The public hearing over Destination Hilliard and the Hilliard Convention & Visitors Bureau overshadowed the passage of the city's budget, storm water utility and a councilman's farewell at the Dec. 21 city council meeting.

The public hearing over Destination Hilliard and the Hilliard Convention & Visitors Bureau overshadowed the passage of the city's budget, storm water utility and a councilman's farewell at the Dec. 21 city council meeting.

Council vice president Bill Uttley, who led his final meeting as chairman of the Finance and Administration Committee, saw emergency passage of benefits and insurance for the city, as well as an agreement with the Franklin County Board of Health for health services. The emergency passage was necessary because the changes go into effect next year.

Later, the city's operations budget was unanimously approved for 2010. Council President Brett Sciotto said that each department will make "small cost-saving adjustments in their existing budgets as presented to adequately fund a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for non-bargaining unit employees" without changing the bottom line.

"We will endeavor to incur sufficient savings that allow us to operate within the budget presented to you tonight," said Mayor Don Schonhardt.

According to the 2010 operations funds summary, Hilliard's finance department estimates $26,084,262 in available revenue and $23,051,970 in total expenditures, resulting in an ending balance of $3,032,292.

"We have spent considerable time and energy realigning our expenditures to maximize efficiency," the budget report states. However, "we cannot balance future budgets by continuing to concentrate on only one side of the fiscal equation. We need to look at the other side of the ledger and diversify revenue."

To that end, council approved creating a storm water management utility by a 5-2 vote. The utility is expected to cost residents $2.50 a month, or $30 a year.

"I'm still uncomfortable with going forward," said council member Kelly McGivern, who voted against the utility. "I think the timing is difficult for our citizens."

"With the recession and high unemployment, I think the timing is off," said council member Dan Nichter, who also voted against the utility. "I know it's an unfunded mandate and we've been funding it for the last four or five years. I just think the time isn't right at the moment."

"I've been slow to warm up to it as well," Sciotto said. However, "the most important aspect of this utility is to establish a policy that says clearly to development, that we expect you to be green, we expect you to consider the effects of your development on the rest of the community."

Uttley said the utility would eventually allow the city to help older residential developments in avoiding flooded basements.
"I understand the need for it," said council member Tim Roberts. "In the long run, it will benefit the citizens."

Council also approved:

Rezoning 424.1 acres of land located west of Alton Darby Road, north of Pinefield Road and east of Walker Road. Creating the Wilcox Road residential tax incentive district. The legislation was previously tabled for a couple weeks until an agreement was reached with Schottenstein Real Estate Group. "It appears as if the amount of money that Schottenstein is paying to the city in fees ($1.1-million) will be sufficient to give the city enough funding to go ahead and design and build a roundabout," said law director Pamela Fox. Appointing Matthew Forchione to the shade tree commission.
Finally, the 2.25-hour meeting, the final one of the year, and Sciotto noted, "the longest of the year," ended with a proclamation praising Uttley's service. Uttley had two stints on council, 1993-97 and from 2002-09. He was also appointed to the planning and zoning commission from 1998-2001. He is also council representative for the board of zoning, zoning appeals and the mayor's representative for the tax incentive review council.

"You have a real passion for this community, and that's been reflected in your leadership, and the community is better for it," Sciotto said as he presented Uttley with a clock and city flag.

"I'm very proud to have served with my fellow councilmen tonight and in previous years," Uttley said. "The administration, the mayor, everyone's been wonderful to work with, and I have faith that Hilliard will be led well into the (future)."