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Taylor Mill Chief, Commissioners Spar Over Police Cruisers

The tension between Taylor Mill Police Chief Steve Knauf and two members of the city commission continued to grow at last week's special meeting where the 2018-19 fiscal year budget was discussed.

The city is in the process of creating a budget without a city administrator, after Jill Bailey departed to take the same job in Ft. Wright, and Knauf declined the position citing his consistent disagreements with commissioners Phil Peace and Sarah Frietch.

On Wednesday, Knauf presented his recommended budget for the police department, and requested that the city purchase two new police cruisers.

The meeting devolved from there.

The purchase of two new police cruisers was supported by Bailey in a budget summary before her departure. Knauf explained that the city had, in the past, purchased two cruisers in one year, and then one cruiser the following year, for a total of three new cruisers every two years. But, he said, the city had not purchased any new cruisers in the past three years.

While each officer currently has a vehicle, there are no spares, Knauf said. The oldest cruiser, a 2009 model, has a rusted undercarriage, while the others have high mileage.

Commissioner Peace recommended buying one cruiser and waiting on the other.

"I'm just saying guys, we're spending money, and we spend it, we gotta look at what we're spending it on," said Peace.

"You don't know anything about our cruisers, you're wrong," said Knauf. "You don't know anything. We need two cruisers." Knauf addressed the commission. "You can listen to him, or you can listen to somebody who's been doing this for 25 years."

"I think the issue becomes this: In all honesty, my opinion is, if we have a crash or a wreck, which we do have occasionally, we have no spares," said Mayor Daniel Bell.

"Then you borrow one from the county, guys," said Peace.

"Nope, nope, that's not best practice," said Knauf. "It is the cost of doing business."

"It's the cost of doing business, but I'm just watching this, and we come to this meeting and it's already set up to where there's no discussion on this," said Peace.

"We're having the discussion now," said Mayor Bell.

"So we're putting money into police cars, and my question is, we've got one car per officer, and if you had to share you'd share," Peace said.

"That's not the industry best practice. If you share, people will run like rats," said Knauf. "Call (Kenton County Police Chief) Spike Jones. You second-guess me with him all the time, he'll tell you the same thing."

"My point is you have the correct number of cruisers, and if you do wreck one, you can share till you get it fixed," said Peace. "Then you can stagger it. I'm just trying to say, guys, we're spending almost $80,000 on two cruisers."

"You want a police cruiser to get to your house when you need one for emergencies?," Knauf asked. "You want reliable transportation?"

"If we keep spending money like this - ," Peace said.

"Oh, this is ridiculous," Knauf said. "That's propaganda and spin!"

"It's not propaganda and spin," said Peace. "If you look at the chart in the past eleven years, we have overspent $2.8 million dollars. Right here it is."

"Overspent?," said Mayor Bell. "That is totally, 100-percent wrong. Every audit that we have had - "

"This is from your audits," Peace said, waving a paper. "This is your revenue and your expense. It's from your audit. It's on your website."

"You must have miscalculated," said Bell. "It's not true. If you call Von Lehman, our auditor, you can find out."

"This is from Von Lehman's documents, guys," Peace said. "I'm just saying, you buy one cruiser, and if you have a problem with it, you double up until you fix it."

"He's wrong. I would ask that you guys take a vote. He is categorically wrong," said Knauf. "He knows not what he speaks of."

"So here we have a proposition that we recommend from this budget - ," said Bell.

"Can we get into a few specifics on these two vehicles?," asked Commissioner Sarah Frietch.

"Here comes the double-team," Knauf said.

"You know, Chief, you're not helping the situation," said Peace.

"You're not helping the situation," Knauf fired back.

Frietch asked for order in the room and Mayor Bell agreed calling for one person to talk at a time.

Frietch detailed the specifics of the cruisers and said she was leaning towards buying one cruiser now and trying to get by with the others. Knauf reminded commissioners that one of the cruisers recently had to have $11,500 in repairs, an indicator of the disrepair of the whole fleet. Knauf said two months ago that he assigned Lt. James Mills to determine wheretwo cruisers were necessary.

"If you can't trust your police chief and James Mills to make this decision for you, here you go, we are back to you taking the badge and you being chief," said Knauf.

Finally, Mayor Bell asked Commissioner Mark Kreimborg what he thought, and Kreimborg said if the chief says the department needs two cruisers, he trusted the chief's experience and he would vote for two cruisers. Commissioner Dan Murray said if the city only bought one, there wouldn't be a back up, which concerned him.

With Kreimborg and Murray on board, the mayor was able to position as the necessary third vote.

"My comment," Mayor Bell said, "is that the experience I have had is, when the citizens of Taylor Mill call the police, they don't want to hear, Oh, my car broke down on the way, and we couldn't get there, so we had to send somebody from Ft. Wright or Covington or wherever the back-up comes. So I am in favor of buying two cruisers. So that puts that to bed. Next item."

Commissioners agreed to update the police video camera system, which Knauf said not only shows the front of the cruisers, but also shows the back seat. Bought originally in 2009, it needed to be upgraded, the chief said. The commission also approved another school resource officer. Kenton County Schools have agreed to add another SRO for Woodland Middle School, splitting the cost with the city 50/50.

The city and school district will each pay $17,500 to fund the officer's presence.

Chief Knauf and Fire Chief John Stager both have a tentative cost for the new 800 megahertz radios, being purchased by each municipal and county agency in the region, but that money has already been budgeted previously. Public Works director Marc Roden will also need a few radios, he said.

Commissioners approved a new backhoe for Roden's department, but they hope to fund it with money from the building fund. They allowed for one dump truck, which Roden said that he could get for a very good price. Roden mentioned that the old dump truck had so many holes that it looked like a salt shaker driving down the road.

Built into the 2018-2019 budget is $455,073.01 as surplus, and commissioners voted to take $100,000 out of that surplus to put into the Municipal Road Aid fund for road repairs. They will put the rest into the Capital Improvement Fund. So many roads need repairs that in addition to High Ridge and Mafred, which Roden mentioned in his budget, Saddlebrook and Lakewood were discussed as needing help soon.

Commissioners were able to listen to the first reading of the summary budget, roughed out by Bailey before she left, with the interfund transfer of money to the road fund. The second reading will be Wednesday, June 13 at the regular commission meeting.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor