Swing for a Cure Says Thanks to the City

ballfieldpic3

On behalf of the Swing for a Cure charitable softball tournament, Tom Houser recently presented the Berea City Council with a handsomely framed photo of Berea City Park ball fields.

The organizer of one charitable event had kinds words for Berea city officials Tuesday night after he successfully staged an event for the cause of fighting cancer.

Tom Houser, coordinator of the Swing for A Cure softball tournament, thanked both the city and the Berea Tourism Commission for their support of the event, which took place in early September. Berea Parks and Recreation Director Cilla Bloom and her staff were also praised for managing to get the fields ready despite a weekend downpour. The tournament featured 28 teams from all over Kentucky and one from West Virginia. Houser said he hopes to have 35-40 teams at future tournaments.

Following his remarks, Houser presented the Berea City Council with a photograph of the ball fields. He  presented a similar framed photo to the tourism commission last week.

In other developments, it was good news and bad news for the Berea Quilt Extravaganza last week. The good news was that the Berea Tourism Commission voted to cover $2,500 in costs for the 14th annual event. The bad news was that organizers announced plans to suspend the show for 2018.

Addressing the commission, Berea Arts Council Director Gwen Childs announced organizers decided to suspend the event following less-than expected attendance. The quilt extravaganza had to be staged at Foley Middle School last August instead of at Berea Community, where it is usually held. The move was necessary because of construction at the school.

Childs explained there are a number of factors that are likely impacting Berea’s quilt event. First, similar shows are now occurring around the region, thus competing with Berea’s. Additionally, the number of vendors suppling quilting products is steadily shrinking, thus making it harder to get retailers to rent booths at Berea’s show, Childs said. While the arts council has not ruled out staging the extravaganza in the future, it won’t take place in 2018. “We struggled with this decision,” Childs said. “But it is important that we continue to remain a vibrant arts community in other ways.”

In other business, the Berea Tourism Commission announced the award of several grants last week. The commission voted to fund the following, and provide in-kind support for advertising where appropriate:

Twilight Christmas Parade, $1,600. Commissioners declined to fund a request for prize money for the float decorating contest.

Sustainable Berea, $2,500:

Battle of Richmond: $1,000:

Berea Maker’s Market: $500:

Berea Celtic Festival, $500:

Berea Chamber of Commerce, $5,000:

Swing for a Cure, $1,000:

Berea Arena Theater (BAT) $2,500: Commissioners noted that BAT events are well attended, but Cheryl Stone said not getting the schedule of performances out on time has hindered the degree to which tourists can access the shows. Stone thus recommended approving funding on the condition that BAT produces and advertises its schedule in the timely fashion to alert tourists.

AMP Levitt Music Series: Ali Blair, with sponsorship from the Berea Arts Council, requested a partnership with the commission, and the commission voted to promise a $3,000 cash match if Berea is selected to stage the AMP Levitt Concert Series in 2018. The commission initially approved the funding by a vote of 3-2. However, Commissioner Dale Ballinger said he wasn’t clear on certain aspects of the proposal. The commission thus rescinded that vote, discussed the issue in detail, then voted again, at which point the funding was approved 4-1. Charles Arnold cast the dissenting vote.

On another item, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly briefly addressed the commission on the issue of Special Purpose Government Entities. Connelly was responding to an inquiry by a citizen who expressed concern that the city might be in violation of Kentucky statutes regarding the governance of the Berea Tourism Commission. Connelly quoted a legal opinion from the Commonwealth of Kentucky confirming that the Berea Tourism Commission is in full compliance with its governance and reporting responsibilities under Kentucky law.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

City Hall Moves Toward Completion

CityhallAWork crews were busy last weekend planting trees and shrubs around the Berea Municipal Police and Fire Safety Building as part of an effort to complete the new facility by early November. Despite significant re-adjustments in the initial plan, the project is still under budget as of September.

At a September meeting of the Berea City Council, Finance Director Susan Meeks explained that from a financial standpoint, the city could not have picked a better time to build the facility, which has been designed to accommodate the needs of local government for the coming decades.

CityHallB

Meeks noted that just two years ago, the city was making $800,000 payments in debt service. Once that debt was paid, however, the city began putting money away in the city’s Capital Reserve Fund, much of which has been used to pay for the new building. “We are in a very good position, and this was the ideal time to take on a project,” Meeks explained. Additionally, interest rates are currently very low, thus reducing the cost of financing the project.

Additionally, because the city opted to purchase certain supplies instead of leaving that to the contractor, the city realizes a tax savings of well over $200,000.

CityHallC

The total cost for the building is projected to be $12,755,384 despite two major adjustments to the building plan. When the original parking lot was dug up, workers discovered the foundation had to be filled in with stone before it could be repaved. That cost approximately $121,000

Additionally, when construction first begin, it was planned the basement of the building would be an Emergency Operations Center for the Madison County Emergency Management Agency. When the county opted for another location, however, the basement had to be reconfigured. Instead, the city will be getting an additional meeting space, and it can be employed as an emergency storm shelter. An additional $80,000 was required to replace the aging elevator as well.

cityhall addon3

Officials said the building will feature a number of benefits, including:

  • A lower ISO insurance rating will result once the Berea Fire Department moves into the centrally located Chestnut Street station, potentially lowering residential and commercial insurance rates;
  • A more secure, more citizen-accessible police facility that affords more privacy for citizens filing police reports;
  • Better facilities for first responders, including living quarters, locker room facilities, and training facilities which will also better accommodate female personnel;
  • Greater government efficiency and communication once all of the city departments are under one roof;
  • More convenient service location for the public when Berea Municipal Utilities offices move to Chestnut Street.

Berea City Councilman Jerry Little said he is impressed with the value the city has gotten from the architects and builders so far. “When it’s done, anybody who says it’s not well-built doesn’t know anything about construction,” Little said.

CityHallE

CityHall 2

 

 

 

Oberst to be Honored with Stone Artisan Bench

George Oberst.jpg

The late community leader George Oberst will be honored with a stone artisan bench in Old Town, according to Berea city officials.

Last week at a meeting of the Berea City Council, Mayor Steve Connelly said volunteers had raised money and were planning to honor Oberst with a stone-slab bench and memorial plaque to be placed on the edge of Artisan Green. The bench will echo the style of the stone wall near the top of North Broadway Street, which Oberst helped build.

In his remarks to the council, Connelly remembered Oberst as a citizen who gave years of service on the Berea Planning and Zoning Commission and the Berea Board of Adjustments. Oberst, who died in March 2016, left a positive and lasting impact on his community, Connelly added.

“He was an avid advocate for sidewalks and some would say that he was an early, lone voice in Berea’s planning history, who cried out for sidewalks in subdivisions, not just on one side, but on both sides of the road. He played a large role in institutionalizing that rule, and now we think about sidewalks as routine and not as luxuries,” Connelly said.

An avid cyclist, Oberst was also an advocate for bicycle lanes and green space when building projects were reviewed by the planning commission.

Connelly noted the eight-foot, stone slab bench will be placed not far from another marker that recalls Oberst: a bicycle repair station near the railroad depot. Volunteers are hoping to put the bench in place within the next 30-60 days, according to Connelly.

Who’s Supplying Your Power? Takeaways from Berea’s Electricity Work Session

utilities2.jpg

On September 5, the Berea City Council met in a work session to bring new council members up to speed on the city’s power purchasing and transmission agreements. The contracts were finalized last year and take effect in 2019.

Berea Municipal Utilities Director Ed Fortner and City Administrator Randy Stone provided an overview of the transition from Kentucky Utilities to American Municipal Power, then fielded questions from council members. Points discussed included:

  • Regulatory changes taking effect in 2012 spurred Kentucky Utilities to transition from coal to gas power. The resulting costs of required infrastructure upgrades are being passed onto KU’s municipal customers through fees and rate hikes. In 2014, KU also announced a new requirement for cities to give 10 years notice before they could break their contract with KU.
  • KU’s rates rose approximately 40 percent over the last five years, and as a result of the increased costs and the proposed mandatory 10-year notice clause, 11 municipalities, including Berea, announced intent to break their contracts with KU effective 2019.
  • In June 2016, the Berea City Council approved a measure directing the mayor to negotiate a contract with American Municipal Power beginning in 2019. As a result of reduced electric rates, savings could reach $2 million per year compared to KU’s rates. City leaders note that is a savings of 20%, which can be applied to other municipal needs, such as storm water projects.
  • In September 2016, the city council passed an ordinance allowing the administration to enter into an agreement with Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency (KyMEA), including transmission services. The agreement also secures access to 10MW of extra energy capacity in the event of a weather emergency or massive technical failure. Under the provisions of the agreement, the city pays for three months of emergency capacity even though it is actually getting access to that emergency power for all 12 months. Because the monthly cost for emergency energy capacity is $38,500  per month, the city realizes a savings of $346,500 annually, Fortner explained. Randy Stone added the city made a decision to purchase emergency capacity as an insurance policy to safeguard BMU customers against a total power shut-down during severe weather.
  • As a member of KyMEA, the city of Berea bears between 8-12 % of the organization’s administrative costs. Councilman Jerry Little, who has expressed concern that the agency is new, said the city needs to be vigilant about administrative costs to the city. Little also expressed concerns about transparency, noting there are occasions in which the Berea Municipal Utilities director would be privy to information that would not be immediately available to city officials (such as occasions when the KyMEA board goes into executive session).
  • Little suggested the issue of purchasing power is so cumbersome and complex that the city should have a full-time utilities board to advise officials on purchasing power for Berea Municipal Utilities.
  • Fortner noted a committee has been formed to select the city’s next power supplier after 2024. The committee includes Fortner, Kevin Howard, Diane Zekind, and Joshua Bills.
  • Fortner stated Berea Municipal Utilities intends to seek options that allow the city to establish an asset-based portfolio. That means choosing an energy provider that has a variety of market options to choose from, including wind, hydro-electric, gas, and solar. A provider that can shop from a diverse spectrum of providers will likely provide more reliable and less expensive electricity to its customers. In contrast, if the city has a market-based energy portfolio in 2024, energy costs are expected to be higher and more volatile as energy companies phase out coal plants in compliance with new government regulations. That is predicted to drive demand higher, and the resulting higher electric rates  would impact BMU customers.
  • Councilman Bruce Fraley requested meetings with AMP officials to further educate council members on issues arising with the energy industry. Stone said he could request AMP officials to visit the council during a scheduled Berea City Council meeting.

 

$200K Awarded for Parker Seal Cleanup

parkerseal3

A $200,000 grant has been awarded for the environmental clean-up of the former Parker Seal plant in Berea. The Brownfields Program grant was secured from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council Inc. (KRFDC) in partnership with Fahe in Berea.

Located at 103 Lewis Street, the Parker Seal property is said to be impacted by trichloroethene and debris that remained after the plant closed in 2001. The Brownfields Program provides EPA funding for cleanup and reuse of contaminated properties.

Part of the proceeds from the grant will allow the KRFDC to stage neighborhood forums informing local residents about the remediation process. The meetings will also allow KRFDC to gather citizen input regarding the kinds of economic development projects that could result once the chemicals and debris are cleared from the site.

Potential uses of the property include a senior daycare center, a service center with business incubator space, a food distribution/farmer’s market where local producers can sell their goods, and possibly a community meeting center. Nothing will be decided, however, until local residents are allowed to give their input on the plan. “There will be a lot of community engagement,” said Fahe representative Aaron Phelps. “There won’t be something coming into the neighborhood that people don’t want.”

Karen Atkins of the KRFDC said the project has enormous potential to impact Berea’s economy and quality of life. Not only will the dilapidated plant get a much-needed makeover, the environmental cleanup could potentially improve the quality of air and water in the area. Additionally, the resulting economic development is expected to spur the creation of new businesses, new jobs, improve property values, and contribute to Berea’s tax base, all of which benefits the city, according to Atkins. “Working together on this project with Fahe and the residents of Berea will strengthen the community,” Atkins said.

The Parker Seal building opened in 1951, becoming one of Berea’s first major industries. But since closing in 2001, the facility has fallen into disrepair and has been a target for vandalism and other illegal activities. A statement released by Fahe noted the Brownfields Program grant could mark a positive turning point for the neighborhood: “By performing the Brownfields cleanup, KRFDC is allowing the building and the grounds to become usable for redevelopment, which will provide a positive transformation to the landscape and an economic and social boon for the community.”

Both KRFDC and Fahe are entities engaged in promoting rural economic development and providing opportunities for residents in need. Berea Mayor Steve Connelly noted this latest KRFDC/Fahe partnership could be a catalyst for more investment in small businesses in the area. “It’s [Parker Seal] redevelopment would be good for the neighborhood, and, I think, good for the long-term entrepreneurship efforts of the city,” Connelly said. “The more community entrepreneurship we have that keeps our money local, the more success our city will have in the long-run.”

Berea Council Unanimous On Budget for First Time Since 2011

citybdg2

The Berea City Council approved the 2017-2018 budget in an 8-0 vote on Tuesday.

The budget process differed from past years in that it included a joint meeting with the members of the City of Berea Audit and Finance Committee and the Berea Tourism and Convention Commission. The result was that tourism commissioners fielded suggestions from city officials and ultimately committed funds to projects such as shared use trails and bike paths, as well as pledging more funds for community events.

In his remarks after the vote, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly commended the council for their efforts, noting the budget affirms the city’s commitment to tourism as a tool for long-term economic development. Connelly also noted the budget confirms the importance of the 3% restaurant tax, since it allows tourism programs to get needed funding to draw visitors into the city without having to dip into the city’s general fund.

Mayor Connelly also said the council was prudent in its effort to work with tourism while staying within the guidelines of state law regarding how restaurant tax money can be used.

Some highlights of the city’s 2017-2018 spending plan:

  • Berea city employees will receive a raise of up to 2%.
  • Funds for hiring three new firefighters and one additional police officer are budgeted.
  • Occupational License Fees are conservatively projected to reach $5.3 million.
  • Including all government funds, the city is projected to collect $17.3 million in revenue.
  • Berea’s “rainy-day” fund increased $500,000 to $2.7 million, setting aside money for the government to function in the event of a financial emergency.
  • $200,000 is included for Duerson field and installation of bleachers at Berea City Park.
  • $250,000 is budgeted to renovate the L&N Depot for use as a restaurant space.
  • $400,000 is slated for the Tolle building for office and gallery space, as well as a meeting space for 150-175 people.
  • The Berea Tourism and Convention Commission budget includes $75,000 for shared use paths. The move is part of a strategy to capitalize on the growing popularity of bike/walking trails and outdoor tourism.
  • Tourism budgeted $30,000 for town beautification (Christmas, Artisan Village plantings and other projects); $10,000 is set aside for music on the porch; $5,000 for the Spoonbread Festival; $28,000 to sponsor community events to draw tourists (like the Spoonbread Festival); $12,000 is set aside to study the impact/strategies relating to recreational tourism.
  • The ending fund balance in this budget is projected to be $609,908 higher than in last year’s.
  • $545,000 is allocated for shared use paths, and the finishing of the Indian Fort Trail. by connecting properties along Short Line Pike.

 

Sept. 5 Still Target for Berea Municipal Building Completion

citybdg2It’s now just a matter of weeks until the Berea Municipal Police and Fire Safety Building is finished, according to city officials. September 5 is still the target date for completion of the facility, which will be home to administrative offices and Berea’s first responders.

citybdg4After completing the brick fronting, workmen were seen this week placing stone on the front façade.

citybdg3Drywall is being installed at a rapid pace, and the offices inside the structure are beginning to take shape. Officials estimate more than half of the drywall has already been completed.

citybdg7A lot of work went into the finishing of the fire station this week, both inside the three-truck bay and the exterior brick work. In addition, sprinklers are being installed in the building.

 

citybdg1Much of the roof has been installed so far, and electrical wiring is being completed on the second floor. Crews have also begun installing windows in the building.

citybdg5The completion of the new fire station is expected to help lower insurance rates for residents and local business owners, and needed upgrades in training facilities and living quarters for the Berea Fire Department will put the city in a better position to recruit and retain firefighters.

The Berea Police Department will benefit from the building’s enhanced security, since the design will allow for tighter control of suspects, as well as greater security and privacy for citizens needing to make a complaint or consult with a police officer. Additionally, the improvements could help the city to hire more female first responders, since upgrades in living quarters and locker rooms in the facility will better accommodate women.