Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Get to Know the Candidates: Q&A with Adam Meier, Running for City Council
This year, all six Fort Thomas City Council members, along with Mayor Mary Brown, face re-election. As part of FTM's efforts to keep you, the Fort Thomas electorate, informed and prepare you for the upcoming election season, the Q&A below is part of an ongoing FTM series spotlighting candidates in the 2014 elections. Incumbents and challengers are asked a nearly identical set of questions, then a second round of follow-up questions, if necessary. This week I spoke with Adam Meier, running for Fort Thomas City Council.
Adam Meier is a licensed attorney in Kentucky and Ohio, and currently works as a Contracting Officer with the Environmental Protection Agency in Cincinnati. Meier is a graduate of Colerain High School, and attended Georgetown College. After law school in Jacksonville, Florida, he and his wife moved to Williamstown, Kentucky, where he first began working with the EPA. Meier, his wife, and two children moved to South Fort Thomas Avenue last June.
FTM: What has been your personal connection to Fort Thomas specifically, and Northern Kentucky in general?
AM: I'm a relatively new resident to Fort Thomas. That said, my connection to the Fort Thomas community is deep. Since getting married, my wife and I have lived in several places; however, we always knew that Fort Thomas would be the place we raise our family... the place we call home. My primary motivation to become a member of City Council is to ensure that Fort Thomas remains the greatest place in Northern Kentucky to raise a family. While it's important to have council members with direct experience and first-hand knowledge about the historical goings-on in the community, I believe it is equally vital to have council members who can bring unique experiences and innovative viewpoints to the table, to complement that experience and historical knowledge. It prevents staleness and increases the probability that council will find satisfactory solutions to issues under consideration.
FTM: What, in your opinion, makes Fort Thomas one of Northern Kentucky's best places to live and/or raise a family?
AM: Where do I start? The biggest contributing factor to my wife's and my decision to move here was Fort Thomas Independent Schools. Blue Ribbon Award-winning elementary schools are a great way to kick off a child's formative years. Couple that with the excellent academic reputation of Highlands High School, and I can rest assured knowing my children will be given the tools necessary to be college-ready. A bonus is the storied tradition of the Highlands football team. I was fortunate enough to play in a similar program at Colerain and continue playing at Georgetown. I can honestly say that much of my personal successes can be directly attributed to the skills and confidence I gained in those programs.
The location is great, as well -- close to the city where many people work. There are plenty of restaurants, entertainment, and amenities either inside the city or in close proximity. My wife loves taking the kids for a walk to Blue Marble or Tower Park, or for a quick drive to the Museum Center, Zoo, or Aquarium.
But what truly makes this city special is that, when you are within the city limits, it has that small town charm and atmosphere that sometimes make you forget that you're just a few miles from the big city.
FTM: If elected, what will be the first issue you bring before council?
AM: One thing I love about Fort Thomas is the character of the old homes -- very few look alike. But anyone who owns one of these old homes knows they require a lot of maintenance and upkeep, and it can be hard to keep up on financially for some folks. One thing I'd like to do is find ways to incentivize property owners to perform the maintenance needed to ensure that homes don't fall into disrepair.
I'd also like to find a way to increase the number of single-family residences available within the city. This would benefit the city and residents alike because single-family homes generally appraise for a significantly higher price per square foot than their multi-family counterparts. If homes are converted, property value assessments will rise and the city will generate higher revenue from the property taxes. Homebuyers and homeowners would also win as there would be an increase in the availability of single-family homes, which is especially important in a place like Fort Thomas where there are very few lots for building available. The community as a whole will benefit, as well, because if the ratio of owned homes to rented homes increases, this will result in better looking and better maintained homes in the city.
To do this, I would propose and work with the city to develop a plan for a temporary tax assessment freeze for homeowners who make significant improvements to their homes, as an incentive. The freeze would make renovations more financially feasible for homeowners, and, once the freeze ends, the city would begin collecting higher revenues.
FTM: What specific actions would you take as a council member to ensure the continued growth of small, locally-owned businesses in Fort Thomas?
AM: It's still early in the campaign, but I hope to meet with many local business owners to seek their specific input on what the city could do for them to make it easier to do business in our community. The city must take steps to make it appealing to new businesses and find ways to support existing business so that we can retain them. It can do this with various tools, namely competitive tax rates and incentives, and infrastructure and streetscape improvements.
Rather than investing in certain businesses that may or may not succeed -- as the city of Cincinnati has recently been experimenting with grants and low-interest loans to business owners -- the city should be looking macro and investing in infrastructure that would allow business to compete and thrive, and then step aside to allow the citizens to pick which businesses will succeed.
If I were on council, I would also look at our employer/business tax rates to make sure they are competitive with neighboring cities, and see if there are ways we could lower them. My understanding is that the occupational tax was raised about a decade ago to help fund improvements to our business districts. I'd like to see if the city could afford to lower that to the previous rate without having an impact on services and further improvements.
FTM: What sorts of future infrastructure and streetscape improvements in the city?
AM: There are still some buildings in our business districts that are either vacant or could use additional maintenance or renovations. If there is a way that the city can help incentivize such building/business owners (such as assessment freezes), I'd like to find a way to do so.
In addition to the two business districts, which have come a long way thanks to business and city leaders over the last few decades, I would also try and draw attention to the struggling Fort Thomas Plaza near the Jeff Wyler dealership and other vacant business buildings.
I'd also look at ways we can improve and maintain access to businesses, especially in the business districts, easier. Whether this is finding ways to improve and increase parking or just ensuring safe entry with snow removal and good lighting. As the only city council candidate on the south side of the city, I -- probably more than any other candidate -- experience firsthand the frustration of trying to find a parking spot in the Midway district when I take my family for some pizza.
FTM: Are there any issues you believe City Council has, so far, failed to address adequately or at all that, as a council member, you would bring attention to?
AM: I think the current council, past councils, and the administration have done a great job, and I'm not going to point out anything they have or haven't done effectively. Any city has budget constraints and must prioritize. If I had to pick one thing I might draw more attention to, however, again it would be to reduce the amount of vacant properties in Fort Thomas. That is not to say that Fort Thomas is a blighted city with a huge vacancy problem, but there are a fair number of vacant businesses and residential dwellings. To my knowledge, the city is not currently tracking such properties. One thing I would like to do on this front is to form a voluntary vacancy task force, with the goals of (1) compiling a list of vacant properties and (2) developing incentives and methods to encourage occupancy in vacant residential buildings. The task force would periodically report this information to the city.
FTM: Out of all the city-wide events Fort Thomas hosts each year, which is your favorite and why?
AM: I would have to say the Merchants and Music Festival. It's a fun, family-friendly atmosphere. The great music and big name headliners are a great way to bring a lot of people out, which allows us to showcase our local businesses. It’s definitely an event I’ll continue to look forward to each year.
As a council member, I’d be open to proposals for similar events if they can be financially self-sufficient. When visiting some friends in Tampa a few years ago, I went to a competitive barbecue festival. It had several vendors from across the region competing for bragging rights, and some great music. I’d love to see Fort Thomas utilize its amphitheater to hold a similar barbecue cookoff/music festival—perhaps a Barbecue, Beer and Bluegrass festival—I’m not aware of any similar festivals in the greater Cincinnati/NKY area that offer a similar combination of food and music and I’d love to see Fort Thomas become host to something like that.
FTM: Even though the City Council elections are non-partisan, do you have a political party of affiliation that you wish to identify?
AM: Since this is a non-partisan election I’d prefer to keep my party affiliation out of it. I would also like to point out that I think it’s a good thing to have these positions as non-partisan. Absent the rare instances where council might pass a resolution, such as a gun control resolution that is not really in the purview of the city council’s duties, I find that being a republican, democrat, libertarian, etc., isn’t necessarily a good indicator of how a person might vote on city matters. The issues properly before a city council don’t necessarily fit well within a national party platform. I think it’s important for city council candidates and voters to talk about issues affecting the city and possible solutions. It’s important for this dialogue to happen.