Taylor Mill Candidates Answer Questions About Downtown, Park, Heroin, More
Wed, 10/26/2016 - 21:42 RCN Newsdesk
The seven candidates for Taylor Mill City Commission - three incumbents and four challengers - answered questions at a forum held in Pride Park on Tuesday night.
The event was hosted by The River City News and moderated by publisher Michael Monks.
The lead question tested the candidates on whether they thought this was a one-issue race: the controversial United Dairy Farmers development that is proposed by candidate Phil Peace on a piece of property he owns in the "Downtown Taylor Mill" zone.
Mark Kreimborg, who was mayor of Taylor Mill for 21 years and is now running for a seat on the city commission after spending four years as Kenton County's deputy Judge/Executive, said he wanted what was best for the city. He stated that for him, it was not the only issue.
Incumbent Roger Reis related some of the changes he has seen in the city and believes the city is on the right path. "Everything takes time," he said, referring to the UDF project.
Incumbent Ed Kuehne said that Taylor Mill is his home, whether they put a UDF in the city or any other store. He said that he has bitten his tongue and listened and listened when Phil Peace came to the city and said that the current proposal is all Peace is willing to work with. Kuehne explained that there are zoning guidelines, and they are there for a reason.
Peace, who moved to Taylor Mill from Covington after the controversy surrounding his property and the proposed UDF, shot back. "Having a commission that doesn't do what they said they would do, and did an about-face and lied through their teeth is not a commission you trust," he charged.
"I did say to present it to the planning commission," Kuehne countered. "And see what they say."
Another challenger, Sarah Frietch, said that she was running for the whole city. She explained that she was for transparency and growth, and she is for a high standard of ethics. Frietch said there are too many dos and don'ts in the details of the zoning for the city, and she wants to tweak the zoning to allow growth. She referenced Peace's statement, saying that when she says something she will follow through and not pull the plug.
Incumbent Dan Murray agreed with tweaking the zoning a little, and said they need to have a clearer picture of the development they want in the city.
Monks asked what the candidates thought the downtown area would look like in the future.
Murray was first on this question, and reminded the audience that the development plan was never just a 3-year or 5-year plan, and said development doesn't happen overnight. He thought the commission could get closer together to work together.
Frietch echoed the statement, saying it was going to take a group of commissioners willing to work together to get things done. She said the speed limit on the road is 45 miles per hour and asked whether people would want to walk or eat out close to a road with cars going that fast. Frietch also took a swipe at the commissioners who voted not to raise taxes this year, suggesting the move was related to 2016 being an election year.
This was a theme underlined by Phil Peace later in the questioning.
Peace said he didn't have a problem with the Downtown Taylor Mill-2 zone being walkable, and pointed out that people still have cars, and suggested that setbacks would be needed in building due to the fast traffic.
Kuehne said that he hoped the city can get some more development to come in, and that it was very important to do the development right, and to keep the downtown plan moving forward.
Reis pointed out that the plan the city has is a 25-year development plan, and the city did its homework designing the style. He said it will take time to do it right.
Kreimborg said the city has come a long way from cow farms. He said you usually have one chance to do a development right and that said it takes time and patience because the city has never believed in forcing eminent domain on anyone. "We are not in a rush to do something," Kreimborg said. "A new development in Anderson Township mirrors what we want to do. We want a first class development that is right for Taylor Mill. We are not Ft. Wright or Mall Road. And if we make exceptions there are twenty other people who will say 'me, too!' and then we will have a Colerain Avenue or a Mall Road."
Another question dealt with how to slow down the traffic on the roads in the city.
Phil Peace started in on how the city rezoned a portion of the downtown for "their buddy Gary Holland" - the developer of the only new building constructed so far in the new downtown zone, and Peace was asked to answer the question that was asked. Peace explained that he thought maybe landscaping in the center of the road would serve as a calming element and help reduce speeding.
Frietch admitted that this was a hot button issue for her because she has to pull out to a busy street near a curve every day. She said it is not a safe road.
Murray reminded people that the main roads belong to the state and that the Commonwealth works at its own pace, and doesn't take kindly to being pushed. He agreed it would be nice to have landscaping in the middle of the road but said it would then have to be maintained.
Kreimborg said it looks like the construction of the road is too shallow to support landscaping, and said that if there is too much speed, the police should shoot radar and write tickets to slow people down.
Reis stated that the city asked the state if Taylor Mill could maintain a 35 MPH limit but the state concluded that the road was designed for 45 MPH.
Kuehne also agreed that 45 MPH is too fast and dangerous. He told the audience that the city did think ahead, and paid to put in turn lanes, which the state was not going to do.
Challenger Matt Martin joined the questioning. He contended that more development could slow down the traffic, but since the city can't control the speed limit, they should focus on other issues.
The next question dealt with transparency and what processes could be improved. At a forum featuring Peace, Frietch, and Martin the week before, remarks were made that the current administration lacks transparency, which provoked a response from the city administrator.
"I don't think there is a transparency issue," said Dan Murray. "There's always someone who will complain. I think the city does a pretty good job of putting information on the city's site. I think it is an issue of what side you are on."
Frietch said she has a problem with not seeing any discussion on issues in the commission meetings, and that leads her to believe issues are decided behind closed doors in special meetings. She vowed not to be a part of special meetings.
Peace stated that developer Gary Holland came to the last meeting and suggested again that special consideration was given to Holland that nobody else gets. Peace said that is not transparency, and the city should have to give 24 hours notice for a meeting.
Martin said he thought transparency went hand in hand with communication, and he thought information needs to be better disseminated. He said with just a little improvement in communication, things would fall into place.
"We have no secret meetings," Ed Kuehne stated unequivocally. "Come to the meetings, don't just watch them on TV. Be responsible if you want to get involved."
Reis remembered a lengthy discussion over the issue of a zoning change, and said there was a lot of give and take on the project of the Trifecta building, and no secrecy.
Kreimborg said even though he hasn't been involved for a few years, he doesn't remember meetings behind closed doors, and doesn't know where that came from.
As the forum continued, the candidates were asked about whether the city's police and firefighters were appropriately compensated compared to other cities nearby.
The incumbents, Reis, Kuehne, and Murray, said the city addressed the inequity in the salaries in July and raised pay for officers and firefighters to be more in line with other cities so that they can keep who they hire.
As far as sharing services with other municipalities, all the candidates agreed that it was a hot button issue. Reis seemed to be against it, Kuehne is a believer, but said it had to be done right, and Murray said if they did it they would have to advance in baby steps.
Martin said it was not all about money, but it was about taking care of the police and fire and treating them like family. Peace said if there were more development coming in there wouldn't be any talking about issues with equity in pay. He said development fixes a lot of things. Frietch made another allusion to the commission not raising taxes in an election year, and said the city has to take care of their top talent. She was on the fence about sharing services.
The candidates were also asked about whether they would be open to Taylor Mill hosting a needle exchange/syringe access program as the region remains gripped by a heroin crisis.
Martin said yes, of course, the heroin epidemic will not get better tomorrow. Kuehne said he teaches people how to use Narcan, but he would like to see the parameters and like to know what the people think.
Ries said that heroin is a Kenton County issue, and he would want to know if Taylor Mill were the most logical, practical place for a needle exhange. Kreimborg suggested that the General Assembly should create tougher penalties for drug dealers who come to Kentucky from out of state. Murray said that everyone needs to understand exactly what is going on, because even though needle exchange helps prevent other diseases, not everyone sees it like that.
Frietch declared that 1100 people died in 2015 from heroin, and she believes strongly that they need to do something about it. Peace said if there is a need for it, it should be in an industrial area.
The final question asked for a yea or nay on a new city building, and a plan for upgrades Pride Park.
Kreimborg stated that Taylor Mill has the ugliest city building in Northern Kentucky. While money has been set aside, there could be a cheaper fix by gilding the outside of the existing structure, Kreimborg said. He said taht volunteers were the key to Pride Park, and the playground probably needs to be replaced since it is 18 years old.
Reis pointed out that the park was voted number one in NKY Magazine, and Jill Bailey was twice voted City Administrator of the Year, and said everything in the city is top notch.
Kuehne said yes, a new city building is needed and in 5 to 10 years there would probably be one. He said the park is a priority, and asked residents to help take care of it. He said they were looking for businesses to donate things like a handicapped swing or a bandstand.
Martin stressed that development brings in money, and that will help with the upkeep of the park. He agreed the city building is ugly.
Peace said the city building comes after the streets are repaired and the sidewalks are in. He said businesses are always looking to put their name on something, and the park would be a good place to start.
Frietch said she is not understanding why the handicapped swing has not been addressed after a resident requested it, and said the city needs to guard against the monopoly of one business in the city having all the say, another swipe against the Holland Group. She said growth would provide the money for the upkeep of the park.
Murray agreed the streets and sidewalks come first. He also said the park is first class but vandalism is an astronomical cost to the city.
All candidates had 90 seconds to sum up and ask for votes.
Dan Murray said that at the end of the day, he wants people to want to live in the city as much as he does.
Sarah Frietch said it all boils down to tweaking the zoning, lowering taxes, paying the first responders, keeping up the roads and the park.
Phil Peace stated that Taylor Mill is not broken but has lost its way, and needs new blood.
Matthew Martin said development and revenue will bring in money for the city and that represents a lot of work and commitment.
Ed Kuehne told the audience some of the accomplishments in the city, and reminded people that development was currently going on in the city, even beyond the downtown district, noting the construction of more than a dozen new single-family homes.
Roger Reis also brought up the development in the form of houses and condos, and said everyone lives in the same city, and Taylor Mill is still great.
Mark Kreimborg said he received an award for volunteerism, and mentioned that he has seen Roger, Ed, and Dan volunteer in the city, but hasn't seen the others giving time.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor