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Monday, June 14, 2021

Fort Thomas City Council Reviews Budget, Freezes Property Tax Rate for Second Year


Fort Thomas City Council continues to meet in the Mess Hall at Tower Park while renovations are underway at the city building.

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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Fort Thomas City Council held the first of two meetings this month to allow time to hear two readings of the proposed city budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022.

The good news for homeowners is a decision to freeze property taxes at 2019 rates for the second year in a row to provide some relief to residents.

"The city has decided, in response to those citizens affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to freeze the real estate tax rate at $3.97 per $1,000 of valuation. This is the same rate we have adopted since 2019, as this is the second straight year the rate will remain unchanged. While it’s not much, we believe that anything we can do to aid in recovery is well worth doing," said Mayor Eric Haas.

For decades the city approved budgets based on the state’s recommended compensating rate plus an additional four percent allowable by state law. With the uncertainty of the pandemic, the city took a cautious approach to the budget last year, and with support from the federal CARES Act, the city was able to forego an increase without causing much disruption with plans going forward.

The 2020-2021 Fiscal Year budget is a welcome change from the uncertainty of last year, said Haas. As the crisis period starts to close, the city is on sound financial footing, allowing for no increase while continuing to stay on track with projects outlined in its updated Community Plan. 

Botto Financial Planning & Advisory, (859) 466-2336
 

Funding for infrastructure and city projects

The projected revenues for the General Fund are just under $14 million, a 3.1 percent increase over last year and a projected balance of revenues over expenditures of $2,640. Nearly half of the revenues come from city payroll and business taxes with an additional $550,000 coming from reserve funds to cover Community Plan projects as well as necessary capital purchases.

Haas said the budget will support planned public infrastructure improvements and commitments including $800,000 set aside for street and sidewalk improvements. Also included in the budget is $200,000 for repair of the city-owned bridge on Rossford Avenue and $75,000 for traffic improvements on Chesapeake Avenue.

Projects outlined in the city’s Community Plan are also included. Many of these projects are already underway, including completion of playground structures at Tower Park Shelter #3 and the Tower Park Softball Field, public parking associated with the One Highland development in the City’s Central Business District, and the renovations and improvements to the City Building.

The city’s Finance Committee worked on the budget plan and presented it to council for the first reading. City council members on the committee include Ben Pendery, chair; Lisa Kelly and Jeff Bezold. Council will conduct a final vote on the budget at its meeting on June 21.

Honoring local teen for contributions to the city

The June 7 meeting opened with a proclamation honoring recent Highlands High School grad Noah Wormald, who has earned his Eagle Scout badge with a special project for the city of Fort Thomas.

Wormald met first with city staff to find out what was needed and how he could help. He selected a project to build a new shelter in the Fort Thomas Dog Park. Despite challenges that included the COVID-19 pandemic and the weather, Wormald built a new shelter that enhances the park and serves the entire community.

RELATED: Highlands Grad Earns Eagle Scout Badge Despite COVID Restrictions, Weather and Other Challenges

City project updates

City Administrator Ron Dill shared an update on city projects.

North Fort Thomas Avenue sidewalk — At the June 7 meeting, the project was nearing completion, with only three small sections left to go.

City Building — Utilities work and moving the tower at the back of the building have been completed allowing the contractor to begin work on the building addition at the back of the building. This includes a new elevator and offices. Aire conditioning and roof replacement are expected to be on schedule. Workers were waiting to erect a fence around the front of the building and sidewalk until after school was out. Now that has happened and the temporary fence should be in place.

Tower Park improvements — Improvements in Tower Park continue. Dill shared some slides of concept designs provided by Chris Manning of Human Nature, a partner in the Comprehensive Plan project. Plans for a splash park and practice field are included in the recreation section of the community plan. Going forward, Dill wanted to encourage community input and conversations to help define where to place amenities.

Personnel — On July 1, the city will welcome Chanda Calentine as the new city economic development director. Longtime General Services staff assistant Julie Rice has announced her retirement, and the city has included application information for that position on the city website.

Street Program — Bids went out separately for the two streets in need of resurfacing in the 2021 streets program, Waterworks Road and Wilbers Lane. Staff recommended the lowest bidders in each case and council voted to approve.

Ordinances

City council members heard first readings on the budget ordinances — an ordinance amending the 2020-2021 FY budget and an ordinance approving the 2021-2022 FY budget. They also heard first readings of the Employee Pay Ordinance and the Personnel and Pay Classification Plan, setting personnel pay rates for the coming year.

An ordinance outline the Entertainment Destination Center also had a first reading. The city’s Law, Labor and License Committee explored and reviewed the topic in May and made a recommendation to the city.

The committee recommended included two potential entertainment districts — the first would be the Midway Business District along S. Fort Thomas Avenue and the other would be the Central Business District (CBD) along N. Fort Thomas Avenue. However, the plan was to write both into the ordinance for now but to purchase the license for the Midway District first and to wait on the CBD for the future.

The Law, Labor and License Committee includes council members Connie Grubbs, chair; Ken Bowman and Ben Pendery. At the council meeting, the discussion turned to noise concerns, but it was noted that the city has an outside noise ordinance in place after 11 p.m. Mayor Haas noted how new the concept is for the city and said if an Entertainment District is established, the plan will be to monitor it closely and revisit it should any issues arise.

RELATED:  Fort Thomas Explores Possible Entertainment District

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