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Campbell Leaders Celebrate 911 Funding Court Victory

The Campbell County Fiscal Court won an important battle at the Kentucky State Supreme Court that will save the county millions of dollars in 911 call fees.

The issue developed over time due to the decrease in land lines that are used in the county and across the United States. Historically, the emergency 911 service was funded by imposing a monthly subscriber fee per land line telephone. 

With the increase in wireless telephones and other technologies, the land line subscriber fee has become an inadequate source of funding. In August, 2013, the Campbell County Fiscal Court replaced the land line subscriber fee with a $45 annual service fee for each occupied unit—commercial or residential.

The Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Apartment Association filed suit alleging that the ordinance was unconstitutional and an invalid exercise of the County’s authority.

The case was first heard in Circuit Court where it was determined that the County’s annual fee was permissible. The Apartment Association then appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals. The County, though, was losing as much as $250,000 a year for the dwindling amount of land lines in Campbell County and needed a definitive ruling as quickly as possible.

“We had a lot of skin in the game,” said Campbell County Attorney Steve Franzen. “We’re collecting this fee and funding it and we wanted to get a decision as quickly as we could. The Supreme Court granted that transfer and we argued it and we prevailed.”

Franzen and current County Administrator Matt Elberfeld gave much of the credit for the court victory to former County Administrator Robert Horine who orchestrated the idea and crafted the ordinance of the annual fee for occupied units over land lines as a way to better pay for the County’s 911 service.

“The whole Fiscal Court should be patting themselves on the back because I think we came up with a really fair way to pay for that very vital service,” Franzen said. “It wasn’t very difficult to explain that to the Supreme Court. When you have a 500-unit apartment complex arguing that they should pay one $45 fee, and the poor widow across the street in her single-family home has to pay one $45 fee, the fairness aspect of it really struck a chord with the Supreme Court and I think that’s why we prevailed.”

“Honestly, the way the law works when it comes to something like this, you’re facing a very serious consequence if you lose a case like this. We might have had to get into refunds that would have cost the County millions of dollars,” said Campbell County Judge/Executive Steve Pendery.

Other notes:

Adam Caswell is the Assistant Vice President of Government, Corporate and Foundation Engagement for Northern Kentucky University, and he presented the legislative goals that the school intends to lobby for during the next legislative session in Frankfort in 2016.

NKU's priorities include the creation of a different funding model for higher-education institutions that is more output driven. NKU has doubled its bachelor degrees over a 15-year period, higher than other state institutions. Performance-based funding would make NKU more competitive, the school's leadership has argued.

“We are at a $5,000 negative differential from the median other institutions are awarded per degree from the state. All of this is done without any reasonable explanation,” Caswell said.  

Also a major concern for the school is the looming pension crisis that is eating into its general fund. Over the last 15 years, the percentage of NKU’s contribution to the pension fund has raised from 5 percent to 40 percent which translates from $4 million to $15 million.

NKU receives roughly $49 million from the state as appropriation for the school’s services.

“We are entering into a tipping point of how long NKU can sustain its operation and sustain its momentum,” Caswell said.

The County was able to be creative in a way to save between $40,000 and $60,000 by removing fill from the creek near Nine Mile Road and donating the fill to the Manhattan Harbor project in Dayton. 

The creek along Nine Mile Road has concrete fill in it and the Army Corps of Engineers has mandated that the County remove that fill from the creek. A few months ago, the County sought bids to have the fill removed and restore the creek to its original construction. Dudley Construction was the lowest bidder to do the job for $163,000. A large chunk of that cost was the expense of disposing the material which includes the hauling of the fill material to a specialized facility.

Since then, the County has reached out to DCI Properties, the developer of Manhattan Harbor, which is in need of more clean fill for phase two of that project. Now the County can take the fill from the creek and give it to DCI Properties at no cost to county taxpayers.

“It’s sort of a win-win that we don’t pay a disposal fee, and a developer doing a great project in the county is able to get some fill to help that along,” Elberfeld said. 

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor