A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Florence Mayor Diane Whalen delivers “State of the City;” goal is to be strong today, stronger tomorrow

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Florence Mayor Diane Whalen delivered her annual State of the City and Budget Address at the City Council meeting.

Whalen

The address provides perspective to Florence residents on the City’s progress and plans for the future. It takes place every year prior to the beginning of the new Fiscal Year, which starts on July 1.

“We continue to focus on the city and providing the best possible services to our residents and business community,” Whalen said. “We also focus on our successful financial and economic development which has established our City as a center of commerce in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. We continue to push forward to achieve our goals of providing a safe, prosperous and service-oriented community.”

Whalen was first elected Mayor 18 years ago and the city has experienced consistent growth on several fronts during her tenure. She credits the City staff and the Council for working collaboratively to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors.

“Our efforts are paying dividends, and we are experiencing successes from large to small, all of which are very important to our community,” she said. “These efforts provide an increased and sustainable source of revenue that allow us to provide the best in public safety personnel and equipment, as well as maintain and improve our city infrastructure through the efforts of the Public Services employees.  The fiscal plan and management are in place to make sure that we not only meet those obligations this year, but for many years to come.”

Chapman

The general fund budget totals $34.2 million. This budget figure includes operating and capital expenditures including transfers to other city funds. The operating expenditures are $25.4 million; an overall 4.5 percent increase over those budgeted for fiscal year 2017. The city also has planned expenditures for capital items of $9.9 million.

The City’s Finance Department continues to be recognized by the Government Finance Officers Association for excellence in financial reporting, the highest recognition awarded for financial reporting for a municipality.  In addition, the city received its third consecutive GFOA “Distinguished Budget Presentation” award.

Florence Finance Director Linda Chapman is recognized throughout the state as one of the top administrators in her field and is often called on by other municipalities to provide assistance in times of need.

Police and Fire

The Florence Police Department remained busy this year with more than 55,000 officer calls (9 percent increase) resulting in 79,443 units dispatched (11 percent increase).  The calls include everything from traffic enforcement, to accident investigations, to responding to 911 calls, and assisting residents, businesses, and visitors with requests for service.

The Department successfully secured federal and state grants for equipment and traffic enforcement programs.  A federal grant was obtained and used to purchase body-worn cameras for patrol officers.  In addition, the department received state grants in the amount of $49,000 for enhanced traffic enforcement.

“The Community Resource Unit continues to be active with events throughout the City,” Whalen said. “This year, the unit graduated 550 DARE students, conducted two Citizen’s Academy classes, seven career and job fairs, five school assembly programs, three bike rodeos, the City’s celebrations for Easter, Halloween, Fourth of July, Martin Luther King Day and Christmas,” Whalen said. “In addition, the unit provided drug and crime prevention training to local businesses.”

The Unit also provided special training and assistance to many other community and public service agencies along with youth groups throughout Northern Kentucky, including various Heroin based presentations.

2016 was also a very busy year for the Florence Fire/EMS Department.

The ambulances of the department responded to 7,310 EMS incidents (up 7.1 percent over 2015) including 102 Cardiac Arrests (15 percent decrease) and 272 overdoses (5.5 percent increase).  The Fire Department responded to 2,692 (10 percent increase) fire incidents including 175 fires (7.1 percent decrease) and 613 motor vehicle accidents (17 percent increase).

A total value of $112.8 million of property was saved this year in fires that occurred in 2016.  The Department completed a total of 2,611 life safety inspections (increased 7.5 percent) and 8,627 hours of training (25 percent increase) were taught or completed by members of the department.

Heroin, the scourge of the nation

“As many of you know, our country has experienced the challenges and devastation that has been created by the heroin epidemic,” Whalen said. “Overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50.  According to preliminary data compiled by the New York Times, deaths last year topped 59,000, a more than 19 percent increase over the year before.

Northern Kentucky and the City of Florence continue to struggle with the problem as well.

“We are working with many different stakeholders and agencies in trying to find a way to curtail the overdoses and deaths,” Whalen said. “The numbers are staggering and the families impacted know no socio-economic boundaries.  Our staff participates or has participated in some of the boards and teams that have been created such as Hope for Boone County.”

The City conducted a Heroin Town Hall meeting in 2016 and plans to hold another one in 2017.  The City’s Police and its Fire/EMS departments deal daily with the impacts of drug abuse in the community.

Public Services

Whalen said every resident and property owner of Florence relies on Public Services each day for some type of service. This includes managing and maintaining streets, sidewalks, buildings, grounds, fleet services, water, sanitary sewer, storm water, capital improvements, GIS services, urban forestry, code enforcement, and the citizen inquiry program.

During the past year, the Department coordinated water main replacement along Locust Avenue and the Ockerman School Campus, in addition to repairing 38 main breaksand 119 service leaks.  The Department also relined approximately 5,800 feet of sanitary sewer pipe.

“Park improvements include the replacement of the Lincoln Woods tennis courts and the installation of a backdrop feature and additional improvements near the existing clock tower at the Main Street/Turfway Road Point Property,” Whalen said. “The Florence Nature Park was evaluated and master planned as a proactive measure based on aging infrastructure and high usage.  Based on the recommendations and the Master Plan, City Council has approved improvements to the existing Evelyn Kalb Nature Park House.”

In the upcoming year, the budget includes infrastructure improvements on 11 streets through contracted work and 70 streets though in-house work.

Economic Development  

The City’s Economic Development team finalized many projects and continues to search for new opportunities.

“The Florence Heights development is almost done – Costco and Dave & Buster have done very well over the last year and have been a welcomed addition to the Florence community,” Whalen said. “Construction of a new Outback Steakhouse on the corner of Pinnacle Drive and Mall Road has been completed and it is open for business. Florence will also welcome its second Chick-Fil-A, construction efforts have begun, with an anticipated opening date of Fall 2017.   Menards has delayed their construction plans, not just here, but across the country.  Menards does own the property near Costco, and according to all of the City’s communications with its representatives, they remain committed to bringing a store to the Florence Heights Development.

Major projects on the primary industry side include Bosch Automotive on Spiral Drive. In total they will add 70 new jobs and invest more than $100 million in a new building and equipment. A new road providing access to Bosch is under construction.  Located off of Ted Bushelman Boulevard, it will be named Renegade Way, in honor of the City’s adopted military unit, “The Renegades”.

“As a result of the annexation of 170 acres of airport property, we continue to work with CVG on the Van Trust Development (right behind Wal-Mart) and other proposed developments,” Whalen said. “We welcomed the opportunity to annex and provide our excellent city services to this area.

Amazon Prime has announced its intention to make CVG a new Air hub.  The total build out is estimated to be more than $1.5 billion dollars with employment opportunities for an estimated 2,500 employees.  While this project is not located within city boundaries, Florence will be involved in discussions regarding flow of traffic and the positive impact this will have on the city as well as the entire region.

Other recent openings include Gabes (formally known as Gabriel Brothers), Bear Paddle Swim Club, CoreLife Eatery, T-Mobile and Vision Works.  Magnolia Springs Senior Living and Gerner and Kearns Law Firm, both located off of Ewing Boulevard, have opened recently.  New hotels, Hilton Home to Suites (Woodspoint Drive), as well as Comfort Suites Hotel (Merchants Drive) are set to open in the near future, and “Villages of Florence” ranch style rental units located on Hopeful Church Road is also set to open later this year.

The City also closed on the sale of four acres on the Government Center campus to the Northern Kentucky District Health Department.  The health department purchased the land for the construction of their new District Health Offices.  The groundbreaking ceremony took place on May 19, at the Florence Government Center and construction is already underway.

Mayor’s final thoughts

“During my lifetime here, I have seen the transformation of our little town into the eighth largest city in the state,” Whalen said. “Florence was in the right place at the right time.  But it took leaders with a vision to make it happen. It is a busy place – one of the biggest complaints we hear is about traffic. But the traffic, the busy roads, traffic signals, storefronts, restaurants and many other businesses are a testimony that we must be doing something right.”

While Florence is viewed by many cities as a model, but it is not ready to rest on its laurels. The City has budgeted money for a Strategic Planning process and will involve citizens, businesses, employees and elected officials as it looks to the future to determine what comes next for the community.

There is no question that the state of our city is strong and Whalen emphasized that no one person can lay claim to that and residents are an integral part of that success.

“I offer my sincere thanks to Y’All,” Whalen said. “It is our residents, our business owners and their employees, and the dedicated public servants who come to work every day that help to keep our city on track.  We may not have riverfront property and views to promote, but our view from the top of our Florence Y’All water tower is just as impressive because of each and every one of you.  Thank you for allowing me to serve – It is indeed a labor of love.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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