BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH - Pendleton County leaders aren't going to just stand by and let the federal and state governments decide what the future holds.
Instead a "Vision Team" hopes to decide the fate of this flood-ravaged community. The group has met every Thursday since the end of April, ironing out a blueprint for the future.
Everything from how to extend water and sewer lines into the southern and northern ends of the county to more housing and the possible merger of some city and county services has been hashed out.
"We would like to present it to the president," Falmouth Councilman Anthony Strong said.
Even without a presidential audience, the vision team is going to take its ideas to Washington, D.C., this summer to lobby for the money to achieve its goals.
County Judge-executive Donald Mays formed the Vision Team last month. Its mission is to develop short- and long-range visions for the area. It is made up of officials from the cities, schools and businesses.
They've got the support of U.S. Sens. Wendell Ford and Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning. The group hopes to gain the public's support by sharing its plan with residents in June.
What the vision team presents to Washington will focus mainly on bettering infrastructure within the county, to make Pendleton a more viable and modern place to live.
All the ideas discussed will become the basis for a comprehensive plan that will outline land use and development for the county and the cities of Falmouth and Butler.
"We're trying to look at the big picture, from the north end to the south end, to make this a better community," Councilman Jeff Carson said.
Money is the big concern: where it will come from and how much more is needed to rebuild this city of 2,400 into some semblance of the rural settlement it once was.
Since the Licking River tore through the towns here like a tornado, property values have drastically declined. Tax assessments completed this week dropped the value by half on all property affected by floodwater. That means property tax revenues will be much less than in previous years.
"Take that and what the loss is on sewer, water and electric and that's a lot of money," said David Butcher, team member and owner of Butcher Realty and Auction.
Property-tax revenue alone adds about $150,000 to Falmouth's coffers, but that amount is barely enough to cover the police department's budget, Mr. Strong said. "The city is going to be in sad shape," he said.
So will the schools. Assistant Superintendent Larry Sutton said the district will have to find other ways to pay for the new middle school now under construction. "We're going to be hurting." Merging city and county governments might be a way to save money and become more efficient, former Judge-executive David Pribble said.
"I think it's an issue that needs to be discussed," he said. "I think a merged government would work a lot better in a rural county." With two cities and one county, Pendleton has four water districts, three police departments and plenty of duplication in equipment. Vision team members will be asking their friends and neighbors for their thoughts on a merger. They're armed with blank lists, one titled "advantages," the other "disadvantages." In two weeks the team will discuss the issue again.
"What people told us we most needed to do was to be unified in asking for (money)," Mr. Butcher said. "If we have one unified government, then we can do that, and we could eliminate a lot of this talk."