects.”

He summarized several of those projects, including:

• The city has taken numerous steps in the past year for the planned multimillion-dollar Roberts Lane expansion. Harsha first announced the project proposal in October 2021, explaining that the proposed project would extend Roberts Lane, “go through the Hauke-Dragoo properties and curve around to Fenner Avenue,” then “cut over to [state Route] 73, cross 73 and come around to Fairground Road.” Another part of the proposal is to possibly implement one-way routes on U.S. 62 and state Route 73, pending the results of a traffic study.

In addition to creating “more thoroughfare” to address traffic issues, the extension is being proposed to allow for more commercial space in the city limits.

In the past year, the city has already acquired some funding for the estimated $8.6 million project, including a $2.3 million grant from the State Controlling Board. City leaders made a $3,160,152 request to the county commission to help with infrastructure development costs for the proposed Roberts Lane extension. The money would be used for roadway, storm sewer controls and water/sewer services, according to the project description.

In a special meeting Feb. 28, council voted 6-1 to pass two pieces of emergency legislation authorizing the property purchase by the city “not to exceed” $1.38 million as part of the city’s proposal to extend Roberts Lane and Fenner Avenue.

The parcel is approximately 69.29 acres on state Route 73, purchased from Hauke-Dragoo Properties. Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott told council in October 2022 that the city had officially closed on the property. Harsha also said in November 2022 that the city has begun preliminary talks with the Ohio Department of Transportation on the 69-acre parcel recently acquired by the city for the project.

In November 2022, Hillsboro City Council passed an ordinance to expend 100 percent of their remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds on engineering costs related to the proposed Roberts Lane extension project during their Thursday, Nov. 17 meeting. Council voted 6-1, with Jason Brown voting no, to approve the resolution to make supplemental appropriations in the amount of $689,341.81.

Later in the meeting Thursday, council also approved an emergency resolution to enter into a contract with DLZ Ohio Inc. for the design of the Roberts Lane development.

“The Roberts Lane 69-acre plot was purchased, and it will become a major expansion for the city,” Harsha said in his State of the City report. “Road construction will open commercial and residential opportunities that will take us years into the future, not only for growth, but it will also be a major source of funding for many future economic projects.

“By owning this property, we have the tools to tailor-fit developments to the needs of our community. We plan to utilize a portion of this property to have walking trails and picnic areas for people who enjoy a lunch break and for citizens looking to stretch their legs. Roberts Lane will become another connection between our major thoroughfares, which will help ease the traffic flow and be beneficial for emergency crews.”

• The city has worked to develop the West Main Street green space, which was the site of several events in 2022. Located at the site of the former Highland Enterprise and Union Stockyards businesses, the city has worked to develop the area since acquiring the parcels in April 2021. This year, the city was able to host their “Movies Under the Stars” program at the green space, while the Festival of the Bells returned, after a two-year hiatus, to the city’s property.

“The West Main green space, which started with a huge local donation of property and another purchase by the city, will become a green space, amphitheater and events center for everyone to enjoy,” Harsha said. “There have already been many visible improvements to the property, which led to having our ‘Movie Under the Stars’ event at that location all of last year. The Festival of the Bells was able to move back to the downtown area, and this space proved to be a great fit for the weekend and will be the permanent home to the festival.”

The city has been working to acquire funding for their future plans for the site, including the amphitheater mentioned by Harsha. Some funding, including $100,000 in capital budget dollars, has already been secured, while the green space is among the projects targeted in local applications for the state’s $500 million Appalachian Community Grant program.

“Once the project comes to fruition, we look forward to working with the college and the schools to bring outdoor drama performances, and we’ll be planning many other events for the entertainment of our citizens,” Harsha said. “For years, I’d walk past this property, struggling to come up with any idea to transform that end of town to become a welcome entry to our beautiful city, and I believe we have the project to make that happen.”

• Harsha spoke about how the city’s economic development department, formed in late 2020, as well as the county’s economic development department, which began in 2021, have led to “new opportunities” and improved relationships.

“As a result of forming this department and collaborating with the county, we are able to explore new opportunities for funding, open up communications for new businesses and developers looking at our city and are better able to keep up on existing businesses and manufacturers, making sure we are here if they need help,” Harsha said. “Despite the economic hardships faced in the past few years, the growth of Hillsboro has picked up an amazing rate. We have seen many new businesses open and many more to come.”

The mayor said the city has partnered with the county on workforce and economic development efforts, including in “strategic planning” for the area.

Harsha added that the city has also worked in the past three years to improve relationships with county representatives and with other area partners, including Southern State Community College, Hillsboro City Schools and Highland District Hospital.

“From the start, we knew had some lines of communications within our city that were broken and needed to be addressed,” the mayor said. “Those relationships continue to grow and will be a key factor in moving our city into the future, not only for Hillsboro, but for Highland County.”

The City of Hillsboro conducted their senior scholarship program for a third straight year in 2022, awarding $2,000 scholarships a to graduating HHS seniors Eden Edenfield, KaleyJo Myers and Sara Newsome. The city received $3,000 in donations for the program from community partners, which they matched “dollar for dollar,” Harsha said.

Harsha said the city has also reached out to HDH leaders to discuss “ways we can help out as a city” for the hospital, while they have partnered with SSCC in planning for the green space and other projects.

“Without working on these relationships, we could not have gotten as far as we have in these three short years,” Harsha said.

• The mayor also gave an overview of the grant funding acquired by the city, as he said they’ve “received major grants totaling over $5.6 million for existing projects and for projects in the near future.”

In addition to the aforementioned funding for Roberts Lane and the green space projects, the city has also received a $336,000 pedestrian safety grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation; $1.78 million and $160,842 awards from the Ohio EPA for phase three storm sewer improvements and a water main project, respectively; and funding for an ADA-compliant playground at Harmony Lake, among other grants.

“We’ve been able to capitalize on many opportunities, and I can say to you now that the progress of our city is stronger today than I could have ever imagined,” Harsha said.

The mayor concluded his report by thanking city council and other city employees for their efforts.

“I’d like to thank all council members for their hard work and dedication to our city,” Harsha said. “It’s an honor working with you to make Hillsboro the best it can be.

“We want everyone to know that our efforts are always focused on making our city a place everybody wants to live, work and play, and all projects within the city started with the same vision. I look forward to continue building on these existing and new partnerships for the city and am committed to pursuing these major developments through to completion.”

Safety and service director Brianne Abbott added a few other highlights from 2022 in her report to council, as she discussed the latest news on the long-planned Marriott Hotel project.

As previously reported, Highland County commissioners voted in November to award the environmental review bid for the Marriott Hotel project to Verdantas, at the recommendation of Highland County Economic Development Coordinator Julie Bolender.

Bolender announced in July 2022 that the county has been awarded a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant that will, in turn, be loaned to developers of the Marriott Hotel, which was first proposed in 2019. She told commissioners that the first step was to award bids for environmental review before construction could begin.

“The environmental study is underway and awaiting the final report, which is the endangered species study, prior to the report being finalized,” Abbott said Thursday. “Upon completion of that environmental review, the county will hold a public hearing prior to deciding on the final portion of the funding piece for the hotel project.

“The city has extended its promissory note with the developer to allow for completion of this study and the financing.”

In other year-end updates, Abbott said the city’s building department received 154 commercial and 101 residential building permits in 2022. She also noted that an abandoned barn on state Route 73 (North West Street) has been earmarked for demolition by the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation (land bank). The barn is located on the property acquired by the city for the Roberts Lane expansion, Abbott said.

At Abbott’s request, a “review of the comp time portion of the city’s policy and procedures manual to examine comp time limits as well as comp time payouts” was also placed into the civil service and employee relations committee by council president Tom Eichinger.

After the SSD’s report, council member Jason Brown asked for an update on the North West Street water main project, which has been ongoing since September. Abbott said that it is scheduled to be complete at the end of January.

“It will be closed again in the spring for paving for a short period of time, but that will be minimal,” Abbott said.

Public works superintendent Shawn Adkins said that when the current construction project is done, a section of North West Street, between Fenner Avenue and Harry Sauner Road, will also be “closed for at least two days” for a culvert replacement.

In other reports, city auditor Patty Day said the city is “very close to closing” the books for 2022 and thanked former city auditor Alex Butler for his assistance.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, council reviewed a lengthy list of ordinances and resolutions. Read more at:


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