Jerry Little urges citizens to work with the city when it comes to infrastructure repair

Berea Gutter Construction
Workers pour new gutters and sidewalks along U.S. 25, a mostly state-funded, $8 million investment in Berea. But while new infrastructure is added, the city works to maintain older infrastructure as well.  

Who is responsible for streets, curbs, and other infrastructure in the greater Berea area? It’s not always clear, as Berea City Councilman Jerry Little pointed out Tuesday night. Little raised the issue during a report about the activities of the city’s Public Works Committee.

In recent months, one group of citizens has complained that the city is not maintaining its infrastructure, Little said.  But some of the time, the infrastructure in question is not actually the responsibility of the City of Berea, he added. He noted that some infrastructure, for example, is on private property. Or, in some cases,  property has been annexed into the city, but the city does not have easements to work on issues like drainage, said Little. That can lead to confusion among the public. “Sometimes the city gets blamed for things that are out of our control,” Little noted.

As chair of the Public Works Committee, Little said much of Berea’s infrastructure is aging, but that the city is making an effort to keep up. “We can’t take care of all the problems. We try to take care of what is most needed, because we just don’t have the manpower to take care of everything,” Little said.

Little recommended devising a new system for handing infrastructure complaints, then recording and prioritizing them. In the meantime, he urged patience. “We’re trying to do the best job we can and we’re trying to address all the problems. Just try to work with us and we’ll try to work with you to get things done.”

According to a report released last year, the City of Berea has invested over $20 million in major infrastructure projects since 1997, including upgrading the city parks and improving roadways in the industrial park.

 

                                                 CITY OF BEREA MAJOR PROJECTS
PROJECT DATE PROJECT DESCRIPTION FINAL PRICE
1993 Berea Community Park $  2,300,000.00
1993 Intergenerational Building $     350,000.00
1995 Landfill Closure $   4,000,000.00
1998 Sidewalk Project (Various) $        93,077.99
1998 Valley/Boone St. Drainage $       112,725.50
1998 Forest St. Drainage Project $         48,347.96
1999 Glades/1016 Intersection $       225,032.00
1999 City Hall Renovation $       500,000.00
2000 Post Office Renovation $       903,507.77
2001 Glades Road Reconstruction $     1,834,261.75
2002 Logston Lane Reconstruction $       119,613.38
2002 N. Broadway Reconstruction $       737,508.12
2002 Intergenerational classroom add. $       102,280.00
2003 Boone Street $       190,112.12
2003 Ball Field Refurbish $         73,723.05
2004 Shirley Street Reconstruction $         95,434.75
2004 Glades/Rash Rd. traffic signal $         49,000.00
2004 Ellipse/Jefferson Traffic Signal $         33,345.00
2005 Utility and Public Works Build. $       655,000.00
2005 Park Storage Bldg. and Office $         49,900.00
2006 Maintenance Garage $       185,810.00
2006 Blythe Court Reconstruction $         99,223.00
2007 Shortline Pike Reconstruction $       405,315.75
2007 Chestnut Street Park $    331,698.00
2007 Forest /Center Street Intersec. $         54,287.00
2007 Boone Street Improvements $       238,000.00
2008 McKinney Right Turn Lane $         23,538.65
2008 Berea Industrial Sewer Line $       286,626.96
2008 Industrial Pk. Rd. (Farristown) $       874,805.00
2008 Jane Street Connector $       184,205.90
2008 Mayde Road Reconstruction $     2,339,900.00
2009 1016 Sidewalk (Cemetery Hill) $       139,515.75
2010 Park Expansion Contract #1 $     1,049,999.75
2010 Park Expansion Contract #2 $       651,610.40
2010 Park Expansion Contract #3 $       162,926.00
2010 Prospect St. Reconstruction $     2,253,978.00
2011 Welcome Center Renovation $       535,352.00
2011 Baldwin Street Bridge $         36,509.00
2011 Folk Center Roof $       118,836.00
2012 Shortline Pike Extension $       179,223.88
2012 Menelaus Pike Design $       414,005.00
2013 Mayde Road Bike Path $       109,415.00
2013 Prospect Street Lighting $         26,203.00
2013 Folk Center Kitchen $         81,294.00
2013 Menelaus Road Utility relocate $         77,137.76
2014 Bratcher Lane Reconstruction $     1,074,733.25
2014 Pumphouse Chemical add. $         11,615.00
2014 Indian Fort Trail and Bridge $       377,631.00
2015 Water Street Drainage $       291,183.26
2017 Richmond Road Design $       687,883.00
2016 Ford Building Renovation $         33,185.00
2016 Food Bank Addition $         76,042.00
2016 Salt Bin Expansion $         17,702.00
2016 County Clerk Renovation $       101,301.00
2017 Cumberland/Hughes Street $       277,585.00
2018 Filtration refurbish $         40,000.00
2018 Splash Pad at Berea Pool $       225,000.00
2018 Berea Community Stadium $      225,000.00
TOTAL $ 26,771,145.70
1997- Present Total $ 20,121,145.70

City donates firetruck to Berea Volunteer Fire & Rescue

In what is a big milestone, the Berea Volunteer Fire & Rescue Squad received their first fire engine, donated by the City of Berea. Present for the handover was (from left) Berea Fire Department Chief Shawn Sandlin, Captain Mike Morris of the Berea Volunteer Fire & Rescue Squad, Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley, and Firefighter William Osborne of the volunteers.

Tuesday marked a milestone in the history of the Berea Volunteer Fireman’s Association when the Berea Volunteer Fire & Rescue Squad took possession of their first firetruck, donated to them in a unanimous decision of the Berea City Council.

Captain Mike Morris, who has served with the volunteers for nearly 40 years, said receiving the truck will help the unit give volunteers a broader range of instruction, including how to operate the equipment during an emergency.

“We’ll have better trained volunteers because they’ll have to learn to engineer the truck,” Morris said. “This gives us another important tool for training.”

Perhaps more important to citizens is the fact that the volunteers are sometimes the first on the scene of an emergency. In receiving the 2001 Freightliner Cummins Fire Engine, the volunteers will be equipped to deal with an emergency on the scene immediately and to assist the Berea Fire Department. “This is going to help us a lot,” Morris said of the engine, which can pump 1,250 gallons of water per minute. “It will make us a true fire department.”

Chief Shawn Sandlin said the city had two choices when it came to the truck, which had reached the end of its service life for the city. The city could have auctioned it off, but by donating it to the Berea Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, the volunteers have a crucial piece of equipment that they can use to support the operations of the Berea Fire Department.

“They are pretty much our support for the fire department on every call,” Sandlin said of the volunteers, whether it’s responding to traffic accidents, fighting fires, helping in rescue operations at the Pinnacles, or serving as a backup when the city fire department has an unusually heavy volume of calls. “They do it all, and this is going to be a real benefit to us,” Sandlin said.

In accepting the new engine, Morris expressed gratitude to Chief Sandlin, the Berea City Council, and Mayor Bruce Fraley for their continued support of the volunteers. Fraley noted that because of what the volunteers do for Berea, it was an easy decision when it came to donating the firetruck.

“The volunteers provide a vital service to our community, and to provide them with this type of equipment is the right thing to do for Berea,” said Mayor Fraley.

Seven things to know about the City of Berea 2021-2022 budget

On Tuesday, the City of Berea will take a final vote on the budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, a spending plan that continues to set money aside for future projects while also making a major investment in retirement benefits for the city’s first responders.

 Here are six things to know about the City of Berea’s 2021-2022 budget, which takes effect on July 1.

  1. Funding of hazardous retirement duty benefits for police officers and firefighters will cost $487,014, which will be offset by the fact that three police officer and two firefighter positions will be left vacant. Officials are hoping the city will also realize long-term savings if the police and fire departments can retain more personnel and thus spend less on recruiting and training.
  2. Municipal Road Aid funds from the state continue to decline, down to approximately $278,000 this year. That means the city will have less money to repair state roads within city limits. The funds are derived from the state’s tax on gasoline.
  3. Tourism continues to invest in community projects while reducing long-term costs. The Berea Tourism Commission has budgeted $250,000 for the renovation of the Tolle building, as well as $60,000 for the Ellipse Street shared use path. To cut costs, the commission voted to pay off loans for the Tolle Building and the Berea Hotel for approximately $631,000, realizing annual savings on interest. Signs of an improving economy have also caused officials to project an increase of tourism revenue in the next fiscal year by $210,000, or 37 percent.
  4. More federal money could be on the way. The current budget does not take into account federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, as they have not yet been received by the Kentucky Department of Local Government. Berea City Administrator David Gregory noted in his letter to the council the Kentucky League of Cities federal funds coming Berea’s way for fiscal years 2021 and 2022 could be as much as $4,151,082.
  5. Overall, the spending plan is calling for General Fund Revenues of approximately $12.5 million, down approximately $1.5 million due to a reduction in intergovernmental revenues. Occupational license fees and other revenues are projected to be up from 2020-2021, in which there was a COVID-19 induced slowdown.  Those revenues could be as high as $8.3 million, according to estimates.
  6. Spending reduced $2 million. Projected budget expenditures are $13.5 million, a decrease in $2 million in budgeted expenditures compared to last year.  In addition, the city will be putting more aside as a hedge against a future economic downturn and to save for future capital projects. The city’s fund balance reserve is projected to increase from $2.7 million to $3 million, which will help the city be prepared for a possible economic crisis, and over $3.4 million is set aside for the Capital Sinking Fund for future projects.
  7. Challenging times ahead. City Administrator Gregory noted department heads and administration officials continue to find ways to operate the city more efficiently, but that financial challenges may lie ahead for the city in the form of pension, insurance and health care costs, combined with the need to provide services to a growing population.

Check out the details of the Berea city budget at:

https://city-berea-ky-budget-book.cleargov.com/fiscal-year-2021_2022/2022/introduction/transmittal-letter

Produced by the City of Berea Finance Department, department heads, and the administration, the 2021-2022 budget plan gives citizens and city officials an unprecedented amount of history, detail, and information about the city’s financial status.

Hazardous duty retirement benefits included in Berea budget

As the City of Berea looks for new ways to recruit and retain police officers and firefighters, council members are taking a fresh look at a solution that’s been kicked around for years: hazardous duty retirement benefits for Berea’s first responders.

The proposal was discussed last week during a work session of the council as city leaders studied the spending plan for the 2021-2022 budget. Under one plan, the city would increase pension expenditures to $487,014 to enroll the city in the state hazardous duty retirement benefit plan. The city would then offset that cost by leaving five currently vacant positions – three police officers and two firefighters – unfilled.

Some councilmembers have long advocated enrolling Berea in the hazardous duty program on the theory that not offering it makes the city less competitive when it comes to recruiting and retaining first responders. Under the state program, Berea’s first responders would divert three percent of their salary to subsidize their own pensions, while the state also provides a contribution. That allows police officers and firefighters to retire earlier, but it also enables the city to retain a younger workforce in hazardous jobs. The benefits are currently only available to police officers and firefighters.  

Councilmember Cora Jane Wilson, who was a former employee of the city, said for years she watched Berea pay to train police officers and firefighters only to have them leave for positions in cities that offer hazardous duty retirement benefits. “We’re training officers and fireman, and they are going off to greener pastures,” Wilson said.

Councilman John Payne agreed, noting the city has to remain competitive.  “If our retention is not diminished because we’re not competitive with our neighboring communities, we could potentially have an even larger portion of the police service unable to fully perform tasks.  Every time we hire someone new, it’s at great expense to train,” said Payne, noting that offering a better retirement package might reduce the city’s training costs in the long run.  

Audit and Finance Committee Chair Steve Caudill supports the plan to enter into the program, noting Berea is the only agency in Madison County that is not enrolled. Caudill also noted that, during the last five years, the cost between having an agency hazardous versus non-hazardous has been more or less the same.  

Berea City Councilmember Katie Startzman sounded a cautious note, however, stating she would like to see more data on the subject before the council makes a final decision. After hearing the city is losing many officers because of a lack of hazardous duty benefits, Startzman said she conducted from research and found the city’s attrition rate is 7.4 percent, or approximately three employees a year. That contrasts with a 14% attrition rate nationally for police officers, Startzman said.

“I feel there should be more information given to us other than anecdotes before we sign the city up for a huge liability” Startzman said, emphasizing she’s not necessary against doing it. “But I feel like we have a responsibility to really make sure we’re making smart decisions fiscally.”

At one point, Berea Police Department Chief Eric Scott addressed Startzman’s concerns, and he conceded that enrolling the city in the hazardous duty retirement benefit program may not solve all of the city’s recruiting and retention problems. He noted, however, that five former officers have expressed interest in returning to Berea should the city enroll in the program. Offering hazardous duty benefits, Scott said, would be an important first step in a larger effort to boost recruiting and retention.

While he said he doesn’t necessarily oppose enrolling in the program, Councilman Jerry Little expressed concern that the police and fire chiefs might come back later expressing a need to fill the five vacant positions, especially if the city population continues to expand. Scott pointed out that the police department has always been understaffed dating back to when David Gregory was chief, but that the department has compensated with scheduling strategies.

The debate about entering the city into the hazardous duty retirement program dates back to the mid-1990s under the administration of Mayor Clifford Kerby. Kerby maintained that because the city could not withdraw from the program once it enrolled, the program exposed the city to too much financial risk. But last week, Caudill noted that because of a law change in 2008, the city can withdraw from the hazardous duty program, though Caudill acknowledged it is a complicated and cumbersome process.

From the outset of the meeting, Caudill was adamant in his belief that because police and firefighters expose themselves to risks and hazards to protect the public, the City of Berea should avail itself to programs that will reward their willingness to serve.  

“I feel strongly that it is something that we should be doing because we are statutorily allowed to for these positions,” Caudill said.

The Berea City Council is scheduled to address the issue again on Tuesday. The council would have to approve two resolutions giving the administration permission to enter into the hazardous duty retirement benefits program.

Berea Kids Eat/City of Berea partner to bring new trees to the city

Berea Kids Eat Director Martina Leforce landed a grant to bring trees to public spaces in the City of Berea. City officials praised her initiative and commitment to enhancing the quality of life in Berea. Photo: Berea College.

This spring you might have noticed there are a few new trees in public areas in the City of Berea – 38 in fact, thanks to a grant written by local non-profit director Martina Leforce.

 Leforce, who is the director of Berea Kids Eat (BKE), landed a grant from health service company Cigna to plant trees in public areas of the city. She consulted with Berea Parks and Recreation Director Priscilla Bloom to find out what kind of trees would be the most suitable and where they should be planted.

Last year the city lost a row of trees that died between the ball field at Berea City Park and the shared use trail bordering the park and the old Gibson Greetings facility. With the grant money Leforce secured, a new row of red bud trees was planted, along with honey locust and Kentucky crab apple trees along Dinsmore Street leading to the new Tillie Park Off Leash Dog Area. Other sites for new trees include the community garden behind Glades Christian Church, as well as another location to be named soon. Most of the trees were planted the week before Easter.

“It was kind of a cool way of working together because the site where we put the red beds had actually lost of bunch of trees there. It worked out really well, and everything is acclimating,” Leforce said.

Berea Kids Eat is a non-profit that serves youths who may lack access to enough healthy food. Having previously worked with Berea Parks and Recreation to stage the Summer Food Program and other food relief efforts at Berea City Park, Leforce said working with the city was a natural fit.

“Any time we’re writing a grant, we always try to think of the City of Berea. If there’s a resource that we can help connect as a non-profit, and with Berea College wanting to partner with the city as much as we can, it just makes sense to keep the City of Berea in our minds,” Leforce said.

After reaching out to Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley, Leforce began working with Bloom and Public Works Director Donnie Davidson, whose staff is assisting in planting some of the trees.

So why is an organization concerned with easing hunger working with the city to plant trees? Leforce said BKE is about community health, and a facet of community health is creating an environment that supports wildlife, pollinators, and which enhances the well-being of citizens by beautifying public spaces. 

 “For Berea Kids Eat, our focus is on helping to increase healthy food access and also the overall well-being of our community. I think that tree health is a very vital part of that,” Leforce said.

Bloom, who has worked with Leforce in facilitating the Berea Kids Eat program on park property, said Leforce’s idea to plant trees came after the harsh winter killed off the row of red bud trees at the park.

“I love trees and I hated to see them die, but she jumped right in,” Bloom said. “She’s been just tremendous to work with, and we’re so grateful for what she’s done.”

Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley said Leforce’s project is positive in two ways. First, it’s a demonstration of how private citizens, non-profits and local government can work together to beautify the city. But it also demonstrates how the relationship between Berea Kids Eat and the City of Berea has been mutually beneficial.

“It shows not only private citizens’ love for the city, but also the love from private entities and non-profits,” Fraley said. “It shows a desire to not just rely on local government to beautify our city and our surroundings, and it illustrates how our citizens and our business people and our non-profits really want to take pride in our city.”

“I think they [Berea Kids Eat] saw a way they could give back to the city because the city really wanted to provide public space for Berea Kids Eat. To me it reflects that partnerships are two ways, and it reflects the old adage that it is in giving that we receive,” Fraley added.

Fraley also praised Leforce’s initiative to get the grant, which is the latest community improvement project in which she has participated. Leforce helped lobby for the grant for the Chestnut Street Pavilion, a grant for the tourism long-range plan facilitator, and secured a grant to improve John G. Fee Park on Chestnut Street with a water bottle filling station.  

“We really appreciate her independent initiative to help us beautify the park and to make it a more attractive space for everyone, and we thank her for that effort,” Fraley said.