|The Brent Spence Bridge and Campbell County Library were at the center of candidates' discussion of economic development Thursday night|
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How can we guarantee Campbell County's continued economic progress?
When it comes to making Campbell County business-friendly, there was some agreement, but equal disagreement among the Campbell County Commissioner candidates, who convened a forum Thursday night before voters.
The disagreement was chiefly over what sorts of projects and initiatives the county should be supporting.
On the hot-button issues, such as tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge or a county-wide smoking ban, the candidates all issued resounding opposition, for fear of how either of these would put Campbell County businesses and services at a disadvantage, relative to the neighbors across the Licking River.
On the proposed tolls, which would fund the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge, the potential re-routing of a what the candidates collectively worry would be an unmanageable amount of traffic through Campbell County and the I-471 corridor has several candidates worried.
"No (on tolls), it would be terrible for Campbell County," Rene Heinrich, District 1 candidate, stated.
Brian Painter, incumbent and Heinrich's opponent in District 1, pointed at the federal government as the ones responsible for funding the project, referencing the recent reconstruction of the I-70 bridge crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis.
Mark Ramler, from District 3, pointed to the tolls' lopsided benefit to the region, stating, "We’re not going to have the additional money generated by the tolls to account for the extra maintenance the infrastructure will require."
Tom Lampe, current Fort Thomas City Council member and also running in District 3, also declared his opposition to tolls on the Brent Spence.
Melanie Steidel Pelle, from District 2, agreed, urging voters, "I think we need to think long and hard about who we send to Washington to work for us."
A smoking ban was an even more unanimous "no" across the board because of its implications on local business, with several candidates calling it a property rights issue.
Ramler's stance stood out, however, opposing a county-wide smoking ban because, again, it would set Campbell County at a disadvantage to its neighbors. "If our neighboring counties still allow smoking, it would be detrimental to our businesses here."
Currently, no neighboring counties ban smoking outright.
For Ramler, a smoking ban can only work as a state-wide initiative, and he would support such a measure, he said. "It is the state's job in this situation to do something about public health," he said, pointing to Kentucky's above average number of adults who smoke and cancer rates.
What's worth spending on?
Also a recent, controversial issue, when asked whether or not they would support a tax increase to pay for a new library branch in southern Campbell County, candidates launched into a debate over what makes a development project worth supporting.
Pelle, who has made her support of a facility -- she is careful not to strictly call it a "library" -- in the southern county a prominent part of her campaign, says there's no need to raise taxes at all, pointing to recent sales of county-owned properties and partnerships with the YMCA or other agencies to help offset costs.
Pelle's vision includes constructing a facility in southern Campbell County that could host a number of different events and entities, including possibly space for use by the Campbell County library.
"We want to work for economic development, but we're not doing enough toward that. People look toward good quality of life assets," she said, emphasizing the growth-potential of a multipurpose facility.
But her opponent, Charlie Coleman, is weary of the idea of such partnerships as a method of financing such projects, in that they, in his opinion, are uncomfortably close to public-private partnerships, which are illegal in the state of Kentucky.
"I am opposed (to a tax increase), and the people have spoken," Coleman said, referring to the failed 2012 ballot measure calling for such a tax increase to fund a new library facility. "It's not the Fiscal Court's role to put money into special taxing districts."
Heinrich also pointed to multi-functionality in her criticism of the Campbell County Golf Course, which is subsidized with taxpayer dollars to the tune of $1 million per year.
Heinrich, who is not opposed to the golf course, says it just needs better management and rethinking. "For taxpayers to pay over a million dollars for a piece of land that isn't serving a purpose for the bulk of the citizens, I don't think that makes sense," Heinrich charged, claiming that not enough county residents utilize the golf course to justify its expense.
Heinrich would like to see a lodge built on the course, which could host events and generate revenue. Until that happens, Heinrich says, the golf course is an "albatross that we keep paying for without any return."
"We want those projects," Painter insisted, pointing to Drees Pavilion in Covington's Devou Park as a model example. But, "if you want recreation, you've got to pay for it," he said, adding that the golf course "serves a tremendous purpose" in facilitating community and business engagement.
"Well, I'm glad Mr. Painter gets to do business on the golf course," Heinrich jabbed before concluding her remarks.
Voters will decide which three candidates will comprise the Campbell County Fiscal Court on November 4.
Thursday night's forum was hosted by the Independent Business Association of Northern Kentucky, and was moderated by Mark Collier, editor and publisher of this publication.