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Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2018 @ 5:03 PM
Those responsible for caring for Miami County’s roads are pleased they’ve been able to expand the county paving program in recent years, but could do a lot more with an added $5 annual license fee allowed by the state legislature, County Engineer Paul Huelskamp said Tuesday, in presenting his annual report.
Huelskamp “respectfully” requested the county commissioners to consider an August 2017 letter he submitted discussing the provision to add onto the annual vehicle registration fee, a move he said would generate another $600,000 each year.
The $5 added tax to register a vehicle was approved last month in Montgomery County, where it will become effective Jan. 1, 2019 and is expected to raise $2 million more annually for projects.
The commissioners heard Huelskamp’s report and commended his department for its efforts, particularly the leveraging of local funds with state and federal grants for road and bridge projects. The commissioners did not discuss the fee proposal Tuesday. The state law allows counties, but not other governments, to pass the tax following public hearings.
In the annual report, Huelskamp said the county paved 24.55 miles in 2017 at a cost of $1,642,670. He noted, though, the county has 423.5 miles of roads under its care and the industry standard for paving cycles is 10 years. To meet that standard, the county would need to pave about 42.35 miles per year.
In the 2017 letter, Huelskamp said the added money would help the county to get to a 15-year cycle.
Commissioner Greg Simmons asked what other counties had taken advantage of the additional tax.
The $5 added tax has been passed by several larger counties while a few others have scheduled required public hearings.
“The larger counties are the ones that have already (passed the tax),” Huelskamp said.
Published: Saturday, June 23, 2018 @ 12:00 AM
LEBANON — Warren County officials are seeking options for financing a project to build an event center at the county fairgrounds, including possibly partnering with the City of Lebanon or turning to the county’s port authority.
Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer said the city government was ready to consider collaborating with the county on redevelopment of the fairgrounds, located just north of the city’s downtown center.
“That’s something we as a city can take a look at,” Brewer said last week.
Previously, the city and county had disagreed about how to spend $3 million set aside for redevelopment of the fairgrounds and vicinity after the Lebanon Raceway’s operations moved off the fairgrounds to the Miami Valley Gaming racino.
In 2014, the disagreement prompted state officials to mediate an agreement, which said that the city and county would each get half of the money. A committee of members from the two governments, chaired by the city, would review projects submitted to spend those funds.
Last week, Warren County commissioners approved Lebanon to spend the rest of its funds from that agreement on design of a downtown entertainment district.
At the same meeting, commissioners urged staff to encourage the city to help the county make up a deficit on a $3.8 million event center project at the fairgrounds.
“We should be collaborating on the redevelopment of the fairgrounds,” Commissioner Dave Young said at last Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Young pointed out the project should bring earnings taxes, as well as visitors, to Lebanon.
Commissioner Tom Grossmann noted the city used almost $900,000 of its $1.5 million in redevelopment funds on a private project, the $9.3 million LCNB bank building south of the fairgrounds on the edge of downtown Lebanon.
None of the city money went toward projects on the fairgrounds.
“We have a need,” Grossmann said.
Commissioner Shannon Jones was a state senator involved in settling the dispute in 2014. At Tuesday’s meeting, she urged Young not to “re-litigate” the dispute and emphasized that the state left it up to Lebanon how it spent the money, provided it was for something within 1.5 miles of the fairgrounds.
She joined Young and Grossmann in pursuing a partnership with the city.
“I hope Lebanon will come to the table,” she said.
The event center project is over budget in large part because of required improvements to the water system and stormwater management at the fairgrounds.
While not willing to set aside other plans for the redevelopment funds, Deputy Administrator Martin Russell told the commission that Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka had also indicated willingness to discuss “other opportunities.”
Gene Steiner, president of the Warren County Agricultural Society, said last week that the county and fair board were still considering options such as looking to the city for financial assistance or turning the project over to the port authority.
The agricultural society — known as the fair board — operates the fairgrounds and puts on the annual fair in July.
A port authority intervention could result in the event center being owned by the port authority and leased to the fair board, avoiding sales tax on building materials.
“From what we know, I have no reservations with that whatsoever,” Steiner said. “We’re still investigating the best opportunity for the project.”
Costs in a port authority-run project would also be decreased by avoiding prevailing wage laws required on public projects.
Steiner said a city-county collaboration on the fairgrounds would be “mutually beneficial.” They could cross-promote and share advertising on days both were staging festivities, he said.
“The more there is to do in an area, the more people we can bring in,” Steiner said.
The Lebanon mayor left open the door for discussion, perhaps involving the city providing in-kind services to help cut costs of the fairgrounds makeover.
Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 4:47 PM
CLEARCREEK TWP. — Warren County is taking another step in efforts to combat the effects of the opioid epidemic on the community.
County commissioners will host a community forum on Tuesday, July 17, to discuss a recent study conducted by the Addiction Policy Forum on the opioid crisis in Warren County.
The Addiction Policy Forum recommended 21 steps to better respond to the epidemic and its effects on families, as well as drug addicts themselves, in Warren County.
The recommendations include convening a community coalition on substance-use disorder, launching a public awareness campaign and expanding resources to support those suffering from the disorder and their families and caregivers.
The forum is to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Warren County Career Center, 3525 N. Ohio 48, north of Lebanon, in Clearcreek Twp.
The Addiction Policy Forum is affiliated with the U.S. Justice Department. It recently completed an analysis of the existing county network responding to opioid issues, including overdoses, in the county.
Leaders in health, social services, treatment, recovery services, education, business and first responders are to participate in the forum.
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 10:28 AM
TROY – Miami County commissioners heard no opposition during a public hearing on a proposed $5 supplemental license tax to generate more money for county road maintenance.
The additional tax was authorized by the state legislature in counties where commissioners approve its implementation. Most of the state’s largest counties have OK’d the supplemental tax including Montgomery County.
Miami County Engineer Paul Huelskamp explained the proposal Tuesday during the first of two public hearings. The second is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26, at 9:10 a.m.
Huelskamp said the county paved 24.04 miles in 2017. He noted, however, the industry standard for repaving is every 10 years. To meet that standard, the county would need to pave about 42.35 miles per year.
Huelskamp said the added money would help the county get to a 15-year cycle. The county is responsible for 424 miles of road.
The $5 supplemental tax would generate an estimated $552,000 to $649,000 more a year. That would allow for seven to nine more miles of paving annually, Huelskamp said.
County Commissioner Greg Simmons said he has had several people call him complaining about the condition of county roads in the 18 months since he joined the commission.
“I have had one call about the license plate tax. It seems to me more people favor getting more done,” he said.
Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 10:04 AM
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.