Covington, Kentucky

$71 Million Covington Investment Plan Approved by 3-2 Vote

"This begins to change the way the city looks at its future."

City Manager Larry Klein was applauded by most of those in attendance at Tuesday night's Covington City Commission meeting after his proposed five-year community investment plan was adopted by a vote of 3-2.

"To not have a plan is a recipe for disaster," Klein said.

The plan presented and adopted Tuesday is more than $71 million to be spent over a five year period with a focus on infrastructure like streets and roads, economic development and neighborhood revitalization, new facilities and recreation like a community healthy living center and skate park, and an upgrade of the city's fleet and equipment.

"This is a game-changer," said Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. "This is the kind of planning and investment we haven't done in decades. In a few years we'll see a vastly transformed Covington.

Eilerman joiend Mayor Sherry Carran and Commissioner Steve Frank in approving the plan.

"The way I look at it, the work of (previous Mayor) Chuck Scheper and the unified commission wrote a check that this commission and future ones will be able to cash," said Frank, adding that future commissions won't be able "to monkey with" the the funds because this plan ensures that they are there.

"If we don't invest in our city, we can't expect businesses to invest," Mayor Carran said, adding that many longtime residents are beyond ready for some visual evidence of progress. "If residents don't start seeing the city stepping up to the plate, they're out of here."

"These are good investments. This is not a fly-by-night plan."

The good investments to which the mayor referred include $8.8 million in infrastructure improvements in 2014 and $23.3 million from 2015-2018. Those improvements will be in the form of repaired, replaced, or new sidewalks and streets, curbs, levees, storm water systems, and street lights.

The plan also outlines goals for economic development and neighborhood revitalization including developments along the riverfront, business and residential developments, and the acquisition and demolition of more foreclosed properties. $8.8 million will be earmarked for that portion of the plan in 2014 with another $9.5 million from 2015-2018.

New facilities on the horizon include a community healthy living center, similar to a YMCA, as well as a planned skate park, though those plans are still in their infancy and will require boosts from outside partners and foundations. Improvements will be forthcoming for Randolph Park, the Licking River Greenway, a new Devou Park events center, a new City Hall (that possibly shares a campus with the police department and maybe other government agencies, too), a new facility for the Department of Public Improvements, and a new firehouse.

$6.9 million will go towards those efforts in 2014 with another $9.9 million to follow in 2015 through 2018.

New police cruisers, ambulances, fire apparatus, snow plows, street maintenance equipment, pickup trucks, and other equipment will receive $1.7 million worth of funding in 2014 with another $2.6 million in 2015 through 2018.

In total, $25.6 million is budgeted for the above-listed improvements in fiscal year 2014 while $45.8 million more will be utilized from 2015 through 2018. The total planned investment in the city is $71.4 million.

Part of the plan will be funded by an increase in property taxes that will be presented later in the year, the first possible increase in Covington's city property tax in more than a decade.

The plan did not receive support from Commissioners Mildred Rains and Michelle Williams.

"I vote no," Rains said.

"Because I don't agree (with the plan), I vote no," Williams said.

Following a presentation by City Hall managers that explained each piece of the plan, Williams questioned why specifics were lacking.

"You guys haven't given me one number but you've managed to come up with $16.8 million (for facility work)," she said. "Can I get a number?" Williams wanted precise price tags for pieces of the plan like the skate park and the community healthy living center.

Assistant City Manager Larisa Sims pulled up a document that placed the estimated costs of the skate park at $1 million, Randolph Park improvements at $500,000, a new firehouse and building for the Department of Public Improvements at $8 million. Sims emphasized that these were merely estimates.

City Manager Klein added again that partners would be sought for multiple pieces of that part of the plan.

Sims went on to point out the excitement that city staff is feeling about the future as these projects get underway. "This is a very exciting time," she said. "We are finally getting the resources to do things we've wanted to do for a long time. Staff is excited, we hope the commission is excited, and we hope the community is excited."

The plan also won a ringing endorsement from former Mayor Chuck Scheper whose leadership throughout 2012 helped place the City of Covington in a financial position to begin reinvesting in itself. Scheper wrote a letter that was read aloud by Assistant City Manager/City Solicitor Frank Warnock.

"While we accomplished many parts of the Courage + Vision = Growth plan, one area lacking was addressing the infrastructure needs," Scheper wrote. "As you know, delaying developments in our infrastructure will result in future costs far exceeding what it would take to solve the problems now. ...the ability to move forward with deliberate speed will enhance the quality of life for the residents and businesses in Covington. I applaud your collective vision to invest in the much ignored infrastructure and to support economic development projects that will pay dividends for many years to come."

"So I encourage you to vote yes for this plan and to continue the momentum for the New Covington."

"This a momentous occasion," Klein said at the end of Tuesday's meeting. "I think the city has changed the way it does business. This is a big night for Covington."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Crumbling sidewalk on Madison Avenue/RCN file