|Large crowds like this one for the 2017 Fourth of July celebration will not be possible due to the pandemic this year. Fort Thomas city council cancelled the event to keep everyone safe.|
by Robin Gee, city council beat editor
Due to the health and safety concerns and restrictions in place, the traditional Fourth of July celebration in Fort Thomas will not take place this year.
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At its May meeting, city council took up the subject of summer events in the city at the request of city staff. The city is following all federal and state guidelines, and they do not yet permit large group events such as the July Fourth celebration.
"The parade itself is not conducive for meeting any of the standards we are currently facing," explained City Administrator Ron Dill. "Frankly, a lot of what we do for Fourth of July activities are contrary to that. They are centered on large groups gathered, whether it’s the race, the parade, the party in the park with music or the fireworks."
Deciding not to reschedule for now
He presented options of either canceling altogether or rescheduling for another date or a series of dates. Council members considered the idea of rescheduling but with so much uncertainty, and with so many other events scheduled or rescheduled for later in the summer or fall, they decided the best route would be to cancel the event and not to try to reschedule it at this time.
Mayor Eric Haas noted that the city could consider expanding events at another scheduled celebration such as Veteran’s Day, if guidelines at that time would allow. Other ideas discussed included allowing for smaller events on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis at some point in the summer.
Dill noted that all the groups involved in the celebration, including the musical acts and Rozzi Fireworks offered that they would be available for a later date. Yet, the YWCA that handles volunteer coordination and running the race, does not have the staff capacity to be involved in such large events even if they were permitted right now, he said.
He also noted that the city is under no contractual obligations with regards to cancellations with any of the vendors or groups involved in this event or other events.
Council agreed that cancellation without a rescheduling date at this time would be the best option moving forward. Dill said staff is committed to continuing to explore ideas for ways to celebrate and connect in the community as the summer unfolds.
Merchants & Music and other upcoming events
Due to the need to protect residents’ health and safety, the city cancelled many events this past spring, and is looking ahead toward fall knowing that flexibility will be needed. Dill noted that it is yet uncertain what will happen with the Merchants & Music Festival planned for September. All agreed that the way forward will become clearer over the next month.
In the meantime, council discussed city parks, playgrounds and other recreational facilities in the city. At this time, Dill said, playgrounds would be difficult due to the need for constant staff supervision and very strict guidelines in place. Yet, he said, opening up more facilities as guidelines allow will be important as warm weather moves in.
"We do need to figure out how to provide quality-of-life services for residents without putting them at risk. That’s the trick right now," said council member Mark Collier.
Parks and city facilities
Dill said the city is working closely with federal, state and county agencies to follow health and safety guidelines and to plan ahead and make adjustments as things change. Fortunately, the city has been able to keep all its employees. All first responders are on the job everyday. Some office, administrative and support staff are working from home and others have staggered shifts in the office.
City offices are still closed to the public for now. While some restrictions have been lifted, the requirements in place for cleaning, separation and stringent sanitizing will mean a slower reopening plan for the city building as staff is needed in other duties.
The city is exploring how and what will be needed to reopen some recreation and public park spaces. In the meantime, city staff is working on getting surfaces prepared and other maintenance for summer use. They are also working with sports leagues to develop a plan for mid-June moving forward, but much still needs to be worked out and will be subject to guidelines.
Of particular concern are public restrooms, shelters and equipment. The city is still working out how to address the need to sanitize and monitor facilities once they are reopened. At this point these facilities remain closed.
Other city services and recovering some costs
In the meantime, the Fort Thomas Fire Department is working with other fire services in Campbell County to apply for a joint FEMA grant for personal protective equipment that will help cover expenses through the end of the calendar year. If approved, the grant will be for about $90,000 and Fort Thomas’ share would be about $9,000.
The city is tracking expenses related to COVID. Through the federal CARES act, the city may be eligible to recoup some expenses related to the pandemic. The money is restricted to expenses only and will not cover lost revenue such as rents for shelters or facilities.
While some restrictions on outdoor dining have been lifted within the city, council discussed the idea at length noting that providing added space could run up against the need to provide walkers and bikers accessibility to sidewalks and safe space to maintain social distancing.
Council members asked about using parking lanes or other spaces. City officials are working on guidelines, but admitted it is hard to determine since each situation may be different. There may be solutions such as expanding in front of neighboring businesses or taking some parking spots. All agreed it is important to sit down first with area restaurants to find out what might work for them, and how to ensure Fort Thomas remains a walkable city.
After meeting with affected businesses and neighbors, the city hopes to draft guidelines that can accommodate the needs of customers and residents alike.
Fort Thomas Farmers Market
|The good news is the Fort Thomas Farmers Market is now open (with some restrictions).|
The Fort Thomas Farmers Market is now open, although a number of restrictions apply. All state and federal guidelines will be followed including masks, gloves and safe distancing for vendors. The city is working with the volunteer board and vendors to ensure the market is safe for everyone.
Some family group activities that were planned for the market will not happen, said Dill, and there will be other restrictions based on health and safety requirements.
It is expected the Fort Thomas market will follow similar guidelines as the farmers market in Covington. At the Covington market the guidelines include masked and gloved vendors, keeping a six-foot distance, hand washing/sanitizing, no handling of produce or products, market flow in one direction and a restriction on the number of shoppers per household. Check the Fort Thomas Farmers Market Facebook page for details on how the market in this city will function.
The market is now open in the same location, Tower Park in the tennis courts lot, on Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
"We are excited about doing it. I think it will great for our community to have some normalcy, some events we can’t pull off at this point, but this is one that we think that we can," said Dill.