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Warren County seeks options for fairgrounds project funding

Published: Saturday, June 23, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

This is an earlier aerial rendering of the Warren County Event Center, when it was to cover 18,000 square feet near the entrance to the county fairgrounds in Lebanon. Although reduced in size to 16,000 feet, the project has been stalled by high costs.
This is an earlier aerial rendering of the Warren County Event Center, when it was to cover 18,000 square feet near the entrance to the county fairgrounds in Lebanon. Although reduced in size to 16,000 feet, the project has been stalled by high costs.

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.

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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.

RELATED: State changes redevelopment rules in Lebanon, Warren County flap

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.

MORE: Construction starts on new LCNB bank

None of the city money went toward projects on the fairgrounds.

RELATED: Bank project receiving over half Lebanon’s share of state funds

“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.

RELATED: Lebanon seeks $400,000 from state for entertainment district

MORE: State gives $500k for Warren County Drug Task Force building

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.

RELATED:Event center, court projects stalled over construction costs, funding shortage

“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.

“There’s always room for discussion,” she said.

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Springboro to freeze water, sewer rates

Published: Friday, July 20, 2018 @ 3:45 PM


            Terry Morris, Veolia Water’s project manager for the Springboro waste water treatment plant, talks with maintenance technician Rick Dalton inside the upgraded facility in 2011. FILE
Terry Morris, Veolia Water’s project manager for the Springboro waste water treatment plant, talks with maintenance technician Rick Dalton inside the upgraded facility in 2011. FILE

There could be an end coming to rising water and sewer rates in Springboro.

Effective Jan. 1, the city plans to freeze rates that had been seeing annual cost of living increases, City Councilman Jim Chmiel said.

“This will help get our rates back in line,” Mayor John Agenbroad said during Thursday’s Springboro City Council meeting.

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Springboro has some of the region’s most expensive water and sewer rates, according to the 2018 Oakwood regional study.

MORE: Centerville names new police chief

Customers paid an average of $303.92; $160.56 for water, $143.36, according to the study using a base consumption of 22,500 gallons (or 3,000 cubic feet) over three months.

Chmiel said the cost-of-living increase assessed in recent years would be not be charged next year.

“Unless something unforeseen happens, the existing rates will remain in effect and will not go up annually with a cost-of-living increase,” Chmiel said.

The council’s finance committee met before the council meeting.

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According to a staff report for the meeting, water fund collection revenues were up 10.82 percent over budget at the end of June. This increase is in water collections

made through utility bill payments.

Water fund expenditures were 13 percent under budget, due mainly to a decrease in use of professional services and supplies.

Overall, the unencumbered water fund balance was more than $7. 5 million. Funds unencumbered are committed to an unpaid expense.

In addition, the report indicated sewer collection revenues were up about 7 percent through June, while expenses were more than 26 percent under budget, leaving a unencumbered fund balance of more than $7.6 million.

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“We’ve been reviewing the water fund balance,” Chmiel said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re just about done paying off the sewer plant.”

Chmiel said the council would continue to review every two years.

Agenbroad said the decision reflected the city’s strong financial condition.

“It just shows you how solvent our city is financially,” he said. “We will continue to pass that onto the community.”

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Centerville names new police chief

Published: Friday, July 20, 2018 @ 3:38 PM


            Centerville has appointed Matt Brown to serve as the city’s police chief. Brown has been serving as interim chief since February.
            CONTRIBUTED
Centerville has appointed Matt Brown to serve as the city’s police chief. Brown has been serving as interim chief since February.(CONTRIBUTED)

Centerville has appointed Matt Brown to serve as the city’s police chief. Brown has been serving as interim chief since February.

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Former chief Bruce Robertson retired in February.

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Wayne Davis, Centerville city manager, said the city had been looking to fill three key leadership positions for police chief, assistant city manager and economic development administrator.

He said the appointment of Brown, who has been a member of the Centerville Police Dept. since 1998, is a result of his leadership and outstanding work as an officer.

“Matt Brown is an excellent example of some who is loyal, hard-working and smart, and who epitomizes the selflessness required of a public servant in law enforcement,” Davis said in a statement. “He is a strong and humble leader who gives of himself within law enforcement circles and within the community and region. We are fortunate to have Matt on our team, and we look forward to working with him far into the future.”

Pay range for the police chief position is $99,568-$131,172, but Brown’s exact salary was not released during the announcement of his appointment.

MORE: Centerville looking to fill key leadership positions

Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Toledo and has served in the department as a patrol officer, detective, sergeant and lieutenant.

Human Resources Manager Jennifer Brumby said there was a large response to the job postings for the leadership positions.

“As expected, there was nationwide interest in these positions, and the applicant pool for each position is large,” she said.

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Turner says Trump missed chance to send strong message to Putin

Published: Thursday, July 19, 2018 @ 3:30 PM


            U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.

Saying “Putin got a pass,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner says President Donald Trump failed to send a much-needed message to the world that Russian meddling in U.S. elections was unacceptable during Trump’s lengthy press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week.

Speaking on “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, Turner called Trump’s failure to make a strong statement “very serious.”

“We’re talking about meddling in our democracy, penetration of the election apparatus in the various states, meddling in the various campaigns,” he said. “This is something that you would want your president to be very strong on. And clearly, the president in public was not.”

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RELATED: Ohio lawmakers critical of Trump’s Russia comments; He says he misspoke

Turner’s words stand in stark contrast to those of his fellow Ohio Republicans, who have been more guarded in their criticism of Trump’s performance at the press conference. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for example, called Trump’s comments during the press conference “troubling.”

Turner said Trump failed to take advantage of an opportunity to send a message to the world that the U.S. would not tolerate Russia meddling in their elections.

“The world knows that Putin and Russia is meddling in other countries,” he said. “We need to have the American president stand strong when we’re asking our allies’ presidents and leaders, prime ministers to stand strong.”

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He said while he was “disappointed” in Trump’s comments, he’s still satisfied that U.S. policy against Russia is strong, with the U.S. still standing strong on sanctions against Russia, still supporting NATO allies and still arming the Ukrainians against Russian aggression.

“That has not changed regardless of statements made in Helsinki,” he said.

Still, Turner said, “the importance of the president’s role here goes directly to the heart of our national security and that of our allies,” he said. “And the president needs to stand strong.”

He refused to criticize or explain the silence of fellow Republicans who have not been as publicly critical, saying, “I can only tell you about why I believe it’s important to have this dialogue. If Russia sees any weakness, they fill that vacuum, and you get instability and an impact lessening our national security.”

Turner, a Dayton Republican who sits on both the House Intelligence and the House Armed Services Committee, also took issue with Trump’s criticism during a Fox News interview of the U.S. having to defend countries such as Montenegro if attacked. Montenegro joined NATO last year.

Turner, a former head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said part of the purpose of NATO is mutual defense: It’s written into Article 5 of the alliance. And Montenegro, he said, has come to the defense of the U.S. – in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. He said the alliance “enhances our national security.” He said having them in NATO “takes them out of the sphere of influence” of countries such as Russia, and helps to ensure that if a conflict arises, the tiny nation will side with the U.S. over U.S. rivals.

“We’re glad Montenegro is in NATO and yes, they’re defending us, we’ll defend them,” he said.

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Local site could be selected for federal driverless car designation

Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2018 @ 10:50 AM
Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2018 @ 11:44 AM


            Local site could be selected for federal driverless car designation. Getty Image
Local site could be selected for federal driverless car designation. Getty Image

When the Obama administration designated its first 10 pilot sites for testing of automated vehicle technologies in January 2017, a 4,500-acre facility in East Liberty was not on the list.

This week, five Republican lawmakers and a handful of state senators including Senate President Larry Obhof, R–Ashtabula, held a press conference on Capitol Hill with a united message: Rethink that decision.

“This is a premiere facility,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs, R–Lakeville, who like other Republicans, argued that many of the 10 picked in January “don’t even have a facility, don’t even have assets. It’s a wish list.”

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The East Liberty–based Transportation Research Center, the largest independent automotive testing ground in the U.S., argues it’s ready to test automated vehicles. The Logan County site broke ground last week on a $45 million SmartCenter that is being billed as the world’s biggest self-driving-vehicle test track. When it’s finished, the center will consist more than 18 miles of paved road and give researchers, automakers and safety organizations real-world tools and experience before putting driverless cars on public streets.

Ever since the Transportation Department bypassed the East Liberty site in January 2017, the Ohio delegation has been on a mission to convince Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to include Ohio on that list, bringing her to the site last April and sending two letters — one last year and one this week — urging her to add the East Liberty site to the list. Chao, said Rep. Jim Jordan, R–Urbana, has expressed some willingness to consider adding the East Liberty site. Jordan and Gibbs joined Reps. Bob Latta, R–Bowling Green, Warren Davidson, –-Troy and Bill Johnson, R–Marietta in speaking on behalf of the site Tuesday.

The Department of Transportation began seeking proposals for a pilot program to designate automated vehicle proving grounds in November 2016. The 10 designees were picked from more than 60 applicants with the East Liberty site among those applying. Transportation instead picked sites in Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, two sites in California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina.

Proponents of picking the TRC say that adding the East Liberty site to the list would allow the facility to receive federal research funding for driverless vehicles. Those federal dollars would be helpful to TRC as it moves forward, said Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC. The center applied for the designation in 2016 but did not receive it.

Gibbs said while two of the 10 sites had begun work testing automated vehicles, some that received the designation had no physical facilities to do so. “It was really just a Christmas list,” he said, adding “it’s really unfortunate what happened.”

“How we can have the premiere facility in the country that doesn’t get on the list of 10? It just makes no sense….we should be the captain of the ship, and we really are.”

“This is a pre-eminent free-marketing center,” said Davidson. “Only the government can disrupt that. The trouble is, they have.”

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