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Judges/Executive Weigh In on 'State of NKY'

Judge/Executives Gary Moore, Boone County; Steve Pendery, Campbell County; and Kris Knochelmann, Kenton County participated in the annual 'State of NKY' during the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's monthly Eggs 'N Issues meeting Tuesday morning. The panel discussed topics relating to increased access to high speed broadband internet, the Brent Spence Bridge and general infrastructure, economic development, and more. 

The discussion was emphatically punctuated with regional cooperation, collaboration, and support.  


Boone County

On Increasing Broadband Access

Judge Moore was the first to address the question about increasing broadband internet access and explained how he made it a top priority because of the pandemic as virtual learning, working from home, and e-medicine were becoming increasingly important. He also added that his office realized that Chromebooks given to students for free by the school district were inoperable at home because of the lack of internet. 

Moore said Boone County issued an RFQ last year and reviewed several bids, including contractors that would provide wireless internet, and decided to move forward with Cincinnati Bell as the preferred vendor. Cincinnati Bell was chosen because it already has the poles, the lines, the contractors, and other resources needed to quickly address the needs of Boone County residents.

The initiative projects that 40 thousand homes in Boone County will be connected to a broadband fiber optic line by March of 2023. 

"In only 18-months, Cincinnati Bell will connect 40 thousand Boone County homes to broadband internet," Moore said.

Moore added that this will affect more than just rural Boone County residents and that he hopes to use some of the $250-300 million Kentucky allocated to broadband from federal CARES act funding to recoup some of the money used on Boone County's $45 million initiative. 

On Infrastructure and the Brent Spence Bridge

"You hear people say this is the best opportunity we are ever going to have. And well, this is the best opportunity we are ever going to have," Moore said - regarding the addressment of the Brent Spence Bridge corridor and the large infrastructure bill currently being considered in congress. 

He added that the bill has a very large budget that allows projects to commence with 90 percent funding from the federal government and 10 percent funding from local sources, but other projects could only receive 80 percent from federal and 20 percent from local, and others are only expected to see 50 percent from each. He explained that no matter what, the region would have to prepare to spend some of its own money. 

"We need to have our proportion or share come back," Moore said about the large price associated with the bill. "The money is being allocated, it's going to get spent, I would like to see it come back."

Other priority infrastructure projects in Boone County include widening Mineola Pike, Pleasant Valley Road, and Donaldson Road; addressing increased traffic on Graves Road, Gunpowder Road, Camp Ernst Road, and Frogtown Road; and improvements to KY18 from Florence to Burlington by exploring the possibility of a 'Super Street' like those seen in Texas with legal u-turns at major intersections and a solid median between sides to reduce crashes. He added that the county doesn't need a lot more roundabouts. 

On Economic Development

Moore proudly boasted about Boone County's economic development by saying that over the last fiscal year, property assessments had increased by $1.3 billion - he said the largest fiscal year improvement before was shy of $1 billion.

"I think that shows we are doing well when property value goes up," he said. "There are counties across the state that would to have that much property value alone, and we grew by that much."

Moore also spoke about the new Amazon Prime building that is now open - and Zeiss, a German lens manufacturer that moved its manufacturing center and corporate offices from San Diego to Hebron.

"Inside is the highest-tech manufacturing you've ever seen - these are high-paying jobs," he said. "They actually sell stores in their facility: They fly people into CVG, they stay in our hotels, and people go there and look at buying a store to bring back to their community."

Moore said Boone County's priority is future industrial growth without sprawling too far into the western-end of the county and that the cities of Walton, Union, and Florence were the three biggest in the county's economic development.

"Stay tuned to what's happening in Marydale," his answer concluded. "I think we are going to see great things happening." 


Campbell County

On Increasing Broadband Access

"If you're into instant gratification, then government probably isn't for you," Judge Pendery began his remarks, alluding to how long this initiative has taken. 

Pendery said that when the county first began looking at expanding the broadband infrastructure the prices were astronomically high, then explained the factors that made this program feasible. 

"The reaction of the federal government [to the pandemic] was to come up with trillions of dollars and then look for places to spend," he said somewhat lightheartedly. "One of the areas that they decided was the public infrastructure of broadband." 

Pendery added that two other factors were the naturally declining costs of resources needed to complete the project, and the collaboration between the three counties proceeding with this goal simultaneously. The three counties could then purchase what was needed in bulk, which drives the cost down for both them and their residents. 

On Infrastructure and the Brent Spence Bridge

Pendery told attendees that his thoughts on the Brent Spence Bridge were: "when they paint the bridge I can't get out of my driveway."

He also said that Campbell County's priorities on infrastructure were a new interchange at the junction of I-275 and the AA Highway, continued development along KY9, and the connector road that loops around Northern Kentucky University. 

He concluded his remarks by imploring State Senator Sal Santoro, who serves on the House Transportation Committee and was attending the event, to ensure money allocated to roads and traditional infrastructure are spent in that sector - citing the need to not only develop new infrastructure but maintain that which already exists. He added that his request was not an accusation or indictment of misbehavior, but simply him seeking assurance. 

On Economic Development

Pendery spoke about several projects happening throughout Campbell County including progress on the Manhattan Harbor project in Dayton; the new Promowest Pavilion at OVATION in Newport, which he claimed was his favorite; and the condos and hotel being developed by Corporex near the new entertainment venue. 

However, most of Pendery's remarks on economic development related to NKU - which has recently seen the $30 million development of a Medical Arts Building from St. Elizabeth. 

Citing that Forbes Magazine has rated NKU one of the top universities in the country for the past 9 years straight, Pendery remarked on the importance of investing in and supporting the institution. 

He claimed that the school's role in the community was to issue degrees and certifications that employers are asking for in order to foster workforce participation - adding that the county needs to invest in NKU's infrastructure needs to help it along and bolster the economic development of the region. 

"The science building is 20 years old and is too small," Pendery said. "It needs a $78 million dollar expansion to handle the additional traffic."

He also claimed that if Northern Kentucky doesn't get behind the workforce participation needs then the region will not see the economic benefits it has in the past. 

"As you look around Campbell County, we aren't going to have the total [number of developments], or the same type," he said. "But we are making very good progress and we are very happy with the results." 


Kenton County

On Increasing Broadband Access

Judge Knochelmann began his remarks by explaining that the county was proceeding with an agreement that was similar to the one Judge Moore spoke about for Boone County - emphasizing that the expansion isn't just for rural areas of Kenton County. He claimed that there were parts of Villa Hills, Covington, and other larger cities within the county that weren't able to get a fiber network installed in their houses because it wasn't a priority for Cincinnati Bell to expand its infrastructure for a small number of residences. 

He ended his answer by commending the teams at Cincinnati Bell for their work. 

On Infrastructure and the Brent Spence Bridge

"If there has ever been a time for cooperation between the federal government and local communities it would be now," Knochelmann said. It’s exciting to see this opportunity."

Knochelmann explained the next steps that will be taken. He said that once - and if - the bill passes congress, it will fall upon the state legislature and governor to decide where it goes and what happens to it. 

He said that one of the county's priorities is seeing that the state gas tax gets fixed and that money is reinvested into local roads - citing that even if the region gets a new Brent Spence Bridge, there are many local roads that need to be addressed. 

Other priorities the county has are addressing the needs of KY536, the interchange at KY17 and I-275, and the interchange at Turkeyfoot Road. Knochelmann claimed that all of these were critical to county. 

On Economic Development

Knochelmann spoke about developments and jobs that are primarily coming to the cities of Elsmere and Independence. He also spoke about Rivercenter being essentially full of businesses for the first time in a long time, highlighting the importance of that happening in a pandemic when most people were working from home. 

One of the issues Knochelmann brought to attention was the lack of available land in Kenton County - particularly compared to Boone and Campbell Counties. In order to address this problem he hopes to rezone 1,000 acres of land in the south of the county to make it available for development. Another problem he brought up was creating policy aimed at attracting manufacturing jobs that will employ residents without offering incentives. 


Conclusion

At the end of the discussion, the floor was open to those in attendance for questions before each panel-member gave final remarks. One question, poised to Judge Knochelmann, was about the public's access to mental health services - particularly as we emerge from the pandemic. 

"There's stress across all age groups and all economic levels," he answered. "Challenges today are as great as they've ever been."

He then talked about the impact this stress has had on the number of drug overdoses and addiction. He remarked that while deaths from horrific tragedies such as suicide and addiction were down overall, the services that can help are taxed while their need remains unprecedented. 

He encouraged everyone to remain diligent in realizing this struggle is an ongoing challenge. He also said that just because he and his colleagues were on the stage talking about developments and investments in the region, it didn't mean that mental health services are something that don't need attention. 

"It's a major issue, so let's not walk away from it," Knochelmann said. 

Judge Pendery reiterated the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 by citing that those in attendance had to wear a mask when they came in, adding that we are not out of this yet. 

Judge Moore commended his fiscal board, staff, and county employees for the work they did throughout the pandemic - citing that everyone came together to maintain services that were expected by residents in a safe and collaborative manner. 

"We talk a lot about regionalism but it’s not always the reason for broadband or the 911 dispatch systems," Moore concluded. "Sometimes it comes down to being there for each other in the midst of a global pandemic."

Written by Connor Wall, associate editor