Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Special lawyer advises Ludlow

Report covers finances, city operations

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LUDLOW — In the city where bills for property taxes and water service have routinely been sent out months late, a special lawyer hired by the city has offered advice on improving opera tions.

        Besides offering a number of recommendations for getting Ludlow's finances in order, Covington lawyer Chris Mehling also suggested that the mayor name a blue ribbon panel to review how the city handles fire and emergency response.

        “It is essential for the citizens that all involved look toward the future, not the past, to deal with this prob lem,” Mr. Mehling said in his report to Ludlow City Council. “It may well be that the old ways of doing business are no longer applicable to the Ludlow of the 21st century.”

        Ludlow Mayor Ed Schroeder — appointed less than three weeks ago — has asked council to review Mr. Mehling's suggestions and offer its input on June 28.

        As proposed by Mr. Mehl ing, the panel would include fire department representatives, business people, residents and experts. After soliciting public input, the panel would develop a 20-year plan for addressing fire

        and emergency response and determine how it will be financed, he said.

        Mr. Schroeder agreed that Ludlow needs to study its fire and life squad service. However, he said he also would like to see the city develop a long-range plan that addresses a number of issues, including how Ludlow plans to use the revenues from Chateaux Devou, a planned multimillion-dollar condominium project that would be the city's first large residential development in 20 years.

        Instead of reacting to situations as they occur, Mr. Schroeder said that he wants to see Ludlow offi cials plan for the future and run the Ohio River city of 4,409 like a business.

        Today, for example, Mr. Schroeder has asked volunteers to answer calls at the city building while workers receive training on a new computer program that tracks city spending.

        The former Kenton County sheriff and Kenton Circuit Court clerk was appointed mayor on May 24, after Tom Stacy resigned, citing health reasons and time constraints.

        Councilwoman Cindy Schachere, who said she generally agrees with Mr. Mehling's recommendations, would like to see city operations get “a major overhauling.”

        “A lot of what Chris recommended had to do with accountability, and I think that we're going to see more of that now that we have a mayor who's in the office on a regular basis and holds (employees) accountable,” Mrs. Schachere said.

        John Gaiser, president of the Ludlow Bromley and Vicinity Businessmen's Association and owner of Ideal Supply in Ludlow, praised council's efforts.

        “I think they're headed in the right direction,” said Mr. Gaiser, a third-generation Ludlow resident who has followed city politics. Too often, he said, the past council was criticized for asking for information on financial mat ters that it should have received from the mayor or others in City Hall.

        Mr. Mehling also recommended that the mayor issue monthly financial statements, that the city's financial records be audited yearly, and the city hire a permanent clerk/treasurer to fill the position that has been vacant for two years.

        “Much of the confusion and chaos in regard to city records, city payments and other things . . . probably is a result of not having an experienced individual serving as the permanent clerk/treasurer,” Mr. Mehling said.

        When Ludlow's clerks resigned in February 1999, stacks of uncashed checks were found in City Hall. During that year, the mayor and council majority also failed to agree on a budget, finally adopting one nine months into the fiscal year.

        Ludlow also needs to establish procedures for the collection of property taxes and look into contracting with the sheriff to collect them, Mr. Mehling said. In his report, he noted that “for the last two years the city has not issued the tax bills in a timely fashion.”

        Mr. Schroeder said he thinks the city should be able to handle its tax collection in-house.

        Other recommendations:

        • No one but the police chief and other authorized personnel should have a key and access to the police headquarters. Mr. Mehling said the former mayor had obtained a key over the police chief's objection.

        • The city should review its cellular phone contracts, after Mr. Mehling noticed every city employee and the former mayor carried Nextel cellular telephones that exceeded budgeted amounts.

        • Ludlow needs to develop a policy for the reimbursement of personal expenses incurred on city accounts, and review who, if anyone, should have city credit cards.


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