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Miami County elections official leaving for new job

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 @ 9:10 AM

            The Miami County Board of Elections deputy director is resigning after one year on the job. FILE
The Miami County Board of Elections deputy director is resigning after one year on the job. FILE

TROY – Merrit “Luke” Scott, deputy director of the Miami County Board of Elections for the past year, has submitted his resignation effective June 29.

Scott will leave for a new job in the elections field in Florida, according to his resignation letter submitted Monday.

“While this has been a difficult decision, please accept this official notice of my resignation,” Scott wrote. “I have enjoyed my time working in Miami County and serving the voters of Miami County.”

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Scott has accepted a job as deputy of special projects with the Martin County Supervisor of Elections Office in Stuart, Fla.

Scott, previously of Columbus, was hired in late May 2017, to fill the position vacated with the firing by the elections board of former deputy director Eric Morgan in January 2017.

Scott, a Democrat, had worked for the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus in its voter services department. He was a graduate of the University of Rio Grande with an associate’s degree.

The elections board received Scott’s resignation but has not met to accept it or discuss hiring a new deputy director, said elections Director Bev Kendall. Because the director is a Republican, the deputy director would need to be a Democrat.

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Warren County has tried to start 2 major projects for years, but these problems are stopping them

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 10:04 AM

            The Warren County Event Center is to be built near the entrance to the county fairgrounds in Lebanon.
The Warren County Event Center is to be built near the entrance to the county fairgrounds in Lebanon.

Warren County already is hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for two construction projects that have been in the plans for years.

Last week, however, county officials said the work is more difficult now because of rising construction costs.

U.S. trade tariffs could worsen the problems for commercial construction in Warren County and elsewhere in the country, according to the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

Warren County has sought money to pay for an event center planned to replace grandstands at the county fairgrounds, and commissioners for almost a decade have planned an expansion of the county’s juvenile and probate court complex.

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Ken Simonson, chief economist for the national association of general contractors, said construction problems reflect national price hikes in building materials and goods that have prompted commercial contractors to begin raising their prices.

“Construction is really feeling the heat of rising material costs,” said Simonson. “I am concerned that the tariffs that have been announced … will push up construction costs even more.”

Still, last week in Lebanon, the county commissioners green-lighted negotiations expected to result in construction of a scaled-down version of the court facilities expansion, although staff said they had been unable to find a contractor willing to do the work for the $3.5 million budgeted.

At the same meeting, the commissioners put the brakes on the construction of the $3.8 million event center — already out of the picture for the county fair in July — while reviving an old feud with Lebanon officials that dates back at least four years. The fight is about whether any of the city’s $1.5 million share of $3 million in state funds set aside for redevelopment of the former racetrack and the areas immediately around them should be spent on the fairgrounds property.

RELATED: Warren County Fair to host another year without event center

“We’ve got a jail to build,” Commissioner Dave Young said, noting the county is involved in number of multi-million dollar construction projects. “This is at the bottom of my list.”

RELATED: State changes racetrack redevelopment rules to require Lebanon-Warren County collaboration

Event center deficit rekindles feud

Young directed staff to ask the city to help cover a deficit of almost $500,000.

“I want them to tell us they don’t have any money for this redevelopment,” Young said.

Lebanon has spent all but $403,000 of its share of the racetrack redevelopment funding through contributions to development of a new LCNB building on the north end of downtown and site work on the former city garage site just south of the fairgrounds in anticipation of redevelopment commercially or as the site of the new fire station.

RELATED: Lebanon among Ohio cities redeveloping racetracks

Both projects are within the area where the funds for racetrack redevelopment can be spent, according to state law set up after legalization of racinos in Ohio. The law came about when the new owners of the license for the raceway long operated at the county fairgrounds in Lebanon moved out to the Miami Valley Gaming racino west of the city limits, near Interstate 75.

But none of the city share has been spent on the fairgrounds, vacated by the racetrack owners when the racino opened.

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Last week, Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka said the city council had decided to spend the rest of its share on improvements establishing an entertainment district downtown.

RELATED: Lebanon appeals to state for downtown entertainment district funds

“The City has coordinated the release of the remaining redevelopment funds with the Ohio Development Services Agency, with a final application being submitted shortly,” Brunka said via email. “The City has not budgeted for any financial contributions to the proposed event center.”

Asked about the city’s view of its responsibility to help redevelop the fairgrounds, Brunka pointed to an April 2015 resolution passed by the commissioners agreeing to collaborate on distribution of the funds and leaving it up to Lebanon leaders where to spend the city share.

RELATED: Warren County leaders debate fairgrounds redevelopment as clock ticks on state funds

Gene Steiner, president of the county agricultural society, said the city might feel some responsibility, since much of the $460,000 the project is over budget comes from stormwater management and water supply improvements required by the city.

“I think it’s an appropriate question,” said Steiner. He is president of the group that’s better known as the fair board, which manages the annual fair and the facilities where it is held just north of Lebanon’s historic downtown.

“The mayor’s been very supportive,” Steiner added. “That doesn’t mean they are going to write a check.”

Meanwhile, Steiner said he was meeting with port authority officials for preliminary discussions of the event center being developed by the port authority through a series of leases like those used to keep building costs down on projects, including the racino, while also avoiding adherence to prevailing wage laws required on public projects.

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Other options laid out last Tuesday by Deputy Administrator Martin Russell had the the fair board picking up the difference or “walking away” from the project.

Steiner said he did not like those other options, while adding that part of the problem was higher costs associated with a booming commercial construction sector.

Construction costs inflate projects

“Business is booming. Contractors have lots and lots of work to do. It is not a cheap time to do any project,” Steiner said.

The cost of materials, as reflected in a producer price index, has jumped 8.8 percent (compared to 2.8 percent for the overall consumer price index) over the last 12 months, including 2.2 percent from April to May, according to Simonson, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While recognizing higher costs could have an effect, Randall Fox, executive director of the AGC West Central Ohio division in Dayton, said the primary problem was different in this region.

“The biggest problem our contractors are having is finding quality people,” he said, adding contractors said they were slower in completing work due to the skill levels of workers they were hiring.

The AGC based in Cincinnati referred questions to economist Simonson, who said he lacked local perspective, but added that contractors from too far from the project site could hesitate to bid for contracts of $3 million to $4 million due to higher fuel costs.

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The construction company expected to build the event center, Conger, is based in Lebanon, and HGC, selected for the court expansion, in Cincinnati.

Cost overruns are showing up earlier in the public development process in cases, like those ongoing in Warren County, where a construction manager at risk is hired by the government at a set price, Deputy Administrator Russell said.

Scaled-down expansion moves ahead

The commissioners budgeted $3.5 million for an 11,000 square foot expansion of the juvenile and probate court facilities, including two new courtrooms.

Yet they agreed last week to let staff negotiate a construction contract expected to cost hundreds of thousands more, saying they potentially could save on long-term operating costs.

County Administrator Tiffany Zindel pointed to the common problem with rising construction costs.

RELATED: Warren County moving ahead with $2.5 million juvenile-probate expansion in May 2017

“They have enough work,” Zindel said. “What I’m telling you is we are not coming in at $3.5 (million).”

This after court staff, headed by Judge Joe Kirby, agreed in 2016 to downsize the expansion from 17,000 to 11,500 feet. A second and third courtroom are the cornerstones of the expansion.

“From the moment we moved into this facility in 1996, we have virtually been at full capacity. We are hopeful that negotiations are successful so that we can complete our addition, which will aid us in serving the public more efficiently,” Kirby said in an email after the meeting.

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Kettering school levy one step closer to November ballot

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 8:43 AM
Updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 8:10 PM

The Kettering School Board voted to put a 5.99-mill levy on the November ballot saying it will eliminate a projected budget deficit in 2021 and realign strategic goals set by the district.

UPDATE @ 8:10 p.m.:

Kettering City Schools Treasurer Dan Schall estimated the proposed 5.99-mill levy would generate approximately $7.5 million annually.

This is pending the Montgomery County auditor’s certification of the current tax valuation of the school district.

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The levy proposed for the November ballot would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $17.47 a month.

UPDATE @ 6:45 p.m.:

The Kettering Board of Education voted unanimously to place a 5.99-mill levy on the November ballot.


The Kettering school board will discuss tonight whether to put a new operating levy on the ballot in November.

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Last November, voters in the Kettering school district overwhelmingly renewed a 4.89-mill property tax levy, which didn’t raise taxes but switched the property tax from being a 5-year levy to a continuing one, which generates nearly $4 million annually.

Passage of the levy helped fund salaries, operations and rising technology costs.

The levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home $149.76 annually. Kettering voters have supported repeated levies and bond issues in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013.

Tonight’s discussion will center around potential timing of the proposed levy, according to Kari Basson, community relation coordinator for the district.

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In 2016, district officials put together a a 10-year capital plan mailed to residents indicating several items that the school district needed to address, including kindergarten and preschool classroom space, plus major renovation of the Barnes building, high school auditorium and career tech areas. That’s in addition to smaller investments in textbooks and technology, roofing and paving, and athletic facilities.

District officials said in their mailing that if the 2017 levy was approved, it will “keep the Kettering City Schools off the ballot for new money until at least 2019.”

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Kettering group moving to $3.5M arts center at Springboro crossroads

Published: Friday, June 08, 2018 @ 3:01 PM

            This is a rendering of the redevelopment planned on the northwest corner of Ohio 73 and Ohio 741 in Springboro. A $3.5 million performing arts center, at the top corner of the rendering, is to open by next fall. CONTRIBUTED
This is a rendering of the redevelopment planned on the northwest corner of Ohio 73 and Ohio 741 in Springboro. A $3.5 million performing arts center, at the top corner of the rendering, is to open by next fall. CONTRIBUTED

The first building to rise in redevelopment of the northwest corner of Springboro’s central crossroads is to be a $3.5 million performing arts center housing the Playhouse South Community Theatre currently located in Kettering, city officials revealed today.

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The community theatre group, which has performed for the past decade in Springboro’s Shakespeare in the Park summer theater program, is to move into the Springboro Center for the Performing Arts, a 2 1/2 story, 15,000-square foot building expected to anchor the 6-acre redevelopment.

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“They are going to move into this building and do community theater,” Springboro City Manager Chris Pozzuto said today.

On Thursday, the Springboro City Council approved agreements with Mills-Barnett Development, which has committed to investing $10 million in the development it is leasing from the city.

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The city will spend $3.7 million — including $3.2 million refunded from money set aside for acquisition of right of way for the $10 million crossroads intersection project at Ohio 73 and Ohio 741, Central Avenue and Main Street in Springboro — on roads, sewers and other infrastructure for the development.

In July, the city council is expected to approve a ground lease with Mills for the buildings on the site.

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“We will own the ground underneath,” Pozzuto said.

In addition this summer, the council is expected to approve plans for the performing arts center, envisioned as the anchor for restaurants, retail and other development also to be built around a public area in the center of the development.

Mills is expected to complete the performing arts center, to be financed through the Warren County Port Authority, by next October.

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Warren County seeking $800K grant that could alter its opioid response

Published: Sunday, June 10, 2018 @ 4:01 PM

            Warren County is applying for an $800,000 federal grant to study first-responder relationships and how they impact responses when children are involved in overdose calls. Pictured is the emergency response to a fatal fire in Harlan Twp. in 2006 in which the victim died of natural causes.Staff photo by Richard Wilson
            Richard Wilson
Warren County is applying for an $800,000 federal grant to study first-responder relationships and how they impact responses when children are involved in overdose calls. Pictured is the emergency response to a fatal fire in Harlan Twp. in 2006 in which the victim died of natural causes.Staff photo by Richard Wilson(Richard Wilson)

Warren County hopes to join Montgomery, Preble and Darke counties as beneficiaries of new federal grants designed to help fight the opioid epidemic.

Warren County is applying for a $800,000 federal grant to study first responder relationships and processes when children are involved in drug-overdose calls.

The commissioners agreed to make the application after a debate about whether the county should take federal dollars and whether it wanted to alter the system dealing with these cases.

Commissioner Dave Young pointed out the federal government’s “trillions in debt” and recalled when the county government turned down federal funding previously.

“I’ll let Warren County go broke before taking any of Obama’s filthy money,” Commissioner Mike Kilburn said in 2009 as the county rejected federal stimulus funds available for road projects.

Last Tuesday, Commissioner Shannon Jones said the idea would be to develop a new protocol for more quickly providing services to children “falling through the cracks” during emergency responses to drug overdoses.

Jones, a former state lawmaker, said lessons learned could be be used around the country. Efficiencies reducing costs and improving service should be the result, she said.

“This is something you will look back on and be very proud of,” she said to Young.

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The grant would come through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance in partnership with the Office for Victims of Crime.

The grants are designed to cause the planning and implementation of comprehensive programs in response to the “growing opioid epidemic,” according to application materials.

After the debate, Jones and Young agreed to go forward with the application in order to make the June 7 deadline.

RELATED: Warren County faces $1 million children’s service budget deficit

Last year, the the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board for Montgomery County (Dayton) was awarded $500,000 in first responders grant funding through the federal program established by the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA).

So far, the grant that is expected to provide a total of $2 million over four years has paid for supplies of the drugs used to treat victims of opioid overdoses in Montgomery, Preble and Darke counties and helped establish emergency response teams in Preble and Darke counties, according to Jodi Long, director of treatment and supportive services for ADAMHS.

“Project Save of Miami Valley has provided the financial resources for the public health departments in Preble and Darke counties to establish Naloxone repositories. Additionally the grant has sustained the existing Naloxone repositories for law enforcement and EMS in Montgomery County,” Long said. “Outreach services have also been established in Preble and Darke counties using the grant.”

Federal grants to combat opioid epidemic

“Signed into law on July 22, 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is the first major federal substance abuse treatment and recovery legislation in 40 years and the most comprehensive legislative effort to address the opioid epidemic,” according to the grant application materials.

Last year, a little less tan $3.5 million was awarded to Ohio agencies, according to a news release issued by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in September.

Other grants awarded in Ohio last year:

• $500,000 in first responders grant funding for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County.

• $493,080 in first responders grant funding for the Metrohealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

• $2 million for the Ohio State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in Columbus.

“The legislation ensures that federal resources are focused on evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs that have proven effective in local communities so that it can make a difference in people’s lives,” according to the news release.

“CARA establishes a comprehensive, coordinated, and balanced strategy through enhanced grant programs that encompass prevention and education efforts, effective responses to those affected by substance abuse and services for treatment and recovery from addiction.”

Warren County grant would study responses in cases involving children

Warren County would work with the Urban Institute and hire someone to oversee the two-year program if awarded the grant, Jones said during Tuesday’s meeting on the grant application.

Susan Walther, director of the county’s children services, said she welcomed the grant.

“There’s this vicious cycle we get into,” Walther said during the discussion of whether to apply for the grant in the absence of Commissioner Tom Grossmann. “The kids just keep coming.”

Young expressed hesitancy about accepting federal dollars and the potential cost implications.

“We’re already spending millions,” he said.

RELATED: Warren County commissioners again discuss children’s services levy

The county’s children services budget has grown in recent years to $8.3 million, in part due to the effects of the opioid epidemic on Warren County families, according to officials.

At one point, Jones suggested the county should bypass the application if its leaders were unwilling to consider changing the way it was providing children services.

“Inherent in that needs to be a willingness to do something differently,” she said.

Young relented, noting the expectation of growing efficiencies through the research, to be conducted in 2019 and 2020.

Staff writers Richard Wilson and Chris Stewart contributed to this report.

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