Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings continues work towards a slimmer budget as rural Highland County’s largest city approaches a fiscal cliff. Previous efforts by Hastings to cut deficit spending have been blocked by local unions and their allies on City Council.
In a July 12 interview with The Highland County Press, Hillsboro Auditor Gary Lewis said the city projects a $670,000 deficit by the end of 2013. If fundamental fiscal reforms are not made by the end of this year, Lewis anticipates Hillsboro will be forced to ask Ohio Auditor Dave Yost to intervene in the city’s budget process.
A Media Trackers analysis of Hillsboro’s financial data confirms that declining revenue and increasing spending will lead to a huge increase in the city’s budget deficit. Without cuts or new revenue, Hillsboro will face a 771 percent increase in the budget deficit.
Hastings and other city officials must find over a million dollars in budget cuts to make in the next few months, or massive tax increases will be necessary.
The Hillsboro Fire Department, with a total of twelve employees, receives $1.4 million in funding yearly. This summer, Hastings proposed contacting with the local Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District instead of maintaining a separate fire department.
Projections from the city suggest Hastings’s proposal would have reduced Hillsboro’s annual costs by $335,000 to $385,000.
After defeating the attempt by Hastings to contract with the Paint Creek Fire District, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2972 officials began pushing for the Hillsboro Fire Department to begin serving nearby Washington and Jackson Townships. The deal proposed by the union to expand the Hillsboro Fire Department’s service area would increase the city’s annual revenue by roughly $123,000, assuming both townships’ residents were to approve proposed tax hikes.
However, if the townships and the city were to agree on the deal suggested by IAFF Local 2972 but then failed to persuade voters to pass the tax levies, the city would still be forced to provide fire services to the townships. In effect, the proposal could result in Hillsboro residents subsidizing fire protection services for two adjacent rural townships.
Hillsboro is the only municipality in Highland County which does not participate in a fire district; contrary to warnings from IAFF Local 2972 officials, response times would not be significantly affected because Hillsboro already lies within the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District’s territory.
Hillsboro firefighters have agreed to negotiate salary and benefit concessions with the city, but Lewis has continued to remind city council members that such negotiations represent temporary fixes for long-term problems. So far, more than $230,000 has been cut from the city’s services budget, but the city is still projected to face a $670,000 deficit in 2013.