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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Alexandria Welcomes New Member, Discusses City Investments

Alexandria city council is continuing to explore ideas and focus on a new city sign in the coming year.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor   

The Alexandria City Council met twice in November. At the November 7 meeting, Mayor Andy Schabell officially welcomed Tom Baldridge to the council. Baldridge, who had been serving on the council in an interim capacity, won his seat in the November 5 election. Baldridge serves as chair of the council’s Personnel Committee and is a member of the Public Works and Beautification committees.

While city paving work and other city business was finishing up for the end of the calendar year, officials had some substantive discussions about local issues as well as preparations for the holiday season.

Orangetheory Fitness at Newport Pavilion. 

Financial investment opportunities for the city

The city’s Finance Committee has set a meeting for December 5 to discuss investment opportunities for the city. These opportunities have opened up over the course of the last month due to a change in state law. The new law allows cities to pool some of their money to invest in opportunities beyond money market funds or CDs, investments that are generally very safe but that provide a low rate of return.

Finance Committee Chair Stacey Graus said the committee recently heard from the Kentucky League of Cities about the changes and opportunities in the new investment policies.

To participate, cities are required to do three things, said Graus:
  1. To create and pass an investment policy that is in line with the state statue.
  2. Enter into an interlocal agreement to be able to participate in the pool of money.
  3. Open an account with PNC bank, the selected institutional investor for the pooled funds.
He said the advantage to these investments is not only the higher rate of return, but also the access to funds. Unlike investments where money is tied up for a set time, the city could have access to the money right away.

"Another advantage is we can put a couple hundred thousand into an account and save it for a capital improvements project but also, if we can think we will get a rate of return of five percent, we could allocate two or three percent of that money...into our budget for that year," he explained.

"It’s a great opportunity," he added. "With any kind of investment there is that chance for risk, because equities are involved...but we can hedge what we put in there to reduce the risk but also give us a chance to have a good return...Now we have an opportunity to get a decent rate of return so we can grow that money and use it for a particular purpose or put it back into our fund for next year’s budget."

The council passed the ordinance to create an investment policy in accordance with state statue, clearing the way for the special meeting for discussion of investment and next steps.

Traffic calming discussion

At the November 21 meeting, city officials reported that street paving work was almost complete. Weather had caused delays, but the city only had one more street to finish up for the season.

As part of the completion of the street work, the city also is set to install a speed bump, or as it is known, a "traffic calming device" on Brookwood Drive. Council member Susan Vanlandingham, chair of the Safety Committee, raised some concerns about the procedure in selection of when and where to install speed bumps and related devices.

She stated that, while it is proven that these types of devices can slow traffic, many municipalities are opting for alternative methods for slowing traffic due to the cost of such projects. She pointed to the financial cost of installment and maintenance, which can range from $2,000 to $4,000 plus the cost of increased wear and tear on city vehicles, the slow down of emergency response time and expected complaints about the noise of engines and pollution from emissions.

"At a minimum, we should formulate guidelines for evaluating the need for these devices and a policy outlining the requirements necessary for their installation. This guide should include setting a criteria for determining if the device is favored by the majority of the population affected; setting a criteria for determining if the physical location of the device is appropriate, i.e., driveways, drainage, utility locations; and lastly, establish a plan for payment of the device installation, marking, upkeep and, if necessary, future removal."

Traffic calming devices, she noted, must be installed as part of a series of traffic calming along a route, either more than one speed bump or in proximity to traffic lights and stop signs.

Mayor Schabell said a process was used for selection of the upcoming speed bump, and that there are two ways in which traffic calming might be added in an area. In one way, the city decides based on data collected and input from the community. Another option is for residents to use a process in place to submit requests. He admitted the process can be cumbersome and is not used often.

To keep costs down, the speed bump will be installed using equipment and resources already onsite for the current street work. Data on traffic patterns in the area is being collected.

It was agreed that more data collection may be needed after the device is installed as well as exploration of alternatives to these devices.

Vaping as a health issue

At the November 7 meeting, Bill Rachford, a resident of Stonegate Drive, addressed council with his concerns about vaping and its possible adverse affects on health, especially the health of young people. He asked if more could be done to limit access to these devices, including changing zoning to limit the number of vaping vendors in the city.

Council member Sue Neltner said there are "no smoking" ordinances in place and most private property owners include vaping when banning smoking of tobacco. The mayor and other council members noted the concern but also said vaping is legal for adults and often used to reduce smoking tobacco. Supplies are available at local convenience stores and gas stations as well as vaping businesses.

Council member Kyle Sparks noted that "As far as vaping in the U.S., most of the health issues are not caused by actual licensed vaping businesses. They are caused by bootleg vaping ingredients coming from other countries. So far, there is no evidence that normal, over-the-counter vaping has killed anyone...I don’t necessarily want to see another vaping store, but shutting down legal places might open the door for illegal activity."

The council agreed to study the issue and report back on any ideas later at the November 21 meeting. At that meeting Sparks reported that new health studies were indicating that vitamin E added to some vaping formulas coming from outside the U.S. may be attributed to the lung deaths across the country that have been associated with vaping.

Members said they would keep a close eye on the health information about the practice now unfolding and watch for additional federal guidelines.


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