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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Around the County: Highland Heights Passes Tax Rate, Considers Ordinances, Honors Neighbors

The city building for Highland Heights is located at 176 Johns Hill Road.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

The tax rate for 2019 was the lead topic at the Highland Heights city council meeting on September 3 and at a public hearing and special session held on September 27.

City Clerk Jeanne Pettit shared information about recent property value assessments for the city.

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The Property Valuation Administrator (PVA) assesses every four years, and this year assessed every house in the city including tax exempt and vacant properties, 2,804 properties in total, she said. Of that amount 1,260 properties increased in value from last year, including those that were sold for a higher amount. This represents about 45 percent of all properties in the city.

Some properties did not go up in value, she said, and there was an increase in the use of the Kentucky Homestead Credit. The Homestead Exemption allows homeowners over age 65, or those classified as totally and permanently disabled, a deduction of a specific amount from their home value before paying property taxes on the remainder. The exemption is adjusted every two years for inflation. For 2019-20, the amount that can be deducted is $39,300. Qualified homeowners would subtract that amount from their assessed value and pay property taxes on the remainder.

Based on this information, the city proposed to take the compensated tax rate plus a four percent increase that is the maximum allowed by state law without going to a referendum.

"Our city is getting bigger," said Mayor Greg Meyers. "Public works is doing a lot more. Our staff is doing much of the work on our streets, and that is a cost savings for residents. This tax rate will provide between $16,000 and S18,000 for the city budget."

The additional income will go to meet the rising cost of insurance, inflation, increases in salaries and health care, as well as the required 12 percent per year for the state retirement system, he said. "All in all the city is in great shape but we are trying to keep up with the increased costs," he explained.

The mayor also noted that, even with the increased valuations, taxes will actually go down slightly for many area homeowners.

The rate for last year was $1.68 for each $1,000 in valuation, and this year the new rate of $1.62 per $1,000 includes the four percent allowable increase.

A first reading of the rate ordinance was heard on September 3. After a public hearing on the new rate, the council voted to approve it at the special session held after the hearing on September 27.

Council discusses the need for local fairness ordinances

In August, the city of Dayton, Kentucky, passed a local Fairness Ordinance that outlines civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people, specific protections that have not yet been included in the state civil rights laws. After Dayton became the 12th municipality to do so, advocates have been visiting other cities in Northern Kentucky with the hopes of adding more cities to the list.

Highland Heights council members welcomed Chris Hartman, executive director of the state’s Fairness Campaign to speak about the ordinance at the September 3 council meeting.

"When I was hired 10 years ago, there were only three cities where you could not fire someone from a job, deny them a place to live or kick them out of a restaurant or any public place if someone suspected they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," said Hartman. "Now we’ve got a dozen cities across the commonwealth of Kentucky that protect against that...I would love to see Highland Heights be city number 13."

Local fairness ordinances are necessary, said Hartman, because the commonwealth of Kentucky is among the 28 states that do not include protection for gender orientation or identity in state civil rights laws. While the Fairness Campaign continues to lobby the legislature to update Kentucky’s laws, cities are encouraged to create their own ordinances to add the protections currently missing at the state level.

Hartman explained that crafting a fairness ordinance is fairly simple. The ordinance is generally crafted by a city’s attorney to fit the needs of the specific community. Model ordinances from Dayton, Covington and other cities are available for city attorneys to examine and use. University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcusson, who is on the board of the Fairness Campaign, is an expert on the ordinance and is also available to assist cities with development of an ordinance.

Complaints about violations of a fairness ordinance usually are heard by a city’s Human Rights Commission or by the city administrator if the municipality does not have a commission. Hartman said most complaints are resolved through mediation, but if that should fail, the city council would typically serve as the adjudicating body.

Hartman went on to explain that fairness resolutions always include exemption clauses, typically for small businesses employing eight or fewer people, churches and church-run businesses or rental situations in which a person might rent a room in the residence of the owner or owner’s family.

When asked about religious objections, Hartman said Kentucky has one of the strongest religious freedom restoration acts in the nation. These acts state that no law can burden a person’s sincerely held belief. A person could use a religious freedom act as a defense against complaints of violation of fairness ordinances but, again, these are usually resolved through mediation between all parties involved.

An issue that resonates with students and employers

Council member Rene Heinrich asked what the benefits to having a fairness ordinance might be. Anecdotally, said Hartmen, cities that have passed fairness ordinances have never cited any type of negative impact, and some credit the ordinances with opening doors to job growth. Vicco, a town in Perry County, has the distinction of being the smallest city in the country to pass a fairness ordinance. The town’s story was shared in the media and garnered a great deal of good will and support for the city including the donation of a park and playground equipment.

Major corporations recognize the advantages of having a fairness ordinance in place, said Hartman. These policies help in recruitment and retainment of employees and those, in turn, contribute to the financial health of a corporation and a community.

In Highland Heights, said Heinrich, "General Cable is one of the many employers as is Northern Kentucky University...I know that General Cable has adopted fairness language in their handbook."

Pettit added that the city of Highland Heights includes similar non-discrimination language in its own employee handbook.

In addition to employee recruitment and retention, Hartman pointed out that fairness protections also resonate with young people who may be considering higher education choices as well as jobs.

Northern Kentucky University Student Body President Jarrett Lopez also addressed council on the fairness ordinance. "I’m here today to speak strongly in favor of Highland Heights adopting a fairness ordinance. As someone who has been openly gay since I was 13 years old, from a small town 150 miles away from here, I’ve never felt as safe as I do on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. But it’s Northern’s fairness policy that is built into every aspect of campus life that has contributed to my sense of safety," he said.

"As northern Kentucky moves into the future, we have to ensure that our residents have the protection to live, work and simply exist in these communities. Without them the 15 to 20 percent of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender who currently attend NKU will find somewhere else to live after they graduate, a city they can be safe in."

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Celebrating beauty and honoring good neighbors

Homeowners for three properties were selected to receive the city’s Beautiful Front Yard awards in September.

The Gillum home

City officials honored Teresa and Michael Gillum of Crestwood Avenue, Sharon and Robert Montgomery, who live on Knollwood Drive, and Erinn Smith and Wilfredo Marquez of Renshaw Road for their work to bring beauty to the community through their front yards.

The Montgomery home

The program began in 2018 to honor those who enhance the curb appeal of their homes and in turn that of the neighborhood and city. Members of the city's Tree Commission evaluate and make the awards.

The Smith Marquez home

Council member John Hoffert had two nominations for the city’s Good Neighbor award. Anyone in the Highland Heights community can nominate someone for the award. Once nominated, the council votes and then the award is presented. The award goes to citizens who have made a difference in the community by helping out their neighbors.

"Diane Brossart and Tom Schulte have volunteered at the Pantry of Hope for the last two years and have been there almost every Saturday helping serve the needs of the people of our community. They also are active members of the Highland Heights Tree Commission," said the mayor.

Meyers also took the opportunity to congratulate and honor Golman Hill who is celebrating his 100th birthday. The mayor presented a proclamation to Hill declaring October 20 to be "Golman Hill Day" in the city. The proclamation outlined some of Hill's personal history including his marriage to Celia Jane for 73 years, his six children, his time serving during WWII, his career at Hilton Davis Chemical, his union leadership and his church membership at Apostolic Church in Alexandria. The document read in part, "Golman is a model citizen who is very friendly, and continues to walk throughout his neighborhood visiting with neighbors.

Highland Heights Mayor Greg Meyers proclaims October 20 Golman Hill Day.


More city business and reports

Pettit said she’d recently attended an all-day session on the Kentucky retirement system. The first part of the day was aimed at those preparing for retirement, while the rest of the day was devoted to an Employer Reporting Compliance and Education conference outlining data collection and entry for the retirement system.

She also met with the tax compliance manager for Campbell County to get a better understanding of occupational licensing and collection of occupational taxes. She said she was pleasantly surprised to learn all the work the county does to ensure information is accurate.

City engineer Dave Whitacre reported that street repairs were set to begin early in September for Jillian Court, Hilltop Road and Knollwood Drive. Crews must tear out sections of the roadway as they go and the whole process is expected to be completed within about a month and a half.

On zone enforcement, Whitacre noted that the area behind Stockyard Bank will undergo paving repairs. The owner of the property has contracted for the work and is waiting for work to begin.

The situation with the BP gas station has run into communication road blocks, said Whitacre. He has reached out to the property owners in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with no response. He spoke with the manager of the BP store (pumps are out of service), but that person was unaware of the property owner’s plans. Some residents have said they noticed work being done on the property, but this has not been communicated to the city or the store management.

Public Works Supervisor Steve Lehman reported that the Kentucky Sewer District (SD1) will be redoing sewer lines on private properties along Ridge Hill Drive. This will affect residences at 126 to 132 Ridge Hill, across from Squire Court. The homeowners have all been notified.

City attorney Steven Franzen requested council approve a resolution that would allow Mayor Meyers to execute a tax incentive agreement with the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority for the Fairmont/Northern Kentucky University development project. The developer requested and was granted a state TIF incentive in 2018, and the finance authority is working on the compensation package for the developer. The city, as manager of the development area, is required to sign onto the agreement, and the resolution will give the mayor the authority to sign once the agreement is ready.

Franzen also noted a first reading of updates to the city’s noise ordinance. The ordinance has not been changed since 1982. The new language would outline noise restrictions between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. New language was added to define excessive noise as well as a measurable decibel limit. The second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the October council meeting.


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