Campbell Leaders Discuss Bridge to Newtown, Possibility of Federal Dollars Yanked from Rte 9, Ovation Projects
The first meeting of 2015 for the Campbell County Mayors Group included discussion about a possible exploration of a bridge across the Ohio to Newtown, the possibility of federal funds for Route 9 and the Ovation project being yanked, and a possible right-to-work ordinance being adopted in the county.
County in jeopardy of losing $10 million in federal funds
Because of the lowering of the Kentucky gas tax to 4.3 cents per gallon, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has taken a substantial hit to its funding and many of the projects planned in Campbell County are now either to be further postponed or scrapped altogether. Judge-Executive Steve Pendery said that the total amount for the state in terms of money lost because of the lowering of the gas tax is $200 million or more.
There is currently construction taking place in Newport to extend KY Route 9 from 12th Street to the Taylor-Southgate Bridge, but the project is in its early phases and Pendery said there is no current funding for phases between 5th and 9th Streets.
That could ultimately have an effect on the Ovation development on Newport's western riverfront where Covington-based Corporex hopes, after nearly a decade of planning and waiting, to construct a sprawling mixed-use development for residences and businesses.
“With the Ovation project being one of only a handful of signature taxing and financing projects in the state, that project is at least somewhat contingent on having good transportation links and will certainly be facilitated with good transportation links,” Judge Pendery said.
To make matters worse, Pendery said that KYTC expects the federal government to take back over $10 million of funding that Senator Jim Bunning earmarked for the project.
“If that in fact is the case, there would at least be $10 million yanked from that project, which would mean for Johns Hill Road all the way down to Route 9, there would have to be a new source of funding identified,” said Judge Pendery.
There are also no current funds for construction improvement for the 1-471 Southbound Exit Ramp to KY Route 8.
Pendery said he is for restoring the previous level of the gas tax and that he doesn't see supporting a tax increase as politically risky.
“I think it's restoring the funding to the level of the previous year and asking people to pay what they paid last year. I don't see that as an increase and I don't know why anybody would if it's explained to them that way,” he said.
The Brent Spence Alternative in Campbell County
The discussion of a possible express way through Campbell County with a bridge to Newtown in Cincinnati, first floated by the Republican gubernatorial campaign of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and his running mate, Kenton County State Senator Chris McDaniel, was also discussed.
“Here's a fun one for you,” Pendery said of the idea. “There is a new proposal out there that would see a new express way through Campbell County as an alternative to the Brent Spence Bridge. If you ask me, I think that the whole idea that an express way is going to go through Fort Thomas might have all been a mistake in geography.”
Pendery said that in 1987, there was a route considered that passed roughly between Alexandria and Cold Spring that would extend I-71 from Louisville across Campbell, Kenton, and Boone Counties. He said the highway engineers think that it's a $4 billion project and that he doesn't think it will relieve traffic congestion on the Brent Spence Bridge and the I-75 corridor.
He then said he didn't think that there would be much acceptance of the idea from residents but he asked the county's mayors if they agreed.
Fort Thomas Mayor Eric Haas said he thought that Kentucky Route 536 was the concept of getting people in the southern parts of Campbell County and avoid taking I-275. “I can see value in doing that and we've been pushing 536 for years,” Haas said.
County Commissioner Brian Painter said he is not opposed with having the discussion about the alternative. “In a booming economy in seven years from now, this could be a smart idea” Painter said. “It might not be a bad thing to have a kind of spirit of unity in Northern Kentucky to talk about this issue.”
Alexandria Mayor Bill Rachford and County Commissioner Charlie Coleman said residents they've spoken with are not necessarily opposed to the proposal.
“What they don't want,” Coleman said, “is traffic light after traffic light. An expressway, there seems to be some support for.”
Pendery concluded the discussion by pointing out that tens of millions of dollars has already been spent in studies that have examined dozens of alternative proposals to the Brent Spence Corridor.
Right to Work
Pendery also started the discussion on if Campbell County would pass Right-to-Work Ordinances that he explained would allow employees to opt out of labor unions and not pay any union dues without the fear of being demoted or fired because of that employee's decision. There are five other counties in Kentucky that have passed similar ordinances: Warren, Hardin, Simpson, Fulton, and Todd.
Pendery pointed out how it is important that the county consider the pending legal fees it would face if they moved ahead with passing a Right-to-Work ordinance.
“This could be a sweeping ordinance that could take care of public and private unions,” Pendery said.
Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democratic candidate for governor, has ruled that counties lack the proper legal authority to enforce Right to Work laws because federal law covers most labor relations.
There are 26 states that are Right-to-Work states and Judge Pendery explained that those states are considered more attractive to prospective businesses looking to open, he argued.
“When companies think about growing their business and moving to another location, there are consultants that materialize to tell them where the best places in the nation are to go, and there are no secrets,” Judge Pendery said. “Those businesses at the threshold will eliminate a non-Right-to-Work state if there is a possibility of moving or growing their business.”
In February, the county plans to bid for a remodeling of the District Court Building in order to include a new substance-abuse facility in its jail. The county will look at similar facilities in Dearborn County, Indiana and Clermont County, Ohio to help finalize their plans for the facility.
Sanition District 1's disputed funds, sewer laterals
Sanitation District 1 Executive Director Dave Rager explained that $234,000 is essentially missing from the books of SD1.
He said that Huntington Bank was the official bank of SD-1 from 1986 to the present. Now, however, SD1 is in the process of moving all of their accounts to the Bank of Kentucky. When the company closed its accounts with Huntington, the discrepancy came to light. The problem, therefore, exists somewhere within the transactions of the bank. SD1 and the bank have hired forensic auditors to reconstruct records to help solve the dilemma.
Rager also talked about laterals, which are the utility pipes that run from the main lines under the streets off to individual houses and buildings along the street. Laterals are private pipes and are the responsibility of the building owner to maintain.
Several years ago, SD-1 took on the responsibility of maintaining the laterals from the sewer line to the curb.
“You don't want a whole bunch of people cutting up your streets,” Rager said about why SD-1 took on the added responsibility. “So SD-1 as a policy did it. When we got into our financial difficulties in 2013, the board deemed them private pipes and to cut expenses they put it back on the owners responsibility and they stopped providing that service.”
SD-1 has agreed to help cities track where the laterals go, because sometimes in older cities, it can get confusing in the denser areas. There are insurance programs available for protecting laterals, but these companies' policies usually still fall short of the repair cost by as much as $2,000.
“This lateral issue is becoming more and more of an issue. Especially in the older communities,” said Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso. “You're going to need some type of protection. Big part of it is in insurance and getting an agreement with SD-1 about how we're going to pay for these things. I think when we get further and further down the road, we're going to have more breaks.”
Story & photo by Bryan Burke, associate editor