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Thursday, July 23, 2020

City Council Shares Updates on Radios, COVID response, City Projects at July Meeting

Fort Thomas City Council discussed ongoing projects and issues of adjustment as new state health and safety guidelines become available.

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Updates on ongoing projects were the focus of the July 20 meeting of the Fort Thomas City Council. Most of the projects underway have been affected one way or another by the COVID-19 pandemic, but city officials are working to normalize whatever they can and to adjust as needed to changes in state and local health and safety guidelines.

Council voted to approve a resolution authorizing Mayor Eric Haas to apply for COVID-19 reimbursement money on behalf of the city. Council outlined several specific uses for the money that will be available. In particular, some of the money could be used to reimburse costs to buy full-face respirators for the Fort Thomas Fire Department.

In his monthly report to city council Fire Chief Mark Bailey praised his staff for consistently following all health and safety guidelines in their work. He noted that the department is going through disposable face masks quickly, so he and his staff are exploring the idea of purchasing masks that would be for ongoing usage.

The masks he would like to purchase are similar to the ones the fire service personnel use called Self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA masks. These include a tank, breaking apparatus, inhalation connection, mask and carrying frame.

Haas said these masks seemed appropriate equipment for coverage with the COVID-19 reimbursement funds.

In other COVID-related actions, the city has had to re-examine some of its summer plans to adjust to changes in health and safety requirements at the state level. For example, some concerts and outdoor gatherings have been canceled or put on hold. Information on these is available on the Fort Thomas City website.

Fire and police reports

Bailey shared an important update on the public safety radio system project. The project, to connect fire, police and other first responders in three Northern Kentucky counties with a new digital radio system was introduced in 2017. Officials in Campbell, Kenton and Boone counties have been working on the project since that time.

The project is finally coming together. Much work behind the scenes has been done by participants to secure funding for equipment, identify and establish infrastructure and purchase radios for all the participating agencies.

The system has been undergoing extensive testing in Campbell County, said Bailey. "I can tell you Campbell County passed the radio testing procedures with a 99 percent pass rate, so obviously near perfect. I can tell you we’re pleased with that... I can’t say enough about this system. It’s very clear," he said.

The radio system performed well, even in areas where radio communication was difficult in the old system. He added everything was crystal clear in all parts of the city that were tested.

The Fort Thomas Police Department will switch over to the new system by August, Bailey said. The Fire Department is waiting for a FEMA grant to help with costs, but he expects the department will join the system in the fall.

In other Fire Department news, the chief said the department has resumed inspections and is doing hydrant flow testing throughout the city.

Police Chief Casey Kilgore thanked Chief Bailey for his leadership in coordinating Fort Thomas participation in the digital radio public safety communication project.

In his report Kilgore noted that, with more people at home due to the virus restrictions, awareness has increased and he has received more traffic complaints concerning side streets in town. The department did stealth speed surveys on Mel Lawn Drive and Hartweg Avenue, and is examining the data gathered.

The chief also reported that placing a permanent visual speed sign on Chesapeake has resulted in an overall reduction of speed compared to a previous speed survey report.

"We collected the data on 61,000 vehicles... I think the signs are working... They show people exactly how fast they are going, and that has had an impact on driver speed and slowed that down significantly," he said.

City administrator’s report

City Administrator Ron Dill noted that utility projects with SD1 are beginning in town. Work is underway for replacement of storm sewers on Strathmore Avenue, Floral Court and Memorial Parkway. The project has or will affect property owners, mostly backyards, and those affected have been contacted. The water main replacement project is underway near Memorial Parkway and Crowell Avenue. That project will extend on Eustace and beyond city limits. The water main must be replaced before street resurfacing can begin.

Dill gave several other updates to ongoing city projects:

Alexander Circle: Site work for the Alexander Circle project is mostly finished, Dill said. Closings on the first homes is happening this month, and the city can expect some new residents moving in the next few weeks. City crews are finishing up on the park area and  will resurface the intersection of Douglas and Cochran Avenue in the next few weeks. Resurfacing in Tower Park will follow.

One Highland: The One Highland project financing is secured, and closing is happening this week. Dill said he spoke with the developer and construction contractor who both said construction will resume next week.

There is a small amount of material to be removed, he noted, and this will not go to Highland Park. That park has enough fill at this time, yet there are other city projects that need about 1,500 cubic yards and could take the fill from the One Highland site. If that is not possible, the remaining material will be transported out of town, he said.

The project is on schedule now. Footings and concrete for the first two elevations will begin in early August and continue throughout to the end of the calendar year, with framing and finishing work to follow that.

Community plan implementation: The city is continuing to move forward on the ball field with some of that project out for bid, including backstop fencing and infield grading. The plan is for this work to happen in the fall so that the field will be ready for play in the spring.

The city also has a call for bids out to replace a much-needed backhoe for the public works department.

City website: Work on the first phase of the city website redesign is nearing completion. This phase focused on functionality of the site, and users will notice a new, searchable calendar and Facebook feeds from all departments that maintain Facebook pages. The work has also focused on accessibility during this phase, according to Assistant City Administrator Joe Ewald, who is heading up the project with City Clerk Melissa Beckett.

Ewald said phase two of the project will focus on the thematic content of the site, updating the site’s look and feel. Setting up opportunities for citizens to get push notifications of important information from the city is another part of this phase.

New business

Dill noted that contract negotiations with the city’s three employee unions is nearing completion. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) that represents city police officers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing public works employees, have both signed a three-year agreement with the city. The union that represents the fire service employees, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), is set to sign pending approval of the membership.

The contracts include pay increases of 3 percent in year one, 3.5 percent in year two and 2.5 percent in year three. Also added into the contract this time is a 25-year longevity increase. The new contract also includes rank differentials with regards to pay. This means the increase is adjusted depending on the rank of the officer position.

Incentives for college education were included for police, fire and public service employees. Public service employees also are recognized for Road Master and Roads Scholar certifications.

City council heard first readings on ordinances associated with the employment contracts — an Employee Pay Ordinance (excluding Fire) and Amending the Personnel and Pay Classification Plan.

Council also heard a first reading of an amendment to the Golf Cart Ordinance. The amendment reflects a recent change at the state level allowing golf carts to be driven after dark in the city.

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