Hilliard City Council is expected to vote Monday, Dec. 14, on legislation to place Keep Hilliard Beautiful's two charter-amendment proposals on the March 15 ballot.

Hilliard City Council is expected to vote Monday, Dec. 14, on legislation to place Keep Hilliard Beautiful's two charter-amendment proposals on the March 15 ballot.

One of the proposed amendments would prohibit City Council from approving rezoning requests by emergency; the other would prohibit the use tax-increment-financing districts for residential developments.

A public hearing for the legislation was held during its second reading Dec. 7.

Only two people addressed City Council.

School board member Paul Lambert spoke in favor of the proposed amendments and resident Mel Sims, a former small-business owner in Hilliard, spoke against them.

Lambert, with Councilman Les Carrier and Norwich Township Trustee Larry Earman, were among those who formed Keep Hilliard Beautiful and helped circulate petitions to place the proposals on the ballot.

Lambert said he often is asked why property taxes in Hilliard are higher than those in Upper Arlington.

One reason is that Upper Arlington has a greater assessed-property value per student (approximately $279,000 last year) than Hilliard ($151,000 last year), Lambert said. The metric is calculated by the sum of all the assessed property value in a school district divided by the number of students in the district.

Lambert said Hilliard's total assessed property includes parts of Columbus, Hilliard, Dublin, townships and anything else in the Hilliard school tax district.

Lambert said Dec. 8 he used figures from 2014 as provided by the Ohio Department of Education and they have likely changed since then.

Referring to the district's most recent five-year forecast, as prepared by treasurer Brian Wilson, Lambert said, the district's total assessed value is $2.3 billion, and divided by approximately 16,000 students, the assessed-property value per student would be almost $145,000.

"That means to increase funding by $1,000 per student, Hilliard schools would need a levy of 6.6 mills, while UA would need one of 3.6 mills," he said.

He said increasing assessed value per student should be a primary goal of City Council.

It can be achieved, Lambert said, through new commercial development and limiting the increase in housing that brings students to the district.

"I reject the notion that we need to encourage the development of high-end apartments to attract employers to the city. ... It's actually advantageous (that employees live elsewhere)," Lambert said. "We get the income-tax revenue while other cities get the burden of providing schools and services."

"(The) changes proposed to the city charter don't in any way impair your ability to achieve that goal. You will continue to have the TIF in your bag of tools that can be used to recruit new commercial development to the community."

The proposed changes would not prohibit the development of new housing, "but they will make the developers, and not the taxpayers, bear the cost of the infrastructure they require to make their profits," Lambert said.

City Council Vice President Kelly McGivern criticized the name Keep Hilliard Beautiful that petitioners used when collecting signatures. She said she did not consider the name an accurate representation of the organization's platform.

"We pride ourselves in being accurate and transparent on council," McGivern said.

"It's Keep Hilliard Beautiful, not Make Hilliard Beautiful, and that is what we want to do," Lambert replied.

Sims, a former business owner in Old Hilliard, said the proposed charter-amendments were not business-friendly.

"This is a bad idea," Sims said.

He said residential development is essential for the success of businesses.

"Rooftops support the economy," Sims said.

Carrier rebutted Sims.

"Nothing in this proposal stops development. But it will stop incentivizing apartments," Carrier said.

Carrier said any boost new residents provide the local economy is at best negated by the cost of services provided to new residents.

Bed-tax allocation postponed

In related business Dec. 7, City Council opted to postpone action until Dec. 14 on an ordinance amending the allocation of the 6 percent bed-tax revenue.

The city collected about $354,000 last year in bed-tax revenue, finance director David Delande said previously.

As written, the ordinance would provide $88,000 of the collected revenue to the Hilliard Development Corp. and $150,000 to Destination Hilliard.

The Ohio Revised Code requires that a minimum portion of the bed tax be directed to a local visitors and convention bureau, or in Hilliard's case, Destination Hilliard.

One-quarter of the total revenue derived from the 6 percent bed tax must be provided to a visitors and convention bureau in the taxing county, according to law director Tracy Bradford.

The city currently funds Destination Hilliard in excess of the minimum amount the law requires, and the proposed ordinance maintains thatfunding at $150,000.

City Council President Nathan Painter said a recent situation spurred him to want another evaluation of the funding.

"In light of some potential conflict of interest ... I want to take a closer look at the funding," Painter said.

Painter, speaking after the meeting, said he wants to investigate the involvement of Destination Hilliard in political activity, specifically whether a board member was involved in circulating petitions for Keep Hilliard Beautiful.

"My concern is that Destination Hilliard is a charitable organization and prohibited from engaging in political activity," he said. "Further, under our council's grant program they cannot be involved in political activity. ... We need time to do our due diligence and ensure taxpayer funds are being used correctly."

Christy Clark, executive director of Destination Hilliard, said Dec. 8 she was not aware of City Council's action.

"We do not discuss politics among ourselves. What (a board member) does on (his or her) own time is up to them," Clark said.

Members' activities in their private time should not violate any laws or regulations, she said.

However, she said, she was not aware of whether any board members were involved in the effort to collect signatures.

Painter said he had additional concerns about the organization.

"While I believe there is a potential role for Destination Hilliard within the community, it cannot exist as it is currently constituted and needs to be overhauled in order to be effective," Painter said Dec. 8. "It is concerning that a tax-funded organization whose purpose is to promote the city is essentially nonexistent in the promotion of (Hilliard's Station Park)."

Clark disagreed with the assessment.

The delayed opening of the park was advertised in more than 20,000 visitors guides in 2015 and those for 2016, Clark said, as well as through social media.

Painter said the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce coordinated with local businesses for the activities provided Dec. 3 at the city's Christmas tree-lighting celebration at which the park was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"Why should tax revenue be given to an organization that is supposed to help promote the city when it fails at its most basic tasks?" Painter said.