Residents, trustee in Warren County settle Facebook lawsuit

Published: Friday, November 03, 2017 @ 11:15 AM


            U.S. District Judge Judge Susan Dlott approved a consent decree and settlement ending the lawsuit between residents of Hamilton Twp. and Trustee David Wallace Jr., shown here.
U.S. District Judge Judge Susan Dlott approved a consent decree and settlement ending the lawsuit between residents of Hamilton Twp. and Trustee David Wallace Jr., shown here.

A group of Warren County residents has reached an agreement with one of their public officials over access to his Hamilton Twp. Trustee Facebook site.

U.S. District Judge Judge Susan Dlott approved a consent decree and settlement ending the lawsuit between residents of Hamilton Twp. and Trustee David Wallace Jr.

RELATED: Township residents sue trustee over Facebook page

Wallace is to unblock residents unable to comment on a Facebook page where he communicates with township residents.

Dlott also ordered him to unblock “any other social media site, or webpage established by Wallace arising out of public, not personal, circumstances or maintained for the purpose of providing information to the public, communicating with his constituents, or otherwise used as a tool of governance,” according to the settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

The lawsuit was among the first testing the legal boundaries of the First Amendment on Facebook and cited one other similar case, on appeal in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia.

The site also features Wallace’s re-election materials. He also has another web page devoted to his campaign for reelection on Nov. 7.

“The lawsuit was nonsense,” Wallace said Friday. “It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.This is why it’s difficult to find anyone to run for political office.”

He declined to elaborate on this statement or respond to further questions.

He is one of seven candidates running for two seats on the three-seat board of trustees in Hamilton Twp., a thriving, politically active township, south of Lebanon.

Also running are Darryl Cordrey, Cadi Kelly, Nathan Myers, Joe Rozzi, Roxan Tarnowski and Kim Lukens.

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Joshua Engel, the residents’ lawyer, called the consent decree and settlement a “huge First Amendment victory,” although some residents still seem to be blocked on Wallace’s Trustee Facebook page, contrary to the terms of the consent decree and settlement filed on Oct. 24.

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Miami County moves to add $5 license plate tax for roads

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 10:28 AM


            A license plate example from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. CONTRIBUTED
A license plate example from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. CONTRIBUTED

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.

MORE: Warren County drivers to pay $5 more for vehicle registration

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.

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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.

If the commission approved the supplemental tax by the end of July, it would go into effect in 2019.

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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.

EARLIER REPORT

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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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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