|Catherine Ampere addresses the Public Works Committee at the street tax public hearing on 3-22-16. Credit: Jennifer Fields-Summer.|
By Jennifer Fields-Summer
The Public Works Committee met Tuesday evening to discuss the plans to resurface five of Fort Thomas’ streets; Barrett Drive, Daisy Lane, Haywood Court, Winding Way, and Gaddis Drive.
Because Fort Thomas employs a special tax assessment on homeowners to repair these streets, they must hold a public hearing to hear feedback.
Additionally, Gaddis Drive will require a new water main, and Daisy, Winding Way, and Haywood will need spot curb repair, although that cost is not shared with residents and falls under the umbrella of city maintenance. Barrett and Gaddis will both need a complete curb replacement, and residents will only be taxed for the cost of the concrete needed to replace the curb. The work is expected to be completed in September or October 2016. Residents were present to express concerns and ask questions about the issue of sharing the cost with the city. A tentative cost of $264,787.00 is projected for these repairs, broken down as follows according to how much feet of the property runs alongside the street:
Barrett: $11.64 per foot
Daisy: $11.01 per foot
Gaddis: $12.68 per foot
Haywood: $11.174 per foot
Winding Way: $11.82 per foot
The division of cost has been determined to be 50/50 between property owner and the city. Payment plans are available at three or five years with an 8% interest rate. It had previously been discussed that there should be a larger split in cost for heavily trafficked roads, with residents possibly paying 30% as opposed to 50%, but that has not been addressed any further.
Committee chair Ken Bowman stated, “I want it to be talked about, so I may bring it up myself, but I’m kind of halfway hoping that a citizen comes up and wants to have a similar discussion as to what we had tonight with the person from Clover Ridge.” Mr. Bowman suggested one idea would be to have a smaller franchise fee and a greater share from the city, creating “some kind of hybrid that makes it less painful on those streets that are being assessed.”
A large portion of those who attended this year had simple questions about the process. But the street tax and some of the inherent inequities associated with it also made its way into the discussion. For example, when a homeowner who has a corner lot, with frontage on more than one street.
Resident Jim Gesenhues' home falls under that scenario. He brought up that his property is located on the corner of Winding Way and Haywood Court, effectively causing him to be financially responsible for two sections of street repairs, and said that was a “very bitter pill to swallow.” When Mr. Gesenhues pressed for more information about alternative financing options, Mr. Bowman responded that the possibility of franchise fees could not be addressed at this meeting but had not been taken entirely off the table.
City Administrator, Ron Dill, noted that frustrations of that part of the assessment. "Does a larger split offset a higher trafficked street? No, probably not. But the program doesn't delineate in frontage between side, rear or front of your property," he said. "There are some oddities, but it's a policy that's been set by our forefathers in the 1920s and we believe it's been successful."
A franchise fee could be imposed on a utility company in exchange for the use of public streets. This fee would be collected from its customers, paid to the city, and then in turn would be used for necessary repairs. Such fees already cover sidewalk repairs. Residents were urged to attend and broach the topic at future council meetings.
When asked about franchise fee options, council member Jeff Bezold stated, “Initially I was leaning heavily toward the franchise fee until I did more research on it. And now I am leaning more heavily towards the current way of what we are doing, simply because it works. The process works. If we have the process of the property owner splitting the cost…then, for example, this year we are doing five streets. If we did not have that, we may be able to do one street.”
Council member John Muller stated that using the franchise fee option didn’t come up in finance, but it could go back to the finance committee at some point.
But not all residents see it the same way.
Clover Ridge property owner Catherine Ampfer asked, “Is there no way you can take the tax pie and cut it differently?” Ms. Ampfer brought up the fact that the city seems to have a financial surplus as well as increases taxes every year, and that the residents’ tax dollars should first go toward the fundamental needs: police, fire protection, and the maintenance of local infrastructure like roads and sidewalks, as opposed to other undertakings such as skate parks, zip lines, and sign replacement.
“I never think that just because that’s the way it’s always been done means it’s the right thing,” she said. “Instead of looking at all these other things why not look at ways that we can do the street repairs without our residents bearing the burden of it?”
The ordinance to proceed with the 2016 Street Resurfacing Plan passed unanimously at the February city council meeting.