|The scene last night at the public hearing for the "Special Street Repair Tax Assessment." FTM file.|
This year, residents on Arlington Place, Burnet Ridge, E. Southgate, North Fort Thomas (from Bellaire to Covert Run) and Churchill Drive are being assessed an extra tax to help pay for the street repairs. About 35 residents showed up to listen and give feedback to city officials. Residents on affected streets were notified by certified mail of the public meeting and Fort Thomas Matters published the meeting time as well.
Residents are charge based upon how many linear feet their property abuts with the street on a 50% city, 50% resident cost share. Heavier trafficked streets are assessed 60/40, with the resident paying less.
This year, estimates for each streets are:
Arlington: $10.43 per foot.
Burnet: $6.72 per foot.
E. Southgate: $8.80 per foot.
N. Fort Thomas: $11.63 per foot.
Churchill: $10.57 per foot.
Those numbers vary by street based on a number of factors including, but not limited to, the length and width of the street, number of intersections or curb height.
The majority of the residents who spoke gave feedback on their current issues on their streets regarding drainage, material or questions on how the process would be completed.
Mayor Eric Haas reiterated what he had said in previous committee meetings. "By and large the people of Fort Thomas appreciate the roads being in good shape. Even if we didn't do an assessment we would probably still do this public hearing because it provides us a wealth of information," said Haas. "If we didn't do the street assessment, we couldn't keep up with street repair the way we do. If there is no skin in the game, everyone wants their street repaired. Other cities streets aren't in as good of shape as Fort Thomas'."
Some residents who spoke at the meeting did not agree with the way the city taxes homeowners to repair the streets. Catherine Ampfer, lives on Clover Ridge and her her streets repaired two years ago. She said that she has lived all over the Commonwealth and the very idea of residents having to pay for streets to be repaired is unbelievable.
"I pay city taxes with the expectation that my tax dollars will be used for basic city services such as police and fire protection and the maintenance of local infrastructure like roads and sidewalks," she said. "Charging residents for a basic city service such as street resurfacing seems like we are being taxed twice."
Haas said that residents understand where Fort Thomas is as a city and they appreciate that the streets look good. He did concede that they'd be open to looking at other alternatives.
Craig Summerkamp, whose's LLC owns apartments on Churchill Drive agreed that the assessment for street repair is unorthodox. Summerkamp said that he canceled a plane trip when he learned of the public hearing on the special assessment. Summerkamp does not live in Fort Thomas, but said he had to be there in person to hear the city's explanation of why they charge residents for street repair. "Fort Thomas is a great city and a fine town, but I write property tax checks every year to the city and you are on the upper tier for property taxes as it is," he said. "It is very unusual for a city to also collect special taxes for (street repair) as well."
Norma LLC's repair bill was estimated at $5,022.86.
City officials talked about how the process of assessing residents for the street repairs started. It was a widely practiced procedure throughout the state that dated back to the 1920s, which is when the city began the process of collection the extra tax. Since then, officials have conceded that Fort Thomas is in the extreme minority in the state when it comes to charging its residents the extra tax.
The Municipal Road Aid Fund is what is used to pay for the streets in Fort Thomas. The majority of that is funded by the Kentucky gas excise tax, which everyone pays when they fill up at the pump. The second part of the fund is the special assessment tax. The fact that the city has an exorbitant surplus does not factor into the decision because the money from the surplus and the money earmarked for street repair are in two separate "money buckets."
There are other ways cities decide how to pay for streets. They can assess residents by front footage, by square feet or by "benefits received," which is intentionally left vague so cities can maneuver around their finances to adapt the budgets to repair streets.
The street repair assessment tax is one that city officials term "the most hated tax in the city," because many residents can pay an unfair share if their property is on a corner, or shares frontage on multiple streets.
As an example of this happened to a resident on Patricia Court. They were assessed three times in a short time because their property had frontage on Patricia Court, Newman Avenue and Jennifer Court.
State routes and government agencies are also not assessed street repair taxes.
"Other cities do not do this! The fact that (Clover Ridge) is heavily trafficked, I don't see how it's fair that I'm assessed nearly the same amount as someone on a cul-de-sac, where only their residents go up and down that street. The bus travels up and down my street four times an hour for ten hours a day," said Ampfer. "I have been told by more than one person that 'you cannot fight city hall,' but as Thomas Jefferson said, 'one man with courage is a majority.' I believe it's time to stop this additional tax for a basic city service. I challenge council to find a way to fund street resurfacing with existing tax dollars. But if Fort Thomas is okay with (being double taxed) then they deserve the government they get."
Other residents called into question the methods that the streets are repaired. According to City Engineer, Frank Twehues, the repairs should last between 25 and 30 years. One resident, who lives on N. Fort Thomas, said his street was last repaired in 1996, which was 19 years ago.
Average Assessment (estimated)
Arlington Place - $690.32 per resident.
Burnet Ridge - $3,157.21 per resident.
Churchill Drive - $2.958.19 per property owner. The majority of residents who live on Churchill Drive live in apartments. The owners of these properties will divide the costs between the many residents who live there, so the final cost will be significantly lower.
E. Southgate - $626.54 per resident.
N. Fort Thomas Avenue - $976.98 per resident.
Highest Assessment Per Street (estimated)
Arlington Place - $1,420.36 (highest). There are 3 residents who'll pay over $1,000.
Burnet Ridge - $8,535. 07 (highest). There are 5 owners who'll pay over $1,000, including 2 who'll pay over $3,000.
Churchill Drive - $5,190.61 (highest). Most of these properties are apartments, churches or businesses. There are 6 owners who'll pay over $2,000 and 3 owners who'll pay over $4,000.
E. Southgate - $1,896.53 (highest). There are 3 residents who'll pay over $1,000.
N. Fort Thomas Avenue - $4,974.85 (highest). There are 7 owners who'll pay over $2,000 and 27 residents who'll pay over $1,000.
At the state level last night in Frankfort, the Senate and House approved a plan to stabilize the State Road Fund, which is used to build and maintain roads, by not allowing the gas tax to drop by 5.1 cents a gallon on April 1.
The plan would drop the tax from 27.6 cents a gallon to 26 cents and then make 26 cents the new floor for the tax.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, strongly opposed the new plan, but the Senate approved it on a 29-9 vote. The House followed with a 67-29 vote and sent it to Governor Steve Beshear.
House Leader, Greg Stumbo, said there were not enough votes in the House to freeze the state’s gas tax, but he later said lawmakers were having second thoughts, in some cases after hearing from their local elected officials worried about the loss of road funds.
"Kentuckians understand it takes money to repair the roads if they want their roads repaired,” Stumbo said.