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Sanitation District Board Answers Questions at Kenton Fiscal Court

Five members of the board of directors at Sanitation District 1 came to the Kenton County Fiscal Court meeting Tuesday night to explain their request for a 5 percent rate hike, and to answer questions about their budget and future plans.

"We have been trying to have experts come before the court when we can," said Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann. "One meeting a year with SD-1 is not enough to understand the process, and we have a lot of additional questions."

Gary Richardson, who was once executive director of SD1 and was appointed to the board by outgoing Judge/Executive Steve Arlinghaus in a contentious move, spoke first by saying he came on board in January of 2015 and the first thing he noticed was the tremendous amount of debt as compared to twenty years ago. He stated that $57 million of every budget goes to the debt which is at least 47 percent. He also said that if the Consent Decree entered into in 2005 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was to stay the way it is now, with no time extensions, the rate increases would be substantial.

Board member Garth Kuhnhein related how the district has had a reduction in rate increases, as well as reductions in staff to a low of 253 employees last year, a number that could be unsustainable for this year. He pointed out that Louisville is looking at a 20 percent rate increase, and Cincinnati is fighting with what kind of rate increase they might get.

Bob Schroder told the court that the consent decree, levied by the EPA, was a terrible burden. He said when half of every budget goes to debt, there are no dollars for growth.

"Everybody wants clean water," he said, adding that the consent decree is totally unbearable.

Knochelmann asked if they had an idea of where they would be in 5 years, or 10 years down the road and was told it was difficult to predict. The district has a few projects in queue: the Richwood diversion applied for 440 thousand gallons per day which increases income by $1 million, and a project in Hebron will net $50 million over three years, board members said.  

But the 5 percent increase should make about $3 million, which will just about cover three projects the district didn't see coming: the collapse of pipes in Covington, and phases one and two on Riviera Drive in Bellevue.

"Well, you have to fix what breaks," said Commissioner Beth Sewell.

Knochelmann had questions about a couple of projects that were voted down for the district to work on. The first is a sewer line which is lying on top of the ground on Highland Pike. He was told that the pipe is above the ground because of a landslide, and it has been above ground for years.  The district does not think it is any more vulnerable than any other line at this point. The district had to make a decision to spend $3 million dollars to fix that pipe when it doesn't bring in new customers, or to spend it on possible new projects that will bring in the new customers that they view as critical. Richardson said that the obvious solution to the pipe would be to put it in the creek and let more landslides in the unstable area cover it up, but they aren't allowed to do that.

"If we can't plan to fund the project to fix a pipe lying on top of the ground, we're not planning sufficiently," Knochelmann stated. "It is just not acceptable."

Knochelmann also wanted to know how in the world a repair project around the golf course would not be picked up by SD-1, and was told that the City of Independence should have made the request for the 50/50 split because the problem originated in Independence.

Sewell asked if the project of combining billing for the water and the SD-1 was going to come to fruition, and was told that after this budget is passed that that was a subject that would be discussed.

Commissioner Joe Nienaber asked how the debt in the district could have become so grossly out of hand. The panel responded that when they assumed the responsibility for all the pipes, they had no idea what condition those underground pipes were in, and in most cases were unpleasantly surprised. Also, the payments from the cities were grossly underestimated. Now they have debt that almost consumes the budget and the growth estimates in the counties have not been as much as predicted, so they haven't gotten the new customers to be able to raise revenue.

Other notes:

A resolution authorized an agreement between the court and SD-1 to share costs for the Kimberly Drive storm sewer project. Another authorized an agreement to share costs for the Independence Station Road culvert project.

Nine executive orders were passed.

* Gerald Cook was appointed to the Independence Fire District term expiring June 30, 2019.

*Treasurer Roy Cox was directed to close out the Sheriff's books and make preparation for the issuance of Quietus.

*Mike Gutziet was reassigned from part time utility crew to part time maintenance crew for the Kenton County Golf course effective May 25, 2016.

*Daniel Preder was appointed as police officer for the Kenton County Police Department effective May 25, 2016.

*Tyler Noonchester was appointed as a part time maintenance employee for the Kenton county golf course effective May 25,2016.

*Ralph Dusing was appointed to the Assessment Appeals boar with the term expiring May 13,2019.

*Chad Summe was reappointed to the Kenton County Airport board with the term expiring July 1, 2020.

*Steve Horn was appointed to the Code Enforcement board with term expiring April 27, 2019.

*Richard Lohre was appointed to the Assessment Appeals board with term expiring May 13, 2017.

A bid was accepted for a 2016 Ford Explorer for the Kenton County Police Department, and the court voted to extend the stone contract with Hilltop Stone, LLC for the Kenton County Public Works department. Commissioners voted to extent the road striping contract with Aero-Mark Inc., also for the Public Works department. They also voted yes to surplus three trucks for the Public Works department.

Finally, Judge Knochelmann settled on a schedule for meetings in June, saying the June 14 meeting will go as planned and scheduled, but the June 28 meeting will be held on June 27, a Monday, at 5 pm. This could also change as the Judge tried to have a meeting to pass the new budget with all three commissioners present.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor