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Red Bike Leads to Split in Bellevue Budget Vote

The Bellevue City Council was split Wednesday evening when the time came to vote on the proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The $5.8 million budget was up for a first reading and required Mayor Ed Riehl to vote in favor, breaking a 3-3 tie. Councilmen David Slater and Rodney Poynter spoke strongly against the budget's inclusion of line items related to Red Bike, the Cincinnati-based bike sharing program that will be expanding into Covington, Newport, and Bellevue in the coming weeks.

"I do not believe the city should use public funds to pay for this," Slater said. "I think it should be paid for by the way it was presented, with business and private donations. I don't think the city should do that. The people I've talked to don't want their money spent on this."

The budget also includes an anticipated 4% increase in the city's property tax, a move that will generate close to $50,000 in new revenue. Poynter said that it was suspicious that the property tax increase's anticipated revenue generation is roughly the same amount as the funds that would be directed at Red Bike.

"It's hard to explain to somebody, we bring in $45,000 in money and we are allocating to a specific out of town entity that will bring in no revenue whatsoever. We can flower it up and refuse to call it whatever you want to, but it's a direct cost to the taxpayers," Poynter said. "I do not believe that the Red Bike will lead to the City of Bellevue having an influx of people to have people ride a Red Bike. If the police chief stopped one hundred cars going east on Fairfield Avenue and asked why they were coming, if you got one that said they're coming to Bellevue to ride a Red Bike, I'd almost put up money that you won't find it."

Those who voted in favor of the budget and spoke in support of Red Bike, as well as City Administrator Keith Spoelker, said that the money allocated for Red Bike will not be coming from the general fund. Bellevue aims to have two Red Bike locations: one at the Port of Bellevue near Joe's Crab Shack and Buckhead, and a second one on Ward Avenue near Fairfield Avenue. The Port of Bellevue location would come first and would be paid for by lease money paid to the Port of Bellevue Fund. The amount is approximately $45,000. 

The Ward Avenue location would likely not be finished in time for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game which will be played in Cincinnati in July, and was the target date of the 3 Northern Kentucky River Cities to have the program operational, at least in part. Spoelker and Mayor Riehl said that that location would require some attention to the storm water system, and would also require a bid since the infrastructure could cost more than $20,000. Those funds, however, would come from the money generated by the lease of the Medical Arts Building.

"The money we are appropriating comes from no taxpayer dollars," the mayor said. "They come from lease payments, Joe's Crab Shack and Buckhead. A station will go there. The other funds we are using are urban renewal funds, from the lease payments from the Medical Arts Building. So we are addressing the use of non-taxpayer dollars to make this improvement.

"We are trying to be progressive and the fundraising efforts are going to continue."

Lead fundraiser Mackey McNeill of Mackey Advisors said that the businesses she has approached for fundraising purposes have asked what investment the city would be putting in. 

"Red Bike isn't asking for operating money. This is a capital expense," McNeill said. "A one time investment and we get recurring benefit. The business community is asking me that about the city. You want us to invest to bring this extra opportunity into the city, why isn't the city stepping up? 

"You're already a progressive city. This is a part of being a progressive city. Now is not the time to go back."

Private funds and a $20,000 grant from Southbank Partners have totaled $37,000 in funding in Bellevue. Newport will have four stations and the city will expense roughly $30,000 out of the cost. Covington will have six locations, all paid for privately. 

Councilman Matt Olliges, who voted against the budget ordinance, spoke in favor of the Red Bike program.

"Every time I go to a different city when I have free time I hop on a Red Bike. It's been great. Five different cities and it's a good time," he told Red Bike executive director Jason Barron, who attended Wednesday's meeting. "We're looking forward to having you." Olligest said that he opposed the budget for other reasons, namely what he characterized as a lack of planning for potential future deficits and for projecting to spend more than the city will take in. He also has concerns over funding for the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Department.

Council members Ryan Salzman, Steve Guidugli, and Melissa Tatum voted in favor of the budget.

"There is no responsibility for the city other than to provide the space for us," Barron said. "We are a non-profit. We are here to provide a public service. What we've seen from the folks who have been biking in Cincinnati is that it's across all spectrums. People seem to enjoy it."

The base for the Red Bike station at Port of Bellevue has already been poured. 

A second meeting will need to be called for the purpose of adopting the budget before June 30 but that date has not yet been set.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Red Bike