Friday, April 06, 2001

Monmouth assessment appealed

Streetscape upgrade called too expensive

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — A group of Monmouth Street business/property owners, upset over assessments levied by the city to help pay for the $4 million streetscape project, are filing an appeal in Campbell Circuit Court.

        Covington attorney Tony Brinker said Thursday he was working on the final draft of the appeal and expected to file the papers soon.

        “Basically, it's an appeal of the assessments,” he said. “The city of Newport's assessments and the project come to a screeching halt until the judge makes a decision. Depending on how the judge rules, it could require a trial. But a halt to the assessments occurs as soon as the appeal is accepted.”

        City commissioners on March 12 approved the project, which has been in the planning stages for several years, that calls for paver-style sidewalks, new curbs and removal of overhead wires along Monmouth Street from 11th Street to Fifth Street. Utility lines are to be run underground.

        Fred Schilling, who owns Albert's, a clothing and uniform business, said about 30 business owners on Monmouth had chipped in to pay for the appeal.

        “I don't think anyone is strictly against the project, although it's hard to see how new sidewalks and underground electric are going to improve business,” Mr. Schilling said. “The problem is the amount of assessment we're being asked to pay. It's just too much.”

        Under the ordinance permitting the assessments, property owners along Monmouth would be assessed $35.98 per linear foot annually for 10 years. The city has about $1 million in grant money.

        The city also approved a three-year moratorium before starting collection of the assessments.

        Some of the property owners appealing the assessments have said they would prefer the city wait to start the project until they learn if grant applications filed recently will provide additional funding for the streetscape project.

        “I'm disappointed with this move,” City Commissioner Ken Rechtin said. “I think the city has come forward with a good proposal and good ideas. We will continue to work to reduce the assessments. But timing is important, and we need to move forward now.”

        Mr. Rechtin said he was confidant that additional money will be forthcoming as the result of state grants. “That money will reduce the assessments to other property owners by about half,” he said.

        City Commissioner Jerry Peluso, who with his mother owns a business and property on Monmouth Street, said he couldn't comment on the issue but added, “I think it's a choice (property owners) can make if they wish.”

        Mr. Peluso said the city has been in contact with state Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Wilder. “We've asked him to help push for the additional funding from the state,” he said.

        Mr. Brinker said that, theoretically, the city could proceed with work on the sidewalks of those properties owned by people who were not part of the appeal.

        “But from a practical sense, I think (the appeal) stops the process,” he said. “I wouldn't think the city would want to start working in several different areas and have only portions of the street improved.”

        City Manager Phil Ciafardini said Thursday that city officials thought they would be successful in obtaining additional grant money. “It's a question of how much and when,” he said.

        “I've spoken to some Monmouth Street property owners who have said they would be willing to stop the action if they were certain we would have additional money,” he said. “I hope they have a change of heart about this appeal, but I can't comment (on the appeal) until it's filed and we see what the court is going to do.”


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