Springhill considers raising rent on privately-owned business in public building

By Paige Nash

Many Springhill residents attended the Springhill City Council meeting on Monday, April 10, to speak on one particular item on the agenda, but they never had the chance.

Item I was to consider declaring the city property located at 235 North Main Street as surplus property and no longer needed for public use and advertising the location for public bid.  

Express Tax, Title and License is the current private business operating out of this city-owned building. This business is owned by Jan Hearnsberger and serves a considerable area’s needs including issuing of license plates, collection of state sales taxes, notary services, certificates of titles, replacements of lost or stolen plates and stickers, and much more.  

On Thursday, April 6, the city council held a pre-council meeting where City of Springhill Mayor Ray Huddleston informed the council that Express Tax, Title and License is currently being rented by Hearnsberger for $800 a month. 

The city pays utilities and property insurance on the building and considering those amounts, the $800 monthly rent does not cover the cost of those charges. The city has been footing the bill for the overages, amounting to around $6,000 over the last year. 

“To make it break even the rent needs to go from $800 to $1200 a month,” Huddleston said. 

The lease agreement signed in 2015 is not set to expire until 2025 and states the leaser reserves the right to increase the rental fee if it does not fully cover the expenses of the city.  

“Bottom line is we are subsidizing a private, for-profit business with taxpayer money,” said Huddleston. 

The idea of selling the building was brought forward, but to do that the council would need to declare the property as surplus and advertise selling the property for public auction. By doing this, that would eliminate the issue of  a conflict of interest with the city renting a building to a private for-profit business, but by opening it up to the public – which is a requirement – that leaves the possibility that someone other than the current owner could possibly be the highest bidder and take over ownership of the building. This action could result in the city residents losing this much-needed service to Springhill and surrounding areas.

“It is a good service for the residents of Springhill. I don’t care who owns it. I would hate to know that I have to drive to Minden or Homer to renew my license,” said Springhill Chief of Police Will Lynd. 

The City of Springhill has received a small percentage of license plate sales in the past, but they are no longer receiving those funds.  

Hearnsberger has owned and operated this business for 8 years and has reportedly never missed a rent payment or been made aware of any issue from the city concerning the accumulating overages.  

Mayor Huddleston began the meeting by making a motion to amend the agenda to take off Item I due to “new information concerning this item that needs to be investigated.”  

This removal also eliminated public comment on the item, which did not sit well with many of those in attendance.  

When the meeting opened to public comment, a Springhill resident took the floor.

“There’s quite a few people here who came to talk about a particular item and I know you took it off the agenda, but since we are all here do you reckon the council will open it up and let us just say what we want to say so that we can get it off our minds?” he asked.

He was quickly shut down by the mayor.

“No, not in a public meeting. You can come to a workshop,” said Huddleston.

The City of Springhill workshops are held on the Thursday before the second Monday of every month. This item is expected to be reconsidered at the next meeting after the council investigates and discusses the new information that was brought forward.