Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Ft. Wright residents asked for OK on street, sewer tax

$15 million proposal would improve curbs, add sidewalks

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT WRIGHT - Several children walking to and from St. Agnes School in this city's Lookout Heights area in recent years have narrowly missed getting hit by cars, some here say.

Fort Wright officials hope to address those safety concerns and enhance property values at the same time through a $15 million, 20-year improvement program for sidewalks, curbs, gutters and storm water control.

• What: Presentation of a proposed tax of 90 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation on property to fund a sidewalk, street and storm-sewer improvement program.
• When: 7 p.m. Oct. 21 and 22
• Where: St. Paul Community Church
• Cost: If approved, the monthly cost would be $10.05 for owners of a single-family home with an assessed valuation of $134,000. The annual cost would be $120.60, for a total of $2,412 over 20 years. For a Homestead Tax-exempt single-family home with assessed value of $94,000, the monthly cost would be $7.05, the yearly cost would be $84.60 and the cost over 20 years would be $1,692.
• Endorsements: Supporters of the proposal include five of the six Fort Wright Council members, Mayor Gene Weaver, five former Fort Wright mayors, the St. Agnes School Board, the Fort Wright Civic Club board of directors and the president of the city's volunteer fire department.
"I see about 30 or 40 children walking down the middle of my street when they come home from school, because there are no sidewalks in this area,'' said longtime Vidot Court resident John Herold, a 66-year-old retiree.

"I raised eight children on my street, and I always wished we had sidewalks. Now I worry about the safety of the children in the neighborhood. And when my grandchildren come to visit, I worry about them walking in the street.''

To help pay for the improvements, city officials are asking voters in this Kenton County city of 5,681 to approve a tax of 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on all residential, commercial and industrial property on Nov. 5.

The tax would take effect Jan. 1, 2003, and would be due each Dec. 31 thereafter.

Presentations on the proposed tax will be held Oct. 21 and 22.

"In my analysis, I just come back to the fact that the money is going to have to be spent sooner or later - and if it's later, it's going to be more,'' said Darin DiTommaso, 36, a Fort Wright resident and volunteer firefighter/EMT.

"If we do this now and do it right, it's going to lower our costs in the long run.''

The proposal traces its roots to April 2001, when Fort Wright City Council authorized a comprehensive study of infrastructure that analyzed more than 14 miles of city streets.

"The goal of the study was to see what it would cost to make sure every street had a sidewalk on at least one side, as well as curb, gutter and storm water control,'' Fort Wright Administrator Larry Klein said.

"We wanted every street in the city to be first class.''

The study by CDS Associates Inc. and Fort Wright City Engineer Mark Brueggemann concluded that it would cost $750,000 a year for 20 years to accomplish that - more than twice the $300,000 that Fort Wright now spends on infrastructure improvements.

If Fort Wright had sidewalks throughout the city, Mr. Herold said, he and his wife, Betty, wouldn't have to take most of their daily walks in neighboring Park Hills or Fort Mitchell.

"In the late '40s, '50s and '60s, when many of our houses were built, there probably weren't too many people out walking on a routine basis,'' said Fort Wright Mayor Gene Weaver.

"We're trying to bring our infrastructure up to today's standards.''

If approved, the tax would generate $350,000 a year, Mr. Weaver said.

That revenue, combined with the $300,000 now budgeted for street and sidewalk improvements, and an additional $100,000 from future development, would meet the annual $750,000 expenditure recommended by the study.

Fort Wright officials said that Fort Mitchell and Park Hills have passed similar taxes, and now budget $800,000 and $786,117, respectively, for street and sidewalk maintenance and repairs.

That's more than twice what Fort Wright now spends.

"We looked into assessments, but we didn't think that hitting somebody who's on a fixed income with a $3,000 bill for their sidewalk in one year was fair,'' Mr. Klein said.

After consulting with real estate agents and Kenton County Property Valuation Administrator Mark Vogt, Fort Wright officials determined that the improvements would help the marketability of Fort Wright homes as local homeowners compete with housing stock in newer parts of Northern Kentucky.

"Your street may look great,'' Mr. Weaver said.

"But if (a prospective buyer) goes two streets over, and the streets look rundown, they may be reluctant to buy.''

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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