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Covington partnering with State on Brent Spence deal for major benefits, big impact for city

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

Mayor Joseph U. Meyer did something Tuesday night that he rarely — if ever — has done before. He came down from his seat as Mayor at their regularly scheduled legislative meeting and addressed the board on a topic that is near and dear to his heart.

The Brent Spence Project.

For more than a decade, the Mayor and Commission have been duking it out with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet over the details of the project — from the aspect of tolls, which studies showed would send tens of thousands of vehicles into the Covington area — to the footprint of the project, and how it would affect residents of the city. Well, the subject of tolls has been put to rest, but in the minds of city leaders, there was still much to fight for.

Now, through the efforts of Meyer and the Commission — including Meyer’s impassioned presentation Tuesday night — the city of Covington and the KYTC will move forward as partners on the project after Commissioners agreed to sign two contracts, which were surprisingly added to last week’s caucus meeting agenda.

The contracts not only cement the city’s partnership with the KYTC, as there are other highlights for the city, including:

• KYTC reimbursing the city up to $500,000 to hire a Covington Project Director to coordinate with them on the Brent Spence Bridge project for the next five years,

• A new storm sewer from Kyles Lanes and extending through the Willow Run watershed to the Ohio River,

• A number of actions related to reduce traffic impacts during construction, including improvements for the intersections of Fourth and Main and Fifth and Main Streets, and

• Tripling the funding for the Lewisburg Façade Grant program to $1.2 million.

In his presentation Tuesday, Meyer first said he would like to give an update on the decades-long project.

He noted that the project is entering “a new phase,” partially because the cities of Cincinnati and Covington are completely different now than when designs for the project were being discussed in 2005. Meyer singled out the attracting of new business and revitalization of Covington, as well as projects like the central riverfront development plan as proof.

Mayor Joe Meyer

“Our Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has recognized our changed circumstances and has left the way for adjustments to the 2012 plan,” he explained. “As a practical matter, final designs will not be completed until the project is well underway.”

But Covington now has a seat at the table. Meyer noted an updated timeline where the state hopes to award the design contract by Nov. 1, 2023. They hope construction begins Dec. 31, 2023, and they hope it is completed by March 31, 2029.

“Over the past few years, but in the past year in particular, the city has been engaged in intense negotiations with the Transportation Cabinet over the design of the project,” Meyer said. “We’ve been successful in some of our advocacy, unsuccessful in others, and, in others, it remains to be determined.”

But one of the biggest victories for the city involves the building of a new storm sewer.

“The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will address the stormwater issues by building a new storm sewer from Kyles Lane to the Ohio River,” Meyer explained.

The Memorandum of Agreement between KYTC and the city states that “KYTC has initiated a study to evaluate measures to fully contain all drainage from the interstate within a separate stormwater conveyance system and eliminate discharges to the city’s combined sewer system beginning at Kyles Lane and extending through the Willow Run watershed to the Ohio River.”

It is thought that this new system will help alleviate the flooding issues faced by the Peaselburg neighborhood during intense storms. Getting this improvement as part of the deal could significantly impact residents in a positive way — and solve a problem that has plagued them longer than the Brent Spence Project has been in the works.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve both contracts.

Meyer can now sign both and formally agree to the partnership. After that, Jim Gray, the secretary of KYTC, will also sign.

“Once the Secretary signs, the Cabinet can load up into their payment system and send back a copy for our records, and it will be effective as of the start of the next fiscal year,” Meyer wrote in an email to the Commission last week. “The overall impact of I-75 on this city and its future cannot be understated. These contracts guarantee the city’s participation in the process.”

New small business guidelines approved

Commissioners approved a few changes to their small business guidelines, including:

• Changed eligibility criteria for Rent Subsidy Incentives from an “existing business” to a “new” business, or a business that has been open for less than 120 days prior to application deadline and meet all requirements.

• For Façade Improvement Incentive Changes: While any construction expenses incurred prior to execution of an agreement with the city aren’t eligible for reimbursement, at the owners’ risk, materials purchased, but no work to the façade is done, prior to an executed agreement are eligible for reimbursement if application is funded (if application isn’t awarded funding, any incurred costs would be the owner’s responsibility).

• In light of the supply chain and labor situations, both of which are causing construction delays, the commission recommend extending the allowable construction completion timeline from 6 months to 12 months.

• They also recommended adding a Historic Electric Sign program. In addition to many amazing historic buildings, Covington also has unique historic electrical signs throughout various commercial areas of the city. Similar to the Façade Incentive, this will be a forgivable loan program focused on refurbishing dilapidated historic signage in commercial areas. This program offers new and existing businesses and commercial building owners a 75(city)/25(owner) matching grant up to $7,500 to offset costs for restoring existing projecting signs. The following items are eligible: mounting hardware, sign installation, sign refurbishment (including wiring and neon or related lighting fixtures).

Budget got its first reading

Staff produced a draft of next year’s budget, which showed a projected total all funds revenue of $168,061,010, with a projected total all fund expenditures of $162,963,804.

Staff approves priorities for 2022-23

Commissioners approved a set of priorities for the next fiscal year, including:

City Manager/Staff:

• New City Hall Facility
• Parking
• Records Management
• Brent Spence Bridge

City’s Service Departments:

• Wet lab for life sciences
• IRS: Finalize State TIF Designation
• Local 38 Contract Negotiations: address paramedic qualification requirement
• Formal adoption of Fire Department Policies by Commission
• Monitor and support ambulance supplemental pay program (CHFS)
• Develop and implement annual reports to Commission re: administration of shelter ordinance; short-term rentals; and rental dwelling licenses
• Implementation of Parks Master Plan
• Operationalize the Neighborhood Investment Partners as independent provider of affordable housing
• Relocate City Heights
• Identify sidewalk blocks needing repair and advise property owners about sidewalk maintenance responsibilities
• Conversion of Scott and Greenup to two-way streets
• AFSCME Contract Negotiations
• Continued implementation storm water backflow valve program
• MS4/Stormwater systemic improvement recommendations
• Recommendations for 15th Street Bridge improvements
• FOP Contract Negotiations

City’s Support Departments:

• IRS Site: Award engineering contract; Complete demolition; and Complete preliminary engineering work
• Covington Connect: Extend wireless service to other areas of the city
• Develop Covington Connect Management Plan re: data management and use as a communication vehicle
• Share implementation plan for options described in IT analysis
• Develop 3-5 Year plan for implementation of IT recommendations
• Identify outside service provider to support city IT operations
• Engage consulting services for overall review of Human Resources operations and policies
• Design and identify locations for Covington signs
• Complete Franchise Agreements for all utilities companies serving the city
• Manage city’s interest in Opioid Settlement
• Engage outside counsel to foreclose on tax and other city liens
• External review of Finance Department operations and policies
• Select new Financial Advisor
• Auditor RFP
• Implement database for city boards

Hires, Resignations and Appointments

Commissioners approved:

• The resignation of Emilee Buttrum as Assistant City Solicitor and Covington Alcoholic Beverage Control Administrator
• The hiring of Sharon Snowden for the position of payroll specialist
• The hiring of Anthony Fritsch as a Covington Police Officer
• The hiring of Mason Smith as a Covington Police Officer
• The re-appointment of Charlie Vance to the Audit Committee for a three-year term beginning May 15, 2022, and ending May 14, 2025.

Downing absent

Commissioner Tim Downing was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.

Next Meeting

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., June 21, at the City Building at 20 W. Pike St. in Covington. The meetings can be followed live on Fioptics channel 815, Spectrum channel 203, the  Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK) website, the TBNK Facebook page @TBNKonline, and the TBNK Roku channels.

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