Sunday, January 23, 2000

Ludlow council under fire


Utility bills among concerns

BY CINDY SCHROEDER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LUDLOW — A year after electing a new city government, a growing number of Ludlow residents say they're fed up with city officials' bickering and inefficiency.

        Roy Lee, 70, who owns the local Minut Mart with his wife, Mariann, said he's heard that a slate of challengers will run this fall against a Ludlow council he said is mostly made up of members who are “rude, arrogant and lacking in common sense.”

        “Ludlow's a nice place to live,” Mr. Lee said of his adopted hometown of 4,700. “Our residents are some of the nicest around. We just want to get rid of this council.”

        “I welcome whoever wants to run for council, because I will never run again,” said first-term council member Janet Rohan. “I think council's taken the blame for everything, when it really hasn't been that way. I don't know anybody on council who hasn't tried to do their very best for the city.”

        Like other Ludlow residents, Mr. Lee's interest in local politics was sparked when it became public that three council members had looked into contracting with Kenton County for police service.

        Earlier this month, Ludlow native Tempy Smith also attended her first City Council meeting — a standing room only affair at the Ludlow Senior Center — and now the 38-year-old foster parent plans to become a regular attendee.

        “I really got angry when I heard some of the council members were talking about getting rid of the police de partment,” Ms. Smith said. “Three years ago, my dad had a heart attack. If two police officers hadn't shown up and done CPR on him, he would have died.”

        Ms. Smith was among 1,000 residents and business people who recently signed petitions asking city officials to keep the Ludlow Police Department.

        But dissatisfaction over council's exploring alternative police service isn't the only issue that has Ludlow residents upset.

        Among their concerns:

        • Nearly eight months into the fiscal year, Ludlow has yet to adopt a budget.

        • The same Ludlow Volunteer Fire Department that's the subject of a grand jury investigation for its charitable bingo games also made the news three months ago, when firefighters responding to a car fire struck a van.

        The 1987 Ford Taurus, owned by Ms. Smith's daughter, was destroyed, as firefighters argued over the dinging of the van.

        “That shouldn't have happened, but it did,” Councilman Garry Hatter Sr., a fire department supervisor, told Ms. Smith at the Jan. 13 council meeting.

        • Ludlow's water department has lost money four of the past five years, including $61,000 in the fiscal year that ended in July, and residents want to know why.

        • The city is nearly a year behind in sending out water bills. And when bills are sent out, residents say checks often take months to clear.

        On Friday, Ludlow City Clerk Richard Abney said that the city has finished installing updated computer software for its utility bills. Now city employees are manually enter ing balances of about 2,000 customers, and water bills should be going out “at the very earliest, in two weeks, assuming the city does not run into other problems,” Mr. Abney said.

        Because three quarters of water bills are being sent at the same time, customers will have extra time to pay.

        In the past, Mr. Abney has attributed some of the delays in posting cash balances to Ludlow's water and waste fund to checks that didn't clearly reference what they were paying.

        In reporting her preliminary audit findings to council this month, Linda Chapman, a CPA with Rankin, Rankin & Co. auditors, said that Ludlow's water woes began about five years ago, when the Kenton County Water District upped its prices. Rather than pass the full increase on to local water customers, Ludlow's water department took money from city reserves.

        Today, Ludlow continues to drain other funds to pay costs associated with its water department, Ms. Chapman told council.

        Residents also are upset with recent revelations involving council members.

        In October, Councilman Ron Wofford was found to have an outstanding warrant in Hamilton County for allegedly committing minor misdemeanor drug abuse in 1988.

        And last fall, a civil claim was filed against Ludlow councilwoman Janet Rohan for failing to pay delinquent property taxes owed to Kenton County.

        Mrs. Rohan said Friday that she plans to pay off her delinquent tax bill on Monday.

        After a year of elective office, Mrs. Rohan said she is frustrated that council has become the focus of critics for many issues that are beyond its control.

        “Council's only tried to balance a budget that's gotten out of hand for many years,” Mrs. Rohan said. “We weren't around when the water department started having all its financial problems. And it's not council's fault that (city) bills aren't going out on time, or checks sent to the city are taking months to clear.”

        “I like this little city,” said Ludlow native Ed Schroeder, 69, a retired Kenton Circuit Court Clerk who recently organized a group of volunteers to help get months-old city bills out.

        “I've lived here all my life, and I just hate to see it like this. ... Council's got to quit worrying about personalities, and start worrying about the city,” Mr. Schroeder said.

        Residents say they will continue bringing their poster-sized, “Ludlow Citizens' Bill of Rights” to council meetings, after it became the focus of attention at the Jan. 13 meeting. The “bill of rights” condemns verbal abuse and inappropriate behavior at city meetings, and calls for the public to be treated with respect by Ludlow officials.

        Mayor Tom Stacy — who often spars with the council majority — said that he also will continue his new practice of letting the public speak at the beginning of council meetings, instead of at the end, “as long as people keep filling up (his) answering machine.”

        “I come away feeling a lot better, when someone gets a chance to speak their mind,” Mr. Stacy said. “That way, they go away feeling they're more a part of the system, and their community.”

        Ludlow resident Trisha Poe, a former city employee and long-time council watchdog, is among those who plan to challenge the present city council this November.

        “We need to get some people in there who actually have a clue about what's going on, and won't put the city in a position of embarrassment,” Ms. Poe said. “It's embarrassing to say you're from Ludlow.”

       



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