Mayor Designates October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Eef and Mayor2By way of proclamation, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly has designated October 2017 as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Eef Fontanez (left) received the proclamation Tuesday on behalf of the Berea Human Rights Commission. The proclamation reads as follows:

Whereas: Workplaces welcoming of the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical part of our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy, and

Whereas; in this spirit, the city of Berea, Kentucky is recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities, and

Whereas, activities during this month will reinforce the value and talent people with disabilities add to our workplaces and communities and affirm our city’s commitment to an inclusive community.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Steve Connelly, do hereby proclaim October 2017 as

NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH.

In so doing, I call upon employers, schools and other community organizations in Berea, Kentucky to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to advance its important message that people with disabilities are equal to the task throughout the year.”

 

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City Offers Property Tax Discount Through November 30

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When it comes to paying local property taxes, paying early or on time definitely has its advantages. Berea city residents can take advantage of a two percent tax discount if they pay by November 30. After that deadline, property owners pay face value, while those paying after December 31 will accrue a penalty of 10 percent, plus 10 percent interest per Annum if the bill is paid after the 31st. If a payment is postmarked by the appropriate deadline, residents will receive the applicable rate.

The City of Berea sent out tax bills on Friday, Sept. 29, and with the temporary relocation of city offices, residents can pay their bills a couple of different ways. Though the new Berea Municipal Police and Fire Safety Building is under construction, those wishing to mail their tax payment can still send it to the former City Hall address at 212 Chestnut Street, Berea, KY 40403.

Residents wishing to pay their bills in person can go to the city’s municipal building at 200 Harrison Road, or they can leave payment in the building’s utility drop box after hours. City offices at the municipal building are closed on November 23, 24, December 25, 26, and January 1. Those wanting a tax receipt should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with their bill.

The property tax rate remains the same as last year – $0.102 per $100 of total assessed value. Residents who have questions about their property assessments can contact Property Valuation Administrator Billy Ackerman at (859) 623-5410 or by email at billyackermanpva@gmail.com.

Those wishing to see if their mortgage company has paid their property tax, or to view outstanding Berea property taxes can go to the Finance Department page at bereaky.gov.

 

City secures funds for U.S. 25 N. with help from Sen. Jared Carpenter

us25n.jpgBerea motorists know how quickly traffic can back up on northbound U.S. 25 near Sav-A-Lot. That will change, however, after the City of Berea recently secured approximately $8 million in funding to widen the two-lane highway from Ellipse Street to the Berea Bypass. The plan will also include a shared use path for bicycles on both sides of the road.

The scale of the project was in doubt earlier this year when officials from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet asked city officials to scale down the project to $6.2 million. That change would have meant, among other things, elimination of the shared use paths on both sides of U.S. 25 from Highland Drive to the Bypass. But when it looked like the project was going to be scaled down, State Senator Jared Carpenter (District 34) intervened on behalf of the city, requesting that the state’s secretary of the transportation restore funding for the full project. “I told them either they should do it right or not do it at all,” Carpenter said. Frankfort agreed, and the city recently received word that the original plan was back in effect. Berea City Administrator Randy Stone reported last week that the widening of U.S. 25 North will go out to bid in October.

With the restoration of the original plans, the city will be one step closer to realizing the goal of establishing a connected network of bike paths throughout Berea. Cycling is a fast-growing segment of the tourism economy in Kentucky, according to state officials.

 

Nick Carpenter Honored With John G. Fee Youth Leadership Award

carpenterThe Berea Human Rights Commission’s (BHRC) inaugural John G. Fee Youth Leadership Award was presented to Nick Carpenter Tuesday night at a meeting of the Berea City Council.

Presenting the award was BHRC Chair Mim Pride, who outlined the reasons Carpenter was singled out to receive the honor. Said Pride:

“Nick is an advocate and mentor for those with disabilities, and especially for those with autism. He has organized an awareness campaign and fundraiser to promote autism acceptance. He started a support group for the differently abled, and an autism support group. He actively speaks about autism to groups and civic organizations, and has met with congressional leaders to lobby for laws that benefit the disabled. He has spoken eloquently to this body [Berea City Council], as I’m sure you’ll remember. So congratulations, Nick. You are a model, and we are grateful for the model you provide.”

Carpenter was also a nominee for the 2017 John G. Fee Justice Award.

Mae Suramek Honored with 2017 John G. Fee Justice Award

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Berea entrepreneur Mae Suramek was honored Tuesday with the Berea Human Rights Commission (BHRC) John G. Fee Justice Award for 2017. Other nominees included Loyal Jones, Nick Carpenter, Virginia Bland, Mayor Steve Connelly, and Rev. Kent Gilbert.

Presenting the award at a meeting of the Berea City Council, BHRC Chair Mim Pride outlined the reasons Suramek was selected for the honor:

“As the owner/operator of Noodle Nirvana, Mae Suramek has made a commitment to donate a percentage of her profits and tips to a non-profit each year. This year, Ms. Suramek and her team, and you, her customers, raised $30,000 for the New Opportunity School for Women, which focuses on improving the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low income women. Noodle Nirvana also partners with the Madison County Backpack Program, which provides food for children who have been identified as having insufficient food at home. She served as chair of the Berea Human Rights Commission and as director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center. She advocates for social justice, community unity, and equality. But more than speaking for her beliefs, she lives them, and she has made them a part of her business model. We are proud to award the John G. Fee Justice Award for 2017 to Mae Suramek.”

Suramek follows former Berea City Council member Diane Kerby, who was honored with the award in 2016.

 

Swing for a Cure Says Thanks to the City

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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