SD1 Board to Covington: Use Federal Funds for Storm Water Mitigation

The Board of Directors at Sanitation District Number One unanimously approved a resolution last week urging the City of Covington to use newly awarded federal funds to mitigate its storm water issues.

The City is hosting a public hearing on Tuesday at City Hall (6 p.m.) regarding the use of federal dollars awarded to it by the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development. The funds, known as community development block grant (CDBG) and HOME investment partnership program, are used in a variety of ways.

Community feedback is sought to influence the city's use of the funds.

SD 1's board has a suggestion and went on the record with a resolution approved after the publication of the notice advertising Tuesday's meeting in local media.

"I'm not sure of the purpose of that," City Manager Larry Klein said of the resolution. "As I understand it, the SD1 board is asking the city to use its dollars, to use its funds to address the Sanitation District's sewer system in Covington, and I'm not sure why our rate payers would pay SD1 to maintain that system and then be expected to have its citizens through city taxes to pay for it twice."

"It seems like double taxation."

SD1 Board President Jay Weber could not be reached for comment and neither could SD1 executive director David Rager.

The differences between SD1's board and the City of Covington's leadership was on display last spring and summer when the utility sought a possible rate increase of 9% or 17%, a proposal ultimately rejected at the county level.

Opposing the rate increase through a resolution at City Hall led to a contentious meeting of the Covington City Commission last May when by a vote of 3-2, the city officially opposed any increase.

Days later, Rager came to City Hall to explain why the utility needed a rate increase. Then, in July, the rains came, and many Covington residents dealt with serious flooding in their homes due to the combined sewer system being overwhelmed. The first week of July saw not one, but two different intense rain events and subsequent flooding.

Covington leaders and residents then attended an SD1 Board meeting and requested a shift in priorities to help the city's ailing sewer system. The city commission then passed another resolution reiterating that position, again by a vote of 3-2 at another contentious meeting. The issue also divided mayors throughout Kenton County.

Rager outlined what the City of Covington would face once the rate increase was not approved.

A report on the July flooding in Covington later cleared SD1 of being responsible for the event.

Klein said late last week that the City has allocated funds in its capital budget to work on some sewer-related issues, including work on retention basins to reduce flooding in hard-hit Peaselburg. "We're working with SD1 on that now. Those aren't CDBG dollars. We're using capital project dollars to accelerate that," he said.

Klein said the resolution passed last week by the SD1 board "feels like a political thing". "I wasn't at their board meeting but it seems rather unprecedented for a sanitation board to ask cities to dig deeper into their general fund dollars to help maintain the sewer system," he said.

"We look to SD1 to maintain the sewer system here and the resolution the commission passed in 2013 about rate hikes asked SD1 to put public safety and the property damage that flooding causes, to make that a priority," he said.

The city manager said the resolution reinforces a point that "the board needs representation from an urban area and one with combined sewers". "I don't think that the SD1 Board is representative well enough to include urban communities, or communities with combined sewers."

He said he and Mayor Sherry Carran have asked Kenton County Judge-Executive to appoint a Covington resident to the board. "Clearly, the board could benefit from having a knowledgeable resident from our city," Klein said.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Mayor Sherry Carran addresses SD1 Board last year/RCN file