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Monday, September 11, 2017

City Council Roundup: Property Tax Discussion Points to Increase

Council members Ken Bowman and David Cameron during the tax rate discussion.

by Robin Gee

The 2017 property tax rate was the primary focus of the first of two Fort Thomas City Council meetings scheduled in September.

The council met on September 5 to discuss a proposal for the property tax rate, taking into account assessments provided by the Campbell County Property Valuation Administrator.

"Everything is set forth by state statutes, specifically Kentucky House Bill 44," explained Joe Ewald, director of finance.

"Our assessments increased again…as a result we end up with approximately a 10 cent per $1,000 increase for the tax rate, which actually ends up being a 2.4 percent tax rate increase."

Overall, the proposed tax rate will be .412 per $100 of property, which includes the compensating rate plus the four percent revenue increase allowable by law. The rate for 2016 was .402 per $100.

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What does this mean for the average homeowner?

Ewald explained the average single family home in Fort Thomas is worth $216,000, and so the increase would be $21.60 for that average home.

The property tax increase, however, does not tell the whole story for property owners. They will also pay school taxes, which Ewald said will increase by $56.16 on the average home.

Council members John Slawter and Ken Bowman both noted that trash collection costs are also going up. In August, council learned that the lowest bid for collection was from Rumpke, an increase of about $35 per year.

"When I started selling real estate 12 years ago, property taxes [overall] were just under $15 per thousand, now we’re at almost $20. With trash collection and school board going up, I would like us to find a middle ground instead of going for the maximum amount every time," said Bowman.

Bowman is referring to the maximum of 4 percent revenue increase allowed under Kentucky law. Cities can collect less than that, but often collect the full amount allowed, placing any additional money into reserves.

"All the years I’ve been here, every year our reserves are still going up. We haven’t had a need to dip into them. So I’m just watching all the tax burdens from all the different entities…just keeps going up and up, and I don’t want to be a contributor to that," he said.

The city's General Fund revenues over expenditures for 2017-2018 are $29, 312. About half of the city revenues come from property taxes. City payroll, business taxes and other sources, such as licensing fees, make up the rest. The operating budget for FY 2017-18 is little over $12 million.

Mayor Eric Haas said the Finance Committee has discussed this issue, and there is concern that the unknowns in the budget make it hard to forecast what will be needed. "I have two caveats that always concern me — health insurance and pensions. If we could get the health insurance and pension system issues solved, we would have better forecasting capability for the budget," he said.

Councilmember Roger Peterman added that because property taxes are fixed, they are a very reliable resource for the city. "We need to look at this in the context of all our sources of revenue and what the needs of the city are and that’s a budget discussion…We’re trying to operate the city and provide the resources people want, that’s how you want to frame the issue."

The council will vote on the tax rate proposal at its next meeting on September 18.

Deer dangers

Peggy and Herman Lauer address council about their deer concerns. FTM file. 

Herman and Peggy Lauer of Capri Drive addressed council with a concern about deer on their property.

"We want to know if there is anything the city can help us do about the deer problem, because they are really becoming a danger and a health problem," said Peggy Lauer.

City ordinance allows hunting on property that has three or more contiguous acres, but the Lauers do not have that much property. They counted 17 deer on their lot, taking a path that goes over Memorial Parkway. Lauer said the deer are not afraid of humans, and she fears getting run over by them.

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Mayor Haas asked if the Lauers could find neighbors who do have the required acreage along the path the deer take. So far, the Lauers say they have not found anyone who would be interested in allowing hunting.

Council members agreed that the issue is becoming a concern across the area. Representatives from the Department of Fish and Wildlife will be visiting with a city administrators group in October, and deer management will be an important topic of discussion, said City Administrator Ron Dill.

City administrator follows up

Dill reported on two matters discussed at the August city council meeting. The Law, Labor and License Committee will meet at 6:15 p.m. before the next council meeting and will the discuss the city’s chicken ordinance. Bryan and Jordan Dunbar of Ohio Avenue are requesting changes to the ordinance with regards to properties on corner lots.

CT Consultants, the city contracted engineering firm, is looking into concerns presented at the last city council meeting about speeding on Holiday Lane and in other neighborhoods across the city.

The engineers were asked to take a broad look at the city’s traffic flow and to include research on best practices from an engineering standpoint. CT will provide a report at the next council meeting in September or in October.

Following up on the visioning process, Dill reported all committees are meeting within the next two weeks. A kickoff event to introduce the committees and get community input is set for September 25 at 7 p.m. at the city building.

Cities support CERS separation

The Kentucky League of Cities has asked the city of Fort Thomas to sign onto a statement in support of separating the County Employees Retirement System from the Kentucky state employees system.

A special session is planned this fall to discuss possible solutions to funding and other issues surrounding the retirement system.

Mayor Haas was in favor of signing but had some concerns with the language. He interpreted it as stating that the cities would not support any changes to the current system. He said he would not want to close the local pension system off from any innovative ideas that might come from the special session or at a future date.

Since it was unclear, council changed the language in the statement to read that Fort Thomas was in support of separation of the CERS from the Kentucky Employee Retirement System, leaving off any verbiage about the future.

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