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Bellevue Council Candidates Offer Ideas, Answers on Apartments, Streetcar, & More

It was Meet the Candidates night in Bellevue as candidates for mayor, city council, and the board of education answered questions posed by residents and community members about their platforms.

Read about the mayoral candidates' responses here.

There are ten candidates running for six city council seats.

Ryan Salzman, a political science professor at Northern Kentucky University, on multiple occasions talked about the leadership inadequacies in Bellevue.

“There are numerous examples of infrastructure issues, development issues, that are often met with lack of ideas, lack of vision, lack of understanding what the problem actually is,” Salzman said of the city's current leaders. “The desire to learn about things, the desire to come up with the most feasible option possible, these are what makes leaders.”

Kevin Wright is relatively new to Bellevue as he and his wife and two-year-old son moved to the city two years ago, but he sees the key to the city's future in ensuring Bellevue become a totally walkable community and also adhering to the city's form based code.

“This community went through a process a few years ago when it adopted form based code. It's a complex term but it involves a lot of community engagement. I see the current council reacting to development proposals and not looking at the form based code and going out and finding development that fits the vision of the community,” Wright said.

Ryan Kunnen, a first-time candidate who works in corporate finance, said he deals with budgets every day and that sticking to the city's plan will help ensure a sustainable future.

“We need to look at the plan that was put together and pay more than lip service to that plan. We need to ask, are we getting better at what we do? Are we spending our money appropriately? Are we gaining scale at the money that we spend? We need to answer those tough questions and make sure that not only our we spending our money wisely, but we're getting the best possible results out of that as well,” Kunnen said.

Melissa Tatum, an 11-year Bellevue resident, stressed the importance of the relationship between the school board and the city government, and also talked about the need to improve the housing market in Bellevue.

City Councilman Matt Olliges thought the budget was the most pressing issue.

“Every year in my six years on council, we have come up short,” he said. “You may read that we have balanced the budget. Luckily, we have a rainy-day fund that we fund the shortfall with and that's how we end up with a balanced budget and that only works for so long. We need to reduce our spending. We need to increase revenue. We need to look at our tax code to increase our revenue, we need to take a serious look at spending at the staff level, at our investment level, anyway we can increase our revenue and decrease our spending. We won't always have that safety net there to fill the gap of our shortcomings.”

Olliges also talked about how sticking to the city's strategic plan is not only important but has been ignored by current city officials.

“I was a little upset that we didn't set the strategic plan as our guideline,” Olliges said. “I think we need to dust that back off and kind of look at the ideas that we came up with in the strategic plan lesson and act on those. I think there were a lot of good ideas that were thrown out in council.”

Incumbent City Councilmen Rodney Poynter and Steve Guidugli both talked about how important development is to the city. Mr. Guidugli specifically mentioned developing the Donnermeyer Corridor.

“It offers some great opportunities and also some great challenges,” Guidugli said of Donnermeyer. “It's underdeveloped. We've done the form based codes to redevelop that except we just haven't put the resources to do it.”

Mr. Poynter was a little less enthusiastic about sticking with the form based code and wanting to move ahead with other development opportunities should they arise.

“The form based code in my opinion is a sold product that has been going on around the country. The City of Bellevue was not organized by people sitting back and saying we're going to create a city. It was designed over a period of time, designed and built as the needs arise,” Poynter said.

Poynter was also the only city council candidate to say that he would not support the Cincinnati streetcar extending to Bellevue. “I don't think the streetcar is feasible and I don't think it could be supported by the income from it and it would take a tremendous amount of tax money to support it.”

Wright, on the other hand, said if elected, he would do everything in his power to make that happen. “If I'm elected, and there is an inkling that the street car is coming across the river to Northern Kentucky, then I will go out there and find a way to make the numbers work and I will engage the community around making it work and I will find a way to make Bellevue a part of it.”

Kunnen lamented that Newport and Covington are already having the streetcar discussion and that it has not included Bellevue in those talks.

“It would need to be a regional approach, and frankly, our two big neighbors, Covington and Newport, have already started talking about this without Bellevue, and that would be a huge loss for our community in terms of development that it could bring,” Kunnen said.

Most candidates expressed support for the idea of a streetcar line to Bellevue, but did not want to even speculate where the money for that project might come from, though candidate Dave Slater did point out that if tracks were laid on Route 8, the state of Kentucky might then be involved as the road is a state route.

Another question that split the candidates was that of allowing apartment buildings to be developed in Bellevue. Tatum was outspoken against apartments stating it may negatively affect the city's culture. “I'm not against apartments and there is a need for apartment living. However, I don't want big business and to me, an apartment is big business. Bellevue is a unique place and I do not want to see apartments here,” she said.

Slater was also against the possibility of apartments in Bellevue. “I don't think apartments would be good for Bellevue. An apartment complex will require more police service. If you're spending all your time down there as a policeman, you can't be on the other end of town,” Slater said.

Olliges could not answer the question due to a conflict of interest as he is an apartment developer, but he did encourage his colleagues to be receptive to these kinds of ideas. “I can tell that you that I am actively developing in every other River City in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. If I'm not actively developing there, I'm being approached to. So I think Bellevue is potentially missing out,” Olliges said.

Election Day is November 4. Look for coverage of the mayoral candidates' comments at the RCN homepage.

Story & photos by Bryan Burke, associate editor