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Friday, April 30, 2010

Highlands High School Production of Urinetown gets 14 Cappie Nominations

I recently wrote about Highlands Drama department taking the next step which included aggresively pursuing competitive drama competitions.  Today they took the next step in that evolution as the cast of Urinetown received nominations for 14 Cappie awards.  For more information about the Cappie program as well as the Cappie reviews visit their website here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Bit of Housekeeping

- In an effort to increase the amount of trees in Fort Thomas, the Fort Thomas Tree Commission offers residents a cost-sharing program for tree planting just outside the public right-of-way in private front-yard areas. Click here for an application.

Gotta say, some may see this as a frivolous waste of taxpayer money - but I see this as a good investment to maintain our city's image. Now, if we have any levies coming on the horizon whatsoever, I reserve the right to change my mind.

- Coach Dale Mueller has his charitable hat on
. Highlands High School's football players are coming together to help clean up around local residents' houses and give back to those in need.Anyone in Northern Kentucky who has a job for the team can call Mueller at 815-2607.

- Additionally, Mueller is putting his local celebrity to good use again - this time as a citizen. Our message last Sunday at church was entitled "Island Breeze" and detailed the drift of today's youth away from religion. Island Breeze Polynesian spiritual program geared towards youth and will be held on the Ft. Thomas Plaza across from Highlands. Should be high on entertainment value and I will definitely be interested to see what it's all about. The entertainment starts at 6:30, next Wednesday (May 5th).

-After almost a year since breaking ground, the first phase of the new Woodfill Elementary School building is nearing completion.

- The Spruce up for Spring Event at the Fort is this weekend from 1-5. I can't find a link to the event, but here's a PDF link to the city calendar from the City of Fort Thomas' website.

Here's hoping for a dry Sunday.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fort Thomas Earth Fair Well Attended

In what has to be the most well attended event ever held at the clock tower in the updated Town Center, the Earth Fair was a big hit.  The festival atmosphere included face paintings, information booths, and music.  Earth Day festivities included free tree saplings, recycling drop boxes, and Rumpke was on hand to sell recycling bins.

The event also marked the season opening of Earth Mother Market - so be sure to swing by on Wednesdays from 3 to 7pm to pick up locally grown produce.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fort Thomas in the News - April 20th

Two news items of note:

1. Fort Thomas Police need your help catching someone breaking into cars in the morning in public places.  Five incidences have occurred at the YMCA, Tower Park, and Churchill Apartments.  You can follow the link to Nixle for more details including a picture of a suspect and the suspects' car.

2. One of my favorite news sources in the Cincinnati area - Soapbox Media - published an article today on a Fort Thomas couple, Luke & Angela Ebner, who are supporting the community gardens in Over the Rhine.  The Ebners are creating a non-profit named Permagenic with a twist on the popular community garden concept that is gaining momentum in Cincinnati.  The story is a very interesting read so check it out if you get a chance.

Highlands Spring Break

In the wake of the tragedies surrounding the deaths of two local teens during their Spring Breaks, I started to recount some of the spring breaks I took during my time at Highlands.

My parents dreaded taking us to Panama City, but we went for what seemed like 5 consecutive years because my sister and I begged them to take us there so we could be with our friends. They didn't like going because:

A) It was Fort Thomas South - you couldn't get away, even when you were away.
B) Panama City weather was hit or miss at best in early April.
C) Even if you want to, you can't possibly keep your eyes and ears on a 16-18 year old high school kid during Spring Break.

Saying that and looking back on it, they did take us for two big reasons:
A) They were great parents and wanted to spend quality family time on vacation.
B) They tried to keep their eyes and ears on 16-18 year old high school kids during Spring Break.

Kids will be kids and no matter what you do, you can't protect them from everything. I know there are different circumstances with both local deaths which are independent from each other, but when did high school spring break become what seems like a college spring break free for all?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vernon Pool Update

As summer approaches and the Memorial Day Weekend is a few short weeks away thoughts turn to swimming pools - one of the few refuges from 90 degree heat.

I wrote some months ago about the challenges of the Vernon Pool and how new state regulations on pools were forcing the Vernon Pool to make some hard choices.  The original plan included completely gutting the current pool shell to provide the drainage and filtration that was required by the new mandates.  However a compromise design has been approved and work should start soon.

The compromise includes using the existing pool shell and building the features in and around the shell to avoid the extremely high costs of tearing out the shell and rebuilding.  For anyone who has swam in the Vernon Pool you may be familiar with the large drop off from the shallow end to the deep end and the final design may include a traditional progression to the deep end.  The plans also include a small expansion to accommodate stepping into the shallow end as opposed to the ladder that exists today.  Additional decking will be added as well.

Even with the added costs it appears most of the current bond holders will retain their ownership and the few unsold bonds have been committed with the exception of one.  So if you are on the Fort Thomas Swim Club list and want a private pool today without waiting behind 400 people this may be your last chance for some time.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fort Thomas Creates

I get on kicks where I'll read a book a week, and no, I have not read any Nicholas Sparks so you can stop with the jokes there. Who Moved My Cheese was one I was wanting to get around to for awhile so I could actually be involved in a conservation about the book, instead of faking my way through it like I did during Senior Year English with Catch 22. My apologies to my teacher, Teri Foltz.

I think we can agree that most of us have all been affected by this economy in one way or another. We've had to be creative in our businesses to keep our heads above water, we've had to adapt our spending and saving habits and in some cases, we've had to start from scratch.

Change is never easy, which in a roundabout way, brings me back to Who Moved My Cheese. Even though the book was written over 10 years ago and at the precipice of the tech bubble, the theme holds true, especially today.

People are reverting back to home businesses, people are looking for supplemental income or simply trying to replace income. Change is occurring here in Fort Thomas and we can accept it and try to progress or we can crawl into our basements and try to wait this thing out.

When I talked to Jane Pompilio a few weeks ago we talked our way around a website - loosely termed - Fort Thomas Creates - which would showcase local talent and advertise services. Had I not known Jane, I would have never known about her art or books as I'm sure most of you did not.

That got me wondering, how many more citizens are creating things, trying to sell services or advertise their businesses? Growing up here, I know there are a lot of self made men and women here who proudly stand by their work and now, more than ever, may need a little boost to get over this lull.

I'm sure there are websites that do an okay job at encompassing everything Fort Thomas, but what if we really made a go at it? One website. Everything Fort Thomas. Your one stop shop. Word of mouth is great and especially effective in a small town like this. But for newer businesses or older businesses that need a push, I really feel Fort Thomas Creates could be the start of something great.

I'm ready to volunteer (and by "I," I also mean Darrin - even though I've barely talked to him about this. Sorry man).

Fort Thomas is a tight knit community. How difficult would it be to start a grassroots campaign to not only "Buy American" but to make a concerted effort to "Buy Fort Thomas?" Maybe I'm being naive or just overly positive, but we can pull ourselves out of this mess of an economy.


Post Script: Sorry, but the picture above is hilarious.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bear Creek Saga Continues - No Hope of Progress on Newport Pavilion

The Cincinnati Business Courier reports this morning in their print edition that Bank of America has filed suit against Bear Creek on the Newport Pavilion shopping center and indicates that a request for receivership was denied on Wednesday.

This is very bad news for any hopes of adding retailers to the complex anytime soon.  Bank of America has been embroiled in a dispute with Bear Creek over the Kenwood development for over a year and it has turned into an ugly soap opera that continues with an additional hearing this morning in Federal Court.

The article indicates that there are over $37 million in debts on the Newport Pavilion complex and until a receiver is named there is really no hope for progress on the site.  Stay tuned as I am sure there are more twists and turns in this story to come.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Campbell County Looking for Tax Revenue

 Was it a coincidence that on tax day most everyone I know received their new tax assessment from Campbell County?  Updated tax assessments are a regular occurrence but the timing I have to admit is incredible.  Adding insult to injury of filing my income tax return - we receive notice that we will be paying more in annual property taxes as well.  And we wonder why these Tea Partiers are organizing marches today...

While I really can't argue with my updated assessment I have heard numerous complaints from property owners with higher value homes that have had new assessments in consecutive years with double digit increases despite one of the worst housing markets (if not the worst) in the history of the US.  I would think that increases totaling over 40% from 2008 to 2010 would be a good case for a challenge.  Interestingly enough, while you can challenge your assessment the Campbell County PVA website does not have any information about how to challenge your assessment.  Just choose the Contact link on the left hand menu and give them a call to find out more about the challenge process.

All of this raises the question of whether this is a desperate attempt by the county to raise revenue in the midst of tightening budgets.  Just this past week there was an article in the Enquirer about how the county left open an HR position saving $80,000 / year among other unfilled positions to save money.  While the article does not mention a fiscal crisis one has to wonder if problems are brewing. 

While nothing has been specifically mentioned you have to wonder if the county is also impacted by the Newport Pavilion development delays.  Just last month the Enquirer reported that Newport was struggling with its budget and even paying bills as late as 90 days past due to meet its obligations.  The development was expected to generate hundreds of thousands of sales tax dollars per year but all that is located at the development is Kroger Marketplace and a lot of idle construction equipment.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Highlands Drama Program Taking the Next Step

The drama program at Highlands has undergone quite a transformation over the past couple of years.  This transformation goes beyond the new and expanded facilities that include the new backstage auditorium transformation that was a big part of the $15 million High School building renovation (a good synopsis of the designs and pictures of the High School renovation can be found here).  Video footage of the facilities can be found from this past segment of KET Road Trip that featured Highlands High School.

This transformation has also included a new head man and driving force behind the drama programs and whose influence has expanded beyond the High School and now reaches into Highlands Middle School and to the larger community.

Jason Burgess comes to Fort Thomas three years removed from being a professional actor, designer, and director in the Cincinnati area where he worked with Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Ovation Theatre Company, and New Edgecliff Theatre among others.

A key component of the transformation of the drama program also started tonight with the kickoff of "Standing Room Only" - a booster club for the drama program.  Getting engagement in a deeper way from parents and arts supporters is the next step in Jason's vision for the drama program.  To find out a little more about this vision I had a chance to catch up with Jason for a little Q and A and here is what he had to say:

Question - What are your key goals for the drama department at Highlands?
My key goals are to open the students eyes to new works that they are not familiar with.  I also want them to experience things outside of their comfort zone and really challenge themselves.  I want them to be able to experience things that they haven’t been able to experience up to this point.  Right now I can only focus on the season at Highlands so a lot of my ideas are not being implemented right now because there isn’t the time in my schedule to coordinate and facilitate.

Question - I have heard that you are also organizing a booster group for the drama department.  How do you plan to use this group and what are your biggest funding needs?
My plan for this group is to help me with implementation and communication of new ideas and opportunities.  I want to take the high school students to New York over fall break but I need help in researching the trip and fund raising for students who may want to go but cannot afford it.  I want to take students to a Thespians conference for high school students in Nebraska in June that let’s them work and play with other theatre students.  I want to do more shows at the high school.  I want to offer workshops.  I could go on and on and on.

I really think this group can support and spread the word of the possibilities of this theatre program.  Right now I feel that we are not a theatre program, we are a school that puts on some theatrical shows.  I want us to be a theatre program where the students have opportunities all year long to participate in theatrical activities.

My biggest funding need is for the students to take place and participate in some of the activities.  We are fortunate that we do not a new facility because we have the greatest facilities imaginable.  Our work spaces are amazing but it is the program itself that now needs the renovation.

Question - The city of Fort Thomas plans to be completed with the new amphitheater in Tower Park soon.  Do you see a role for this facility in future performances for the High School or Middle School?
Yes!  Absolutely!  I think it would be great to start or build a summer theatre season in a different atmosphere.  It would be great to get people involved in something new and different.  I was a part of a program when grew up that did shows in an amphitheater and it was a huge success.  I think the possibilities are endless. 


Question - Assuming you are not from the area, how does the Fort Thomas community and the school district differ from your past experiences?  How would you compare the communities support for High School drama?
 The biggest difference in my opinion is the parental support.  It truly is unparalleled.  I am amazed that when I have a problem and I send out an email or a phone call that I get responses almost immediately.  Parents help out in droves in this area.  There are some many other schools that I know where they have to beg and plead for the parents to just come to the shows nonetheless help out with them!

I would say that the communities support for the high school drama program is ok.  I think in this day and age it is difficult.  You are competing against so many things.  Outdoor events, movies, finances, etc. it is just difficult.  I would love to get to a point where we are averaging 500 to 600 people a performance.  Right now we are only averaging around 300 to 350 a performance.  So I will continue to spread the word and I am hoping that this new theatre parent group will help as well because these kids truly deserve the support.  They are doing some amazing things onstage and I just want everyone to see it and be amazed what we have here in Ft. Thomas!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fort Thomas Making National News

First, a big congratulations to the Fort Thomas Independent Schools for making the Forbes list of the Top 25 School districts in the nation.  The only other area district to make the list was Mason schools just up I-71.  Most of the top 25 schools were located in the Northeast but Fort Thomas made the cut.  A well deserved recognition.

In addition to this recognition, our friends over at the Newport Pavilion Fan Page on Facebook managed to catch wind of filming of an upcoming Biggest Loser episode at the Kroger Marketplace in the Newport Pavilion.  I know, I know that technically isn't Fort Thomas but I spend more time there than anywhere else in Fort Thomas.  Anyway, if you are fans of Ali, Bob and the gang then you may want to tune in on April 27th to see exactly what they were filming in our area.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fort Thomas Provides Social Event - Mark your calendars

Looking to help fellow citizens and/or groups in Fort Thomas? Join "Fort Thomas Provides" on April 15, yes - tax day, at Vito's Cafe 6:30 – 8:30 PM. It's very worthwhile and if you have any questions, feel free to use the comments section or on the Facebook, Linkedin pages below.

$20 includes food (assorted appetizers) and 1 drink (compliments of your FTP Board).

Agenda: • Recap of our growth and activities during the last year • Presentation of available projects for 2010 • Input/ideas from the group • Networking and social time.

Fort Thomas Provides Facebook Page

Fort Thomas Provides LinkedIn Page

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lets Talk Kentucky State Politics

Lets start with a quick summary of where we are at in Frankfort:
  •  A budget hasn't been approved yet with only 2 days left in the current session (a short recess has been called until April 14th)
  •  A budget can still be passed after the end of the session but only if the Governor calls a special session
  • There is major disagreement between the House (controlled by Democrats) and the Senate (controlled by Republicans) that largely centers around a plan to add spending of roughly $1 billion for schools and other infrastructure projects around the state.  Sound familiar?
  • This additional spending comes in the face of mounting deficits at a state level that now projects at over $1.5 billion deficit over 2 years that is largely the result of increasing unemployment near 11% in Kentucky
Faced with such large deficits there are really only 2 approaches to avoid a fiscal crisis in the state - 1) Increase revenue 2)Cut spending. 
  1. The House plan includes a measure that would increase revenue by $270 million by letting a tax benefit for small businesses to expire for 2 years.  The Democratic leadership would like to avoid the tax label for this measure but lets be honest anything that increases revenue is a tax on somebody.  To be fair to Democrats the governor proposed casino gambling and it failed to gather enough support to generate the hundreds of millions that supporters projected.
  2. There doesn't seem to be much political will beyond the Republican controlled Senate to take the tough medicine necessary to bring expenses in line with revenues.  These are generally politically difficult decisions to make especially when it likely means a further reduction in jobs that the economy desperately needs.  Besides cutting services such as Pre-school and Youth Service Centers, which are desperately needed to avoid creating the next generation of problems for the state, the General Assembly should look at dealing with the real driver of current budget deficits - The Pension Crisis
Kentucky faces a large and looming crisis over pensions that isn't just a state issue or even a Kentucky issue but will affect the entire nation as well as counties and municipalities across the nation over the next couple of decades.

ABC News published a recent report on the crisis from a countrywide perspective but it is really starting to hit home for the state in 2010 and will only grow in coming years.  Even Fort Thomas will feel the impact.  While America has made the shift from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans government has not quite made the switch and will now begin to feel the full weight of an aging population bearing down on it.  It is going to take real leadership in Frankfort to solve this issue and 25,000 temporary jobs from a few infrastructure projects is not going to solve this one.

The sides will likely come together in the final hour but watch closely over the coming year or two and even as the state's economy improves to see who is willing to step up with real solutions.