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 leaders thank Berea Police Department after demonstrations

Rachel Wydecks BBLM protest2
Photo courtesy of Rachel Wydeck for Berea Black Lives Matter. City officials, such as Councilmember Emily LaDouceur (fifth from left) praised the Berea Police Department last week for keeping demonstrators safe during their protests in response to the death of George Floyd. 

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, residents of Berea have since staged demonstrations to express their concern, anger and sadness about the tragedy.

While the public death of Floyd sparked massive protests and civil unrest around the nation, the demonstrations in Berea were without incident, a development which prompted city leaders to thank local police during last week’s Berea City Council meeting.

“I wanted to say thank you to those who peacefully demonstrated for the last several days here in Berea, and to the officers who were there to make sure they stayed safe,” said Berea City Councilmember John Payne. “I want to thank the mayor, the former and current chief of police for the public address (full text of Fraley, Gregory, Scott statements) that they gave that’s available on the city’s website and Facebook page. Thank you for addressing the pain and the continued need for systemic change that’s been illustrated by recent tragic events – unfortunately, too many tragic events,” said Payne.

Councilmember Emily LaDouceur, who participated in the Berea demonstrations, also expressed her gratitude. “I need to give a shout out and express my thanks to the Berea Police Department for supporting citizens’ rights to protest peacefully in our city,” LaDouceur said. “We are blessed to have a police force that, for many years, has incorporated unconscious bias training into their broader efforts to connect with all in our community, and I thank you, David Gregory and Kennaria Brown, for that.”

Former Berea police chief Gregory and Professor Brown were awarded the John G. Fee Award last year by the Berea Human Rights Commission for their partnership in facilitating and developing bias training for Berea’s police officers.

During her remarks, LaDouceur also cautioned that the community must continue to remain vigilant when it comes to opposing racism.  “….their efforts don’t mean it won’t happen here – it being acts of racial violence, because racial tensions remain here as they do around the nation,” LaDouceur said.

While he didn’t address the protests directly, City Councilmember Steve Caudill said recent events have made an impression on him. Caudill told the story of watching a television concert with his seven year-old daughter when the word “racism” popped up on the screen. His daughter then asked: What is racism?

That began a conversation, and some serious thinking, Caudill said. “Two things happened in that moment: I had to explain to a seven year-old what racism was, and number two, I thought about how fortunate I am that my daughter doesn’t have to think about that. And that’s something that people of color don’t have the privilege of not having to deal with every day,” Caudill said.

With that, Caudill closed by saying there’s work to be done. “We need to do better as a society. I need to do better as a person. I think we all need to do better,” Caudill concluded before his feed to the teleconference broke up, after which the meeting was adjourned.

Citizens pose questions about 2020-2021 City of Berea spending plan

Pavilion2
While revenue cuts are projected for the city and state, officials say funding for some projects is still looking good. including grants for the multi-use pavilion. Officials fielded questions about the 2020-2021 spending plan Monday night during a special called meeting. 

The Berea City Council met in a special called meeting Monday evening to field public questions about the 2020-2021 budget. Fielding questions about the budget from email and Facebook live, only two citizens submitted queries about the spending plan, which will be voted on this month and takes effect on July 1.

The city posted the draft budget online nearly a week before the public comment period. The question and answer session began with a question from Shane Barton, who asked whether the budget for the Berea Human Rights Commission had been zeroed out.

Audit and Finance Committee Chairman Steve Caudill explained that the BHRC spent only $250 last year, and with a looming revenue crisis, the BHRC’s operating expenses were moved to the General Fund. Caudill emphasized that does not indicate any intention to eliminate the BHRC, but instead, some of the day-to-day functions of the BHRC were transferred to Zinnia Hensley, who is the community services coordinator for the Berea Police Department.

Overall, Caudill acknowledged the budget may look much different this year because of an estimated revenue shortfall of $1.8 million in the General Fund.

“We had to cut in many, many places to get this budget into a place where we were comfortable moving forward,” Caudill said. “We’re not underestimating and overestimating. We’re trying to get as close as we can so that we can know what our loss is at the end of the year if we don’t see an increase in revenue.”

Berea City Councilmember Emily LaDouceur emphasized the importance of the BHRC to the community in light of the recent social unrest in America.

“I will say that right now more than ever we need them,” LaDouceur said of the BHRC, adding she would like to see them as a funding priority.

Other issues addressed by Caudill, Mayor Fraley, City Administrator David Gregory and Finance Director Susan Meeks:

  • Caudill indicated senior citizens programs will have their own line item in the future, indicating the city is committed to providing those service, Caudill said.
  • Barton questioned why conferences are still budgeted if they may be cancelled because of COVID-19. Caudill explained many will be virtual conferences, and most if not all for continuing education for staffers. “There’s continuing education for our employees that we have to have, so that doesn’t just stop,” Caudill said.
  • Caudill noted pool revenue was cut in half to $48,000, again because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
  • In response to a question from Barton, Mayor Fraley explained the city is paying $30,000 for animal control services, while Richmond and Madison County split the remaining $150,000 to operate animal control services.
  • Ethan Connelly questioned whether the city can expect the same level of funding from county and state sources. Caudill replied that it’s still unknown whether funding will change. “They are projecting a 12% cut across the state, so who knows?” Caudill said. Mayor Fraley chimed in to say that the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy appears to be committed to a $250,000 matching grant for Berea’s proposed multi-use pavilion. He added the USDA Rural Development agency is still deciding on an additional $100,000 grant for the project, but indications so far look positive.
  • Answering question from Barton about the return of investment on the Central Kentucky Regional Airport, Caudill said a $25,000 grant to the airport is a good investment for economic development. “I know we wouldn’t have as many factories without it,” Caudill said of the airport. “It’s an opportunity to have something in our community that does potentially bring new businesses into our industrial park. Sometimes I think we forget that for a small city, we have a pretty amazing industrial park – great partners who continue to invest in our city.”

Caudill noted the Berea City Council will likely revisit the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget, hopefully for the purpose of restoring funding that had to be cut back because of the shortfall in revenues brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown.

“If our revenue is better than projected, we hope to be able to put things back into this budget as we amend it throughout the year,” Caudill said. “The budget process is a process of prioritizing the goals and objectives of the city.  Right now we can’t put everything that we would like to put in the current budget.”

City Administrator David Gregory said the city is following a recommendation by LaDouceur to keep a list of spending items that could be reinstated if revenues come in higher than expected.

Berea trails popular with residents during COVID-19 lockdown

Trail Walk2
From left, Public Works Director Donnie Davidson, Roy Curtis and Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley scouted a new walking path last fall near Silver Creek. The city’s walking trails provided welcome relief for residents during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Some of Berea’s shared use paths saw a significant increase in traffic during the recent COVID-19 lockdown, according to a report by the Berea Trail Town Committee.

Both bicycle and pedestrian traffic on Stephenson Trail was up during the months of April, logging 3,261 visits compared to 1,787 during the same period last year. Currently, the Stephenson Trail attracts more people than the Indian Fort Connector along Short Line Pike, though the report states traffic is up on Short Line as well by nearly 25 percent compared to last year.

The news was recently shared with Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley in an annual report from Dr. Louisa Summers. Summers is a professor of health and human performance at Berea College, and she oversees the research conducted by committee members and Berea College students.

The data was assembled using infrared counts and manual counting by trail town committee researchers. Overall, their survey found a total of approximately 5,700 users on the Stephenson and Short Line Pike paths during that period. Stephenson trail seemed to get the biggest boost in lockdown traffic, increasing by 82 percent, however, because of the lockdown, the traffic on Short Line also increased to its highest level ever, the report stated.

The report comes after Berea was named one of the best places to retire because of the city’s shared use paths.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bruce Fraley passed on news that in the March/April issue of Where to Retire magazine, Berea was featured among eight cities nationwide that caters to walkers and hikers. Other Kentucky cities featured in the issue included Danville and Lexington.

The magazine’s editor, Annette Fuller, cited Berea’s growing network of shared use trails and hiking opportunities as assets that attract retirees to the city. “Many retirees seek scenic spots where remaining active is easy thanks to a bounty of trails,” said Fuller. “From hiking groups to solo treks, retirees find welcoming communities and personal fulfillment in these locales. Berea blends mountain trails with an active arts scene and affordable college classes, and the retirees we interviewed there deemed it ‘extremely beautiful.’”

Citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the article states more than 700,000 Americans relocate to new towns for retirement each year. The article further asserts that those relocating seniors are healthier, better educated and more affluent than those who choose to not relocate, and they bring significant economic benefits, such as disposable income, to their new states and hometowns.

Florida continues to reign as the No. 1 destination for retirement relocation, followed by Arizona, South Carolina and North Carolina, according to the article, but Berea was identified among eight outstanding cities for hiking and walking, along with Durango, Colorado, Gulf Shores, Alabama, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Roanoke, Virginia, Sedona, Arizona, Silver City, New Mexico, and Waynesville, North Carolina.

While Berea’s growing status among hikers and walkers may come as a surprise to some local residents, it’s apparently not news to city staffers who regularly interact with visitors.

City of Berea Business Development Director Donna Angel said she has also seen an upturn in the number of people who are drawn to the city because of its trails. As an official who works with site selectors for major businesses and industries, Angel said one site selector told her that his wife and some of her friends chose Berea for a girl’s weekend. The women, who are millennials, rented a local Air Bnb, walked the Boone Trace Trail with the help of a guide, visited Berea College and shops on Chestnut, Main Street and Old Town, and ate at eight different Berea restaurants. But the bike paths are one feature they want to come back and try.

“Part of what attracted them was the bike paths,” Angel said. “It’s really a top-notch selling point, and they said they plan on coming back again and trying our bike trails.”

Angel noted she also has calls from future retirees who want to settle in Berea and open a business, as if they are looking ahead to start a new life.  “I think what’s attracting people is they like the small town quality of life that we offer, and our walking trails are part of that,” Angel said.

 

 

10 things to know about the City of Berea’s proposed budget

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The City of Berea Audit and Finance Committee met last week to finalize a draft of the 2020-2021 budget. While the COVID-19 lockdown has taken a toll, the city has crafted a spending plan to move forward.

Here are some things to know about Berea’s proposed budget:

  1. The outlook is cautiously optimistic. Berea City Administrator David Gregory summed the city’s situation up in his first budget message: “The city’s financial health is good – but that is only because of hard work, planning and diligence. I am confident that in conjunction with city staff and engaged residents, that we can gain financial health and stability for many years to come.”
  2. Long-term retirement costs remain an issue to watch, including significant increases in the city’s contribution to the County Employee Retirement Fund (CERS).
  3. Projected revenues are expected to be down by $2.7 million, most notably in occupational license fees or payroll tax, which could drop by $1.8 million. Still, officials say the revenue situation could improve, depending on the recovery of the economy.
  4. In recent years, the administration has underestimated revenues and overestimated expenditures to provide a substantial budget cushion. This year’s estimates are more conservative, reflecting the city’s best guess on how much money it will actually take in, and how much it will actually spend.
  5. City leaders opted to leave the $2.7 million Fund Balance Reserve or “rainy day fund” intact despite the projected shortfall in revenues, suggesting while the city expects challenging times ahead, they don’t yet justify dipping into the emergency fund.
  6. Unlike past years, there won’t be many capital projects in the coming year, but some things will go forward that will be paid for with state and federal matching funds. The multi-use pavilion near the Welcome Center/former Tolle building will proceed, as will work on some of the city’s shared use paths.
  7. State road aid funds to the city, which are based on gasoline taxes, continue to go down. The city is budgeted to receive $240,000 to cover $225,000 in resurfacing projects. Officials express concern Berea is having to do more with less when it comes to maintaining city roads.
  8. Expenditures in the General Fund are budgeted to fall from $16 million this year to approximately $13 million in fiscal year 2020-2021.
  9. The Audit and Finance Committee pledged $5,000 for a dog park pilot project at the end of Dinsmore Street. How it will be maintained is yet to be determined.
  10. The budget reflects the city’s efforts to economize on personnel costs, particularly in Tourism, where the department’s entire part-time staff was suspended as summer events were cancelled by the COVID-19 crisis. Tourism officials say those employees could be brought back if the economy takes a positive turn.

For the long-term, Gregory has recommended the Audit and Finance Committee to meet again in the future to develop a five-year financial direction for the city, ideally to allow the city to maintain the current level of service despite possible inflation in the future.

Festival of Learnshops postponed; Tourism hires new advertising firm

Tourism Desk2

In a sign of the times, the City of Berea Public Works Department recently installed a plexiglass shield around the desk at the Berea Welcome Center. The move is in anticipation of the city opening to tourists, though precisely when that will happen remains uncertain, according to officials.

Last week, the Berea Tourism Commission took action on the following programs, including:

1.) Postponing the summer Festival of Learnships series until July 2021;

2.) Hiring Right Place Media (RPM) to be the department’s new advertising firm, replacing Brand Advertising Group;

3.) Directing tourism staff to field telephone calls on behalf of the Berea Chamber of Commerce until further notice.

Concerning the Festival of Learnshops, Tourism Director Kerri Hensley said there’s too much uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic to move forward with the summer workshops: “We don’t foresee this being a possibility this year,” Hensley said. “This was going to be the biggest one ever, but we’ll just have to put it on hold.”

Hensley cited a number of factors in the decision to postpone the event until the summer of 2021, including the fact that tourism would have to begin marketing the event immediately.

“As heart wrenching as this is, I think this is the right decision, so we will postpone,” Commissioner Dale Ballinger agreed. While most classes are cancelled because of social distancing constraints, Berea Tourism will be marketing professional development programs for teachers, featuring online lectures and hands-on projects.

In the meantime, officials said plans are still underway for the Make It, Take It, Give It Christmas season craft program.

On a related note, Commissioner Richard Thomas asked when the Welcome Center would be open again to the public, to which Hensley replied: “We’re still trying to make plans, staying safe, and waiting to know when we’ll be able to open, but we don’t have a date right now.” City Administrator David Gregory said Berea is working with the Kentucky League of Cities as well as consulting other government entities to determine how to proceed and when to open.

The commission considered two proposals from advertising firms, including Digital Tulip and RPM. Commissioner Thomas liked RPM’s program for tracking customers, and he expressed reservations about Digital Tulips fees. Commissioner Patrick Huston, meanwhile, said he favored Digital Tulip because they seemed to have specialists in various areas of marketing, and because they pay particular attention to driving traffic to restaurants, which he said is particularly important in Berea.

Before a vote was taken, Hensley expressed her reservation about changing advertising firms at this time, noting that Brand Advertising Group has spearheaded a number of initiatives for Berea Tourism, including setting up its website, and launching online programs for management of the city’s craft workshops. Both Huston and Commission Chair Ahmed Reynolds agreed with Hensley’s suggestion to retain Brand Advertising Group, with Huston noting that tourism staff would have to spend time bringing a new firm up to speed when the staff is already shorthanded because of layoffs.  In the end, RPM won the final vote, with Charles Arnold, Richmond Thomas, Dale Ballinger and Linda Ross voting in favor, while Reynolds, Huston and Richard Saunders voted against the measure.

Arnold and Ballinger turned the discussion to the fact that the Berea Chamber of Commerce recently released its entire staff, including personnel who fielded calls from prospective business owners wanting to relocate to Berea. Arnold suggested tourism and the city could help the chamber during this unusual time.

“Tourism, the chamber and the city should all work closely, and to be very blunt, we risk losing our chamber,” Arnold said. “And as a tourism commissioner, I don’t want to see that happen, as a business owner I don’t want to see that happen. And so I think as a body we need to do everything we can to help ensure the success of the chamber.”

With that, Arnold and Ballinger moved to have telephone calls forwarded from the Berea Chamber of Commerce office to Berea Tourism. The measure was approved unanimously.

In one final matter, Thomas said he hoped the commission would soon begin working on ideas for replacing the Art Accelerator program, which was officially shut down last month.

Chief urges caution as structure, vehicle fires up slightly in April

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The number of structure and vehicle fires were up in April compared to the previous month, according to a recent report by the Berea Fire Department. With that in mind, Berea Fire Department Chief Shawn Sandlin urged residents to exercise caution while they are at home.

Sandlin also urged local residents to continue observing rules for social distancing and take precautions for preventing the spread of COVID-19, especially as a way to help out first responders.  “Please continue to practice your social distancing while out in the public,” Sandlin said. “If you are heathy at home, chances are we can do the same thing.  In the event you need the Berea Fire Dept. we are here for you.”

The total number of calls to the Berea Fire Department edged up to 63 in April, compared to 60 in March. Calls included the following:

Fires: 6 (up from 3 in March).

Rescue/Emergency Medical Services: 17 (down from 21 in March).

Motor vehicle accidents with injuries: 8

Motor vehicle accidents without injuries: 5

Service calls: 7

False alarm/false call: 12

Good intent call: 11

Alarm activated – no fire: 2

Dispatch cancelled call: 5

Hazardous condition/no fire: 4

Unauthorized burning: 2

View public service numbers for the month of April: Berea Fire Department Service Stats April 2020

 

Berea Police: Crime down, car accidents reduced by half for the month of April

Berea Police CruiserB

The number of reported traffic accidents and crimes trended lower in Berea for the month of April, possibly because of the voluntary quarantine in effect in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the month of April, the Berea Police Department reported there were 20 total crimes, including two burglaries, three larcenies, and one auto theft. Meanwhile, fifteen traffic accidents were reported for April, compared to 34 in March. Three accidents were reported on I-75 South, while two accidents each were reported on I-75 North, Chestnut Street, and Walnut Meadow Road. One traffic accident occurred on each of the following roadways: Paint Lick Road, Oakwood, Mt. Vernon Road, Jefferson Street, Glades Road, and Forest Street.