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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fort Thomas City Council Goes Live for March Meeting

Fort Thomas city council provided live coverage of their March meeting on Facebook.

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

On March 16, Fort Thomas city council went live on Facebook with its monthly meeting. The move to provide live coverage had been part of a developing communications plan for the city, but with the situation created by recent events, officials decided to move forward quickly to provide the option for residents.

Monitoring the situation, city staff and officials have been making quick decisions and plans to keep citizens safe while still providing services, said Mayor Eric Haas.

At the meeting, Haas read an executive order declaring a state of emergency in the city.

After references to the state of emergency called by President Trump and by Governor Beshear, the mayor’s order read, in part:

"Whereas, COVID-19, a respiratory disease that can result in serious illness or death and can easily spread from person to person; and

"Whereas, the emergency response of the city of Fort Thomas must be deployed rapidly to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens; and

"Whereas, it is necessary for Mayor Haas to coordinate emergency effort with national, state, county and other local agencies for maximum effective response."

The declaration went on to list out Kentucky statutes giving authority to the declaration and a statement of cooperation with state, county and federal efforts to respond to the emergency.

City business moves forward

Due to the nature of the situation, the council meeting was streamlined to include the most important items of city business first and to keep the meeting as short as possible.

On its second reading was an ordinance to approve a five-year non-exclusive franchise agreement with MCImetro for use of public streets and facilities for transmission communication services. The ordinance passed.

The mayor also made several reappointments to city boards, including:

  • Hans Tinkler to Planning Commission
  • Jim Beineke to Board of Adjustment
  • Joey Hood to Tree Commission
  • Barb Manyet to Tree Commission
  • Pat Hagerty to Design Review Board

Changes in retail alcohol sales rules

The council also heard first readings of two ordinances to amend city code to change some parameters on retail alcohol sales. Council discussed the issues behind the ordinances at earlier meetings and referred them to city attorney Jann Seidenfaden for drafting.

An ordinance to amend city code to change the times permitted for Sunday liquor sales would change start time from 11 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The topic was first introduced by council member Adam Blau in January. He noted that state liquor laws do allow for the sale of alcohol from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, but provides for communities to set their own restrictions.

The restrictions of nearby communities have been changing. Recently, the city of Bellevue joined Newport in moving the start time for Sunday packaged alcohol sales to 9 a.m. Blau said he had been in contact with several business owners and all were in favor of the time change.

In February, council member David Cameron, chair of the Law, Labor and License Committee, introduced another issue affecting businesses that serve alcohol. The city of Fort Thomas charges $1,000 per year for alcohol licenses, which is high compared to other cities in the county. In fact, the state license fee is $830 per year, he noted.

Some license holders had complained that the Fort Thomas fee was higher than neighboring cities as well as the state. The ordinance would bring the fee down to $830 per year.

Both ordinances make changes that are in keeping with the council’s overall goal of unifying rules and regulations for local communities throughout the county and area, noted council member Mark Collier.

"This may seem small to some but these are changes that help ensure we give the same opportunity to our businesses to compete with the markets in the surrounding communities that have already adopted the time change. This conversation allowed for the city to re-evaluate how much we charge for our liquor licenses in town. And in turn. we found out we could lower it to be more in line with state fees – a win win for everyone," said Blau.

Council will vote on these ordinances after a second reading, scheduled for the April council meeting.

City administrator’s report

City Administrator Ron Dill noted that bids were in for a resurfacing project throughout Tower Park. The project would include resurfacing the parking areas around the ball field, the Mess Hall, parking on Cochran Avenue, Alexander Circle and parking at the Shelter 3 project. The resurfacing for Alexander Circle would be reimbursed through that project’s contractor, he noted.

He said an alternative bid also included sidewalk and curb improvements but it was decided city work crews could do much of that work and taking it out of the bid helped keep costs down.

City staff recommended and council voted to approve the lowest bid of $243,576 for the project.

Dill also reported that the North Fort Thomas sidewalk project had been moving along slowly but passed a milestone recently. The city has received consent of all property owners to proceed. The next step will be to submit the project for review to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Once the project is accepted, the city can move to the bid process. The plan is to have the project begin in summer with a completion of October.

The resurfacing part of the project may be delayed until spring, said Dill, and may also be affected by a plan by the Water District to replace the water main in the area. Still, progress is happening, he said.

Annual report discussions limited

The March meeting begins a series of annual reports for city departments. Scheduled to present at the meeting were reports from the General Services Department and the Fort Thomas Police Department. Normally, more time is devoted to review and discussion of the reports, but under the circumstances, presentations were brief.

General Services Director Kevin Barbian thanked his crew and the many volunteer boards that help with planning, design, code enforcement and development for the city. He noted the major projects including One Highlands and Alexander Circle as well as several additions, remodels and upkeep on city buildings and facilities.

He also noted projects such as the bike station, tennis court resurfacing, parking lots, crosswalk improvements and improvements to the Mess Hall and other facilities. He also noted the city entered into several partnerships that brought special events including the Johnson Hullabaloo, a wrestling tournament, preschool expo, the passport program and the city’s presence at the Farmer’s Market.

He ended by asking the mayor for a proclamation for Building Safety Month in May. Kentucky is a leader in building safety, he said.

Fort Thomas Police Chief Brent Moening presented the annual Police Department report and thanked his officers who worked on the report and for all in his department for their continued service to the community.

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