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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Street Improvement Policy, New Ordinances, Resident Concerns at City Council Meeting

Fort Thomas City Council congratulates Fire Department Lieutenant Kyle Kaufman

  By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

An update on city projects, a new look at the city's street resurfacing program and concerns by a group of homeowners were among the topics discussed at the December meeting of Fort Thomas city council.

In the visitors’ section of the meeting, city council heard concerns from Melanie Powers, president of the Pearson Street Home Owners Association. The HOA represents six homeowners who live on the west side of the street in Tower Park.

As part of the Alexandria Circle project, the Northern Kentucky Water District had the water main moved from behind the homes to the front, which required new services into all the residences. Delays in the project left openings inside yards that allowed water to seep into basements and cause damage. According to Powers, the issues have not been addressed, and each time it rains more damage is incurred.

Homeowners seek city help

"The Water District approached us very early on in the construction phase of Alexander Circle and needed our agreement to change water pipes that were both in and around the homes there on Pearson Street,” she said.

"They promised us that we would be very happy with the results and, that by allowing these changes, our homes would be improved. We were promised minimal disturbance to the homes and that there would not be any damage in any way to the historic homes or to the HOA common grounds.”

The promises were false, she said. "What actually happened was that JNT Excavating, subcontracted by the Water District, completed substandard and incompetent work...That incompetent work has led to serious water damage in five of the six homes."

The homeowners have consulted engineers with expertise in this type of work and were told it was substandard, she said. As it stands now, there is an open hole in the common area and large trenches on the properties.

Despite numerous phone calls by Pearson and assistance to push the water district by Dill, she said her group has not heard from the water district, or the contractors involved.

"We now face thousands of dollars in damages, attorney fees, storage fees because five of the six of us can no longer use our basements for storage and other assorted expenses. This is wrong, no matter how you look at this," she said.

Looking for resolution

Powers asked the city for help pressuring the Water District and the contractors to respond and, perhaps to set up a fund to help offset the homeowners’ costs.

City Manager Ron Dill explained that the issue falls under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Water District, but the city will continue to advocate for resolution for the home owners.

In the meantime, the residents are working with their own attorneys to push for repairs and compensation. So far, the contractors’ insurance companies have not offered reasonable compensation, said Powers.

Both Dill and Mayor Eric Haas have agreed to meet with the residents soon after Christmas. "We will try to stay on top of the information as we’re notified, continue the conversations with the Water District to encourage them to do something, but a lot of it’s out of our hands. Whatever we can do to help, we will do it," said Haas.

Public safety departments report

Fire Chief Mark Bailey announced the promotions of two city firefighters. He congratulated Captain Rich Daugherty and Lieutenant Kyle Kaufman for their well-deserved advancement.

RELATED: Fort Thomas Promotes Two Firefighters

Interim Police Chief Brent Moening gave the police report. A highlight of the month, he said, is the annual Cops and Kids event sponsored by the Campbell County Fraternal Order of Police, which raises money for the project throughout the year. This year, the department hosted 65 area children taking them to breakfast and lunch and providing $300 to each child for toys, presents and clothing for the holidays.

While the month included positive highlights such as the shopping event and the "ride with and officer to school day," Moening said it’s a season that is marred by an increase in burglaries and thefts.

He congratulated and thanked one area resident who was very helpful in the apprehension of a package thief operating in the area near the Gettysburg Apartments.

"He called to say he’d seen a suspicious vehicle in the area several times," Moening explained. "Two of our officers, Officer [Brandon] Vance and Officer [Brad] Reichenbach located the suspicious vehicle. From the front of the vehicle to the back was full of packages. They recovered $2,867 worth of stolen items. It’s an ongoing investigation, but we believe that this person had stolen $4000 worth of merchandise."

The police are in the process of returning the stolen goods to residents.

City manager reports health plan success

Dill reported shared progress on the city’s employee health plan. It is the first year of the self-funded plan. Data available only covers about three-quarters of the year in the program, yet, all indicators are very positive, he said.

"We are managing our expected increases, working with our employee groups... maintaining status quo for next year."

This year, he does expect a modest increase of about 7.1 percent, which is in line with where the city has been on projected numbers, but he expects more cost control as the program continues. "This year we will work with our groups, identify cost savings and implement them throughout the year." City council voted to approve continuation of the program.

Catching up with ongoing projects

Fort Thomas began celebrating Veteran's Day at the Charters of Freedom Monument in 2017

Before it gets lost in the holidays and end-of-year business, Dill said he wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone involved in the annual Veterans Day celebration. "We had a great crowd for our third year. It’s the right thing to do in community like Fort Thomas, and we’ve done it well. It’s become a very valuable event for our community."

The brief touch of wintery weather earlier in the season, allowed city staff to test out the work done on Memorial Parkway, said Dill. The good news is there were no ice formations, and it looks like the fix was effective.

City council and the community will hear next month on the progress of the Comprehensive Plan implementation project, Dill said. He and Chris Manning will make a formal report on this year and on the direction to take in the year ahead.

Dill also reported that the city website work has been ongoing. City staff has spoken with two contractors and will make a determination about who to work with soon.

A closer look at the street resurfacing program

Fort Thomas has used a homeowner assessment formula for street resurfacing and improvements since 1929. Council member Roger Peterman, a proponent of the system, said he feels it is a main reason that the city has been able to keep its streets looking great when other communities have struggled. He said sidewalk and street maintenance helps support Fort Thomas’ reputation as a community of walkers.

By many measures, the program has been successful, yet many homeowners say they feel it is unfair and have asked the city to take a look again at the policies. The city’s Public Works Committee has re-examined the program closely over the last year. They charged city staff with gathering all the pieces of the policy into one document.

Changes in state statutes may provide opportunities for some changes to the program. The goal of the committee was to put together an full plan in one document for review and approval.

After examining the plan, Dill said, the breakdown of the percentages for assessments remain the same – a 50/50 split for local service roads and a 60/40 split with property owners for certain streets identified in the Comprehensive Plan as arterial collector roads.

"Those numbers are unchanged, however, an important aspect is that, under the revised statute it does provide for all costs associated with the program to be available for special assessment," he explained.

This doesn’t change the percentages, but it does change the methodology on what costs are included, he said.

"The recommendation is to take out everything that is a cost-related item ...except for the actual asphalt overlay and, if there is a curb replacement, the cost of materials for the curb replacement. The items that have been removed are all the incidental costs, full depth repairs, spot curb repair, publication costs, advertising costs and engineering costs for the program."

This change will equate in an average overall reduction of costs for homeowners of between 10 and 12 percent, he said.

Another change in the policy will be to allow those with frontage over 150 percent of the average for their street, two years to pay the assessments, interest free.

The statute allows for recovery of some costs through other means, including use of the franchise fee, which would spread the cost of street repairs across many more people in the community. Dill said council can expect more conversation on this idea in future months.

Central Business District project agreement addendum

Rick Greiwe presented an update of work on the Central Business District at the city council meeting.

He said the marketing campaign will start in earnest near the first of the year, Greiwe said. "We are going to hit it really hard for six months and see what turns up. In the meantime, we are trying to nail down the local people first before we offer this to the world."

In addition to the retail spaces, the residential flats include two facing Woodland on the first floor, a second floor with nine units and a third floor along the Fort Thomas side only. Marketing for the residential units will begin in April.

"To conclude, we are going – We have a bank lined up financing, buildings have been torn down, Habitat [for Humanity] has finished with their foraging for all the things they could. You will see action again soon, excavating by the end January, and we won’t stop until it’s done," he said.

Dill introduced an addendum to the financing timeline for the project. Timeline changes and adjustments are routine in this type of project, he explained.

"The city’s commitment to purchase the area for the parking lot was tied to a time frame for the developer to secure their financing...We intentionally did not allow for the city to make any obligation financially to the project until [the developers] were at a point to show they could make the project work. They’ve done their due diligence."

The adjustments to the timeline include two changes favorable to the city, he said. The city’s purchase of the parking area would be deferred to June 30, 2020, and the date for the developer to close on financing will be March 15, 2020.

City council members passed the changes with two abstentions from Mark Collier and Adam Blau who said they did not want to vote on an agreement they had not voted in favor of originally.

Fairness and other new business

City council heard first readings on the Fairness Ordinance and some zoning amendments. A reading of the Fairness Ordinance summary was similar to those passed by other Northern Kentucky municipalities in recent months.

It reads "An ordinance creating a new chapter in the city of Fort Thomas code of ordinances to prohibit certain discriminatory practices within the city. This ordinance adopts a policy to promote fair treatment and equal opportunity for all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (over age 40), disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or familial status."

The ordinance outlines how claims of discrimination will be handled. Those alleging discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, financial and credit transactions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, will be handled by the city, including the filing, investigation, reconciliation or holding of hearings if necessary.

Other first readings included:

  • A text amendment of the official zoning ordinance to include outdoor seating as a permitted use in a General Commercial zone
  • A text amendment to add residential uses as permitted in a General Commercial zone. Residential space cannot exceed a ratio of two to one with other permitted uses and are restricted to floors other than the ground floor.
  • An ordinance accepting recommendation by the Planning Commission to amend the zoning ordinance for the real estate at 14 North Grand Avenue, changing it from Professional Office to General Commercial.

In addition to executive orders promoting Daugherty and Kaufman, council member Peterman was appointed to represent the board of council to the Ohio Kentucky Indiana (OKI) Council of Governments.

Note, the next city council meeting will be on a Tuesday, January 7.

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