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In Erlanger, 'Ghost Houses' Concern Neighbor; City Administrator Honored for 30 Years

Dan Francis, a pastor who owns a nice home on Commonwealth Avenue, came to Erlanger city council to demand that something be done about the houses across the street from him.

"Why are we allowing all these ghost houses in our community?," he asked. "I feel like I am swimming upstream. I want you all to do something!"

Francis was referring to the run down condition of the rental houses across the street that he sees every day. He told council that he has been trying to get the city to do something about the situation for two years, and feels like nothing has been done. Francis has been unsuccessful in contacting the owners himself. He was told that code enforcement is aware of the situation but they are limited by due process.

"Due process started two years ago," Francis stated. "He (the owner) has more rights than I do! I am told be patient, young man, but it is a wearying process. The property has been empty for years."

"I wish there was a silver bullet, an easy answer," said Mayor Tyson Hermes, saying citations have been levied. "Unfortunately, citing doesn't fix it."

"Is this my lot in life, to remind you?," Francis said in frustration. "What can I do? Other cities take care of problems like mine, but this is my city. I like my city!"

"What you're doing is perfect," said Mayor Hermes. "We need to hear this."

Council asked if the ordinance could be strengthened to support resident citizens' rights, and City Attorney Jack Gatlin said the ordinance can be as strong or weak as council dictates. The matter was put on the list to be discussed at the June 21 committee meeting, and they invited Francis to come.

Later in the meeting, Gatlin said the city hears Mr. Francis loud and clear. He asked council for their input on the matter so he knows which way to go on drafting changes to the ordinance. City Administrator Marc Fields said that after the last time Francis came up to ask the city to do something, Fields was part of a team that walked the block, and as a result one house has been totally rehabbed. As far as ghost houses, he said the city can't make people live there. He said the owners have been cited, and they have gotten excuses, but because of the crackdown, the block has never looked better in his opinion.

In a related matter, council listened to the first reading of an ordinance amending the code of ordinances for rental of residential units. Gatlin told council they have stricken most of the previous regulations and put in stricter conditions. The big change is that the city has put in a registry requiring contact information so that owners of the rental properties can be contacted more easily.

Council passed two ordinances, one amending last year's budget, and the other passing this year's budget. There was one 'no' vote on this year's budget by Councilman Gary Meyer, who thinks the spending in the city is going in the wrong direction. He had suggested that the city take $750,000 from the General Fund and put it into the Capital Project Fund to help get the streets repaired. Meyer wanted to delay the second reading of the budget ordinance, and do another first reading with the transfer of funds included and have a second reading on June 21. Gatlin said he didn't feel comfortable redoing the process at the eleventh hour and felt they would be better off with a later amendment. Mayor Hermes said that the leadership meetings in January and February where the budget is examined line by line was eye-opening for him, and he encouraged all the council members to attend those meetings to learn how they arrived at the numbers.

Council also passed a municipal order permitting a sum of $72,500 for a facilities assessment and firehouse location study. The city has accepted the bid and proposal of Murphy, Graves, and Trimble PLLC.   

There was also a resolution to allow the mayor to make an application for a federal grant in the sum of $63,359 for a pole mounted camera which can capture license plates. This would be a project in conjunction with the City of Elsmere. Two councilmen voted against the resolution, Gary Meyer, and Randy Blankenship. Corine Pitts abstained from the vote.

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann and County Administrator Joe Shriver came to the meeting to outline the timeline for updating the radio system project. The request for proposal will go out in August, and gathering the bids might take until November or December. They would like to award the bid in January and turn around and do a bulk bid on radios.    

Knochelmann said they hope for a turn on of the new service in mid 2018.  He said this has nothing to do with the different dispatch systems and that this has everything to do with the fact that the technological tools that the different dispatch centers have are so old that they can't do their jobs as effectively.

"This is the best way for us to go," said Fields.

Council discussed the sidewalk project on Nelson Road, and Mayor Hermes said he watched the road for a while to see what kind of traffic the road had. He said there were several blind spots, both for pedestrians and cars, and having sidewalks would significantly improve the safety of the area. He wanted to go ahead with the project, but again Councilman Meyer said they didn't have the money for the project in the new budget. It was agreed that the mayor would go ahead with getting the easement permissions, and when the money came in they would try and put a sidewalk on the road.

The city talked about their three-year plan for repairing the streets in the city. Eight streets have been slated for repair, but three of the projects will require $1.3 of the $1.5 million the city has for the streets.

The city announced they have accepted the bid for online salt from Morton Salt for $69.94 per ton which is less than last year.

Anne Elzyk came to council to plead the case for having chickens in the city. She listed the educational benefits as well as the beneficial effects of the chickens. No decision was made. Currently chickens are not allowed in the city.

Marc Fields received an award for 30 years of service to the city. Fields started as a patrolman in 1986 and has been City Administrative Officer since 2013.

"I have been blessed," Fields said. "I am invested in this community."

In the business spotlight, Sake Bomb owner Euisuk Park came to talk about his business, and the fact that next Monday he will celebrate 6 months in business.

Written by Patricia A Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Mayor Tyson Hermes