Unions Oppose Hillsboro Mayors Reforms Despite Looming Budget Crisis
Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, a Republican and former Hollywood comedian, has learned fiscal reform is no laughing matter since being elected chief executive of rural Highland County’s largest city. Hastings’s efforts to reign in government spending have been stymied by local public-sector unions and their allies on City Council.
In an interview with The Highland County Press, Hillsboro Auditor Gary Lewis said the city is projecting 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.
The Hillsboro Fire Department, with a total of twelve employees, receives $1.4 million in funding yearly. Hastings proposed a contract with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District which would have shrunk the city’s spending on protection services by half with no appreciable increase in response times or decrease in coverage.
Hillsboro City Council has not been receptive to contracting out protection services or to other Hastings proposals. In August, City Councilmember David Shoemaker left a voicemail message to Lewis’s office threatening to cut the auditor’s budget in retaliation for Lewis’s support of Hastings.
In the message, Shoemaker remarked, “buddy, wait ’til I get to your budget, and what I’m gonna ask for to be cut. Have a good day.”
The Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District – which already serves an area encompassing Hillsboro – is an example of what is known as “shared services,” with multiple government entities pooling resources to reduce duplication of services provided and relieve the burden on local taxpayers. In July 2012, the administration of Governor John Kasich released a study encouraging public schools and government support offices to coordinate shared services across local boundaries.
Hillsboro City Fire Department firefighter Ryan Passett, spokesman for the local firefighters’ union, dismissed the idea of shared government services. “Fads come and go but they leave behind the dirty track of disaster,” Passett told the Hillsboro Times-Gazette. Passett provided no examples of communities where “disaster” resulted from shared services.
International Association of Professional Fire Fighters Local 2972 president David Snider dismissed as “union busting” Hastings’s attempt to cut costs by joining the Paint Creek fire district.
Snider, who also opposes Hastings’s proposal to contract city services to the district, resigned from the city fire department in May 2012 and now works for the Paint Creek fire district which he has claimed is part of Hastings’s anti-union agenda.
In May 2012, Snider claimed Hastings was “creating a situation where they are trying to bust the union,” and said Hastings “[wants] to reopen the contract with union firefighters, and the only way they can do it is by declaring a fiscal emergency.”
According to research conducted by the Hillsboro Times-Gazette, five years ago Snider was one of the ten highest-paid public employees in the county, paid more than four times as much as the average Highland County resident. In 2007 Snider received $100,307 in salary, excluding retirement and insurance benefits.
Hillsboro is the only city in the county retaining its own fire department; the rest of Highland County’s emergency services are provided by joint fire districts.
While the fight over whether or not to join the Paint Creek Joint Fire/EMS district may have been tabled for now, as City Council is exploring other, more traditional methods of cost-cutting, Hastings remains optimistic about reforming his town.
“Everything is going district,” Hastings said while making the case to join the Paint Creek district. “We are the last and only municipal fire department in Highland County. And it’s not sustainable anymore.”
“The reason I ran for this office is that I believe this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” Hastings said during an interview with Media Trackers. “In fact, I don’t even think we even make our own handbaskets here anymore. I can’t do anything about America, but I can do something about the one corner where I live… I looked around and said, ‘I can do better than this.’”
Hastings was elected Hillsboro mayor in 2011, winning nearly 64 percent of the vote after a campaign with an unofficial slogan of “if it’s not good for the citizens, and it’s not good for the town, it ain’t gonna happen.” He was initially rejected by local Republican Party leaders as someone “who couldn’t possibly be a conservative” due to his background as a Hollywood comedian.