Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Residents: New jail? Not here

Kenton Fiscal Court urged to keep it out of Peaselburg

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — With signs, petitions and emotional speeches, a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday urged Kenton Fiscal Court to consider putting a new county jail at a remote site, not in the heart of a Covington neighborhood.

        Saying the county is trying to resolve “a difficult situation,” Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd repeatedly tried to convince a skeptical audience that county officials are attempting to decide Kenton County's correctional needs “based on the best facts” they have, and not on emotions or politics, as some have claimed.

        He suggested that those who question the county's cost estimates on potential jail sites or other information look to independent groups such as Southbank Partners for guidance.

   Southbank Partners will discuss its proposal to build a $30 million Kenton County government center and jail in Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood at a meeting Thursday.
   The meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Covington's First District School, Sixth Street and Scott Boulevard. Southbank officials said they will outline details of the proposal and want to hear what the public thinks of it.
        About 220 people representing neighborhoods throughout Covington packed Tuesday's meeting in the Covington City Building as Mr. Murgatroyd announced the fiscal court will delay plans for a controversial downtown jail expansion for 30 days to consider a new site.

        On Monday, Southbank Partners, a development group, proposed that the county consider building a $30 million government center that would include a jail at the site of the former Jefferson Street/Interstate 75 interchange in Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood.

        Members of fiscal court refused to discuss Southbank's recommended jail site on Tuesday, saying that it's Southbank's proposal, not the county's, and they're awaiting a formal proposal from Southbank.

        But the fact that Peaselburg could become the latest potential jail site has residents concerned.

        “We're looking for neighborhood revitalization, not a jail,” said Susan Ham, chairwoman of Friends of Peaselburg and a 15-year resident of the neighborhood.

        She added that 98 percent of those who had contacted her since Monday's announcement by Southbank were opposed to construction of a jail in their neighborhood.

        “There are many areas in the county where you can put this without it being at our doorsteps,” Ms. Ham said to applause.

        Peaselburg resident Darla Highfield said: “We may not have the highest tax base in the county, but we do love our city and we do love our homes.”

        Earlier in the meeting, a resident of Covington's Licking-Riverside neighborhood — where the county has proposed expanding the current jail — gave county officials petitions with more than 300 signatures of Kenton County employees and residents who think the county's recent decision to expand the jail “is a costly mistake” that will negatively impact the area's economy and revitalization efforts for years to come.

        Some speakers, such as MainStrasse businessman Rocco Castellano, urged the fiscal court to be creative and look into putting two or three potential jail sites to a vote of county residents.

        Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson said he didn't think counties had that authority, but he agreed to look into the issue.


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