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Thursday, September 5, 2019

City Council Roundup: Tax Rate, Bond Issuance, Golf Carts, Grow Grant

The Fort Thomas city council will meet twice in September. The next meeting will be September 16.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

The September 3 meeting of Fort Thomas City Council opened with a moment of silence to honor city staff member Harry Holtkamp, who served as the city mechanic for 11 years. He died suddenly due to an illness on August 28.

City Administrator Ron Dill recently wrote, "Harry was a genuine individual and a beloved member of our 'Fort Thomas family.' He was quite literally the central hub for what we accomplish here every day, the unsung hero type that kept our fleet of vehicles on the road...Aside from fixing everyone's mechanical issues, he had a warmth and charm that everyone appreciated. Harry wasn't just vital to our daily operations as a city, he was respected and loved by everyone in our organization. He will be dearly missed by all of us."

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A proposal for the 2019 tax rate

Before the meeting, the city held a public hearing to announce and discuss the tax rate proposal for 2019. The current property tax rate is $.390 per $100 of assessed value. The new rate would be $.397 per $100, a 1.8 percent increase over the prior year.

The increase would result in a four percent projected increase in revenue for the city. Kentucky's House Bill 44 permits municipalities to increase tax rates (without a levy referendum) up to the compensating rate ($.382) plus four percent revenue increase.

Fort Thomas has adjusted the tax rate to allow for four percent revenue increase each year. The increase would bring the city $216,881 in additional revenue. The 2019 budget was developed with this increase included. The total 2019 anticipated tax revenue (including the proposed increase) is $5,740,103.

City officials noted in their request that real property values in Fort Thomas went up by 2.2 percent this year, and the proposed tax rate provides necessary funds but is less than that amount.

This was the first reading of the tax rate ordinance.

Communications in focus

City resident Tiffany Huber addressed council to share feedback and ideas about city communications. The city is in the process of making improvements to its website, but Huber listed three top issues of concern:

  • Search functionality
  • Email sign up for city notifications, news and alerts
  • Taping of meetings, especially city council and Planning and Zoning committee

Dill responded that the city reached out for help on the website from Northern Kentucky University Informatics that developed the site initially. Yet, NKU has not responded. The next step, he said, would be to consider hiring an outside person to serve as a project leader for development of the site.

Taping of meetings was a key concern for Huber. She noted that people have physical restrictions, family obligations or other reasons they may not be able to attend meetings. Highlands High School tapes city council meetings, but city committee meetings are not taped.

One source of confusion for many who do attend meetings is when and how to address council on topics of interest. "I’ve started putting together a grid. There is great confusion by constituents who do not know when they can talk about a topic and when they cannot talk...when it is an appropriate time to talk."

She used the example of a recent Planning and Zoning hearing. The hearing was set to discuss two very specific changes to the Central Business District plan project. Someone addressed the committee about other issues related to the project but learned that those issues were part of the development agreement that had been passed, and could not be part of the discussion at the hearing.

Huber said she hoped there could be a way to show people at what point in various processes input is acceptable. Mayor Eric Haas encouraged her to share her work with him directly on this issue.

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Moving the bond issue forward for the Central Business District project

Jim Parsons, a partner at Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL, addressed council to request two agreements that together would move the process forward for the issuance of industrial revenue bonds (IRBs) for the Central Business project.

He explained that there were two agreements needed for preparation for the bond issuance: A memorandum of agreement to issue the bonds for the project and an agreement to accept a pilot agreement in lieu of taxes. The second agreement would be added to letters of agreement from the Fort Thomas Independent School District and Campbell County Fiscal Court.

These agreements are needed to move forward on the IRB, he said. Once in hand, a request would be made to have a hearing in Frankfort, and then, if it passes, the city would then vote to issue the IRBs.

An IRB was used in funding the recent Alexander Circle project and is a common financing mechanism for large development projects. IRBs are attractive to developers because they offer a lower interest rate and a long-term, fixed-rate financing package. The bonds are not tax exempt.

The bonds are sponsored by a public entity (state or local government), but the bonds are used by a private business (the developer) to secure financing for the construction and other aspects of project development. The developer is totally responsible for repayment of the loans.

It is important to note, said Parsons, that Industrial Revenue Bonds do not create a debt for the city. Even though the city issues the bonds, it is acting as conduit and has no financial obligation.

With an IRB, local governments forego property taxes for the promise of future value and revenue from the project as well as the jobs it will create in construction, management and maintenance of the development.

A special payment agreement, known as a “pilot,” is offered to offset some of the loss of property taxes and to help support the school districts. Payment of the pilot is based on the current value of the average home in the city. The payment would continue throughout the terms of the 30-year loan.

Clearing a path for golf carts

The Law, Labor and License committee, with the help of city attorney Jann Seidenfaden, prepared a draft ordinance for allowing golf carts on city streets. The committee had been working on the issue for several months and was ready to recommend allowing the golf carts.

The carts are allowed by Kentucky law although under a very specific set of rules and guidelines. The city ordinance follows the state law but the language is simplified and makes reference to the state law for more detail.

Key in the council’s discussion of the proposed ordinance was concern about insurance and registration for the vehicles. Police Chief Casey Kilgore said the state law does require owners show proof of insurance when having their vehicle inspected as part of the state requirements.

Campbell County Sheriff Mike Jansen is preparing for an influx of golf carts and has designated and trained a deputy to facilitate registration, said Kilgore. He said he expects the sheriff will explore ways to expedite inspections through a designated day and other parameters. Owners will be required to obtain a permit each year.

City officials agreed education of owner obligations and rules will be an important factor moving forward. This was the first reading of the golf cart ordinance.

Some of the requirements of the ordinance would, in part be:

- Carts are limited to be driven from dawn to dusk.
- Must be driven on a roadway 30 m.p.h. or less.
- Drivers many not cross roadway at an intersection where the roadway being crossed is 35 m.p.h. or greater except Highland and Grand, Pentland and Grand, Woodfill and Alexandria and Grandview and Alexandria.
- The operator must be 19 years of age or older.
- Headlights, taillights, seatbelts, horn must be included and approved on inspection.

There will be a fine schedule for violations also written into the ordinance.

Dill said a F.A.Q. will be delivered to those registering their vehicles upon registration so that the rules and obligations are clear.

City administrator’s report

Dill updated council on ongoing projects. Six bids for the Shelter Three project in Tower Park were opened last week, but they were a bit higher than hoped. All the bids were very close to each other, he said.

The plan now is for the city architect to look over the bids to make sure they are correct, and then staff will sit down with the three lowest bidders to find out where the higher-than-expected costs come in and might be addressed. The project will be rebid, and he expects a decision by next council meeting.

Good news came through on the Memorial Parkway road issue. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has agreed to fix the situation that occurs near the Overlook Apartments. An engineering design flaw caused the issue, he said. The state required the apartment developers to create an additional lane, which the developers did. The construction of the lane then was approved by the state.

Unfortunately, the base of the road under the new lane is not as deep as the existing lane and water under the pavement was trapped and came out onto the new section causing ice to form. The fix is already underway. The state will install under drains and provide resurfacing to eliminate the problem. Work is expected to be completed by mid-November.

Dill also urged residents and officials to take the TANK 2020 System Redesign Survey. TANK officials are embarking on a major project to overhaul the public bus system, including redesign, rerouting and reconfiguration of routes. TANK officials have met with public administrators, plans to hold public hearings, and has posted the survey to gather more input.

RELATED: TANK Conducting 2020 System Redesign Survey

City Grow Grant off to a promising start

Economic Development Director and Renaissance Manager Debbie Buckley shared a report with city officials on the progress of the city’s Grow Grant program. She announced that the Renaissance Board and the Design Review Board selected 11 projects to receive the matching improvement grants.

The city leases usage of its cell phone tower (located behind the city building) to telecommunications companies and nets the city about $60,000 per year. That money is now used to fund the Grow program for business improvements including facades, signage, windows, doors and other front-facing building improvements. The businesses apply for the 25 percent grant upon completion of the work.

The program disbursed $80,000 in funds, $20,000 in 2018 and $60,000 in 2019. Here is list of the recipients and the projects funded through the grant between the start of the program through this year:

  • Doug Schoepf, 880 Alexandria Pike (office building): black awnings; bronze doors to match windows; accent railings; black benches permanently mounted ($15,227.25)
  • Tracy Davis, 919 N. Fort Thomas Avenue (State Farm insurance agency): replacement of garage door on Memorial Parkway side of property ($918.06)
  • Hank Pogue, 654 Highland Avenue (Highland Plaza): repair of Highland Plaza sign marquee ($1,096.95)
  • Hank Pogue, 654 Highland Avenue (Highland Plaza): repair of deck and lattice ($8,964.61)
  • Ashli Slawter, 33 N. Fort Thomas Avenue (Schöne Kitchen Design): restoration of porch ceilings, paint and stain; replacement of 3rd floor window; installation of classic iron railings; installation of new post and railings on roof deck ($8,494.57)
  • David Gross, 26 N. Fort Thomas Avenue (Fort Thomas Drugs): replacement of leaking metal canopy roof ($11,589.18)
  • David Gross, 24 N. Fort Thomas Avenue (Gross Insurance Agency): replacement of front entry door at 24 N. Fort Thomas Avenue ($3,105.21)
  • Craig Seiter, 26 N. Fort Thomas Avenue (Fort Thomas Drugs): sign bracket and repair of sign at 26 N. Fort Thomas; removal and disposal of lighting components of light; installation of new cabinet for sign; frame for sign ($2,700.18)
  • M/M William Kinsella, 1107 S. Fort Thomas Avenue (Kaleidoscope Dance): restoration of Kaleidoscope sign ($1,826.37)
  • Ken Warden, 1 S. Fort Thomas Avenue (Warden and Associates Realty): remove/replace bricked up street level windows; paint exterior brick/frame/trim; remove concrete block from basement windows; replace block with glass block with vents; installation of 24-foot cloth awning in front and on side of building ($15,530.03)
  • Lisa Kelly, 1118 S. Fort Thomas Avenue (Dirty Hairy’s): replacement of awnings; paint window trim and doors; installation of two permanent benches; installation of covered pergola and privacy wall on courtyard side ($10,547.59)

Buckley and Dill thanked the Design Review Board for providing professional design assistance to applicants and guidance to the Renaissance Board.

"They funded a lot of great projects. I think there was a lot that was learned through the process...I think we got much better projects, much better value for the projects that were planned by our businesses, and they appreciated the professional input," said Dill.

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