‘No’ to taxes, green stickers; ‘yes’ to new rides

Members of the Covington City Commission tore up green stickers in casting their votes to eliminate the oft-maligned waste collection requirement. 

COVINGTON, Ky. - Property tax rates will not be raised, the controversial green sticker program for bulk garbage items is being thrown in the trash, and visitors to downtown Covington should soon be able to get around using a free taxi service that employs low-speed electric vehicles. 

On Tuesday night, the Covington City Commission gave second and final approval to three ordinances that will have direct and visible impact on its residents and visitors to the City
All three had been previously discussed.
Property taxes
The property rates for the 2018 calendar year - 0.327 for real estate and 0.349 for personal property - are the same as the rates for calendar year 2017.
Freezing the rates was the recommendation of City Manager David Johnston after months of discussion with Finance Director Muhammed Owusu.
“There is no reason to ask for an increase from our citizens,” Johnston said. “With these rates, we can make our budget work and provide a high level of services.”
On real estate, the rate translates to $3.27 per each $1,000 in assessed value. For example, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $327 in annual taxes, and the owner of a $70,000 home would pay $228.90.
The property assessment places Covington in the middle of the pack among Kenton County cities, given that half of those cities also have separate ad valorem assessments for street repairs, recreation, and fire/EMS. Covington has none of those separate assessments.
New bulk garbage rules
New rules making it easier for residents to get rid of bulk garbage items will go into effect the week of Sept. 10.
A brochure explaining the new system will be mailed to residents in the coming weeks, said Sheila Fields, the City’s Solid Waste and Recycling Coordinator.
Under the existing rules, residents were given 12 green stickers a year (with the option to buy more) and had to attach a sticker to each item that didn’t fit in their City-assigned wheeled trash cart. Under the new rules, the stickers are eliminated, and residents can put out one item each week with their cart.
But what doesn’t change, Fields emphasized, are requirements that certain items be wrapped, bundled or bagged. For example, mattresses and upholstered furniture must be wrapped in plastic, Freon must still be removed from appliances, and loose shrubbery or lumber must still be tied in bundles no longer than 4 feet, no wider than 2 feet, and no heavier than 50 pounds.
Items that aren’t correctly prepared will not be picked by Rumpke.
The City set up the green sticker program three years ago to rein in what some called “the wild, wild west of garbage set-out”: Large piles of debris, furniture, and loose trash set out in front of residences for garbage collection, often days ahead of schedule.
The green sticker requirement largely reduced those eyesores and health hazards, but there were ongoing challenges with use of the stickers and it remained unpopular among some residents and officials.
As a sign of that unpopularity, Mayor Joe Meyer and the four Commissioners each tore up a sticker while casting votes for the new program.
“We’re hopeful that the new system makes it simpler and more efficient to accomplish those same goals: Keep the City clean by helping residents get rid of large, unwanted items,” Fields said.
The new ordinance also included changes in the fines for code violations related to solid waste violations. In general, the fines were reduced to both make them more proportional to the seriousness of the violation and to give the City flexibility in using them for repeated and deliberate violations.
Low-speed vehicles
The changes allowing low-speed vehicles will let private companies offer a new option for transportation in commercial and tourist areas of Covington and soon between the cities of Newport and Cincinnati.
The vehicles differ from golf carts in that they are regulated by the state and are required to have safety equipment like head lights, brake lights, turn signals and seat belts. They will be allowed to operate on City streets with speed limits of 25 mph in a defined area - north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard/12th Street and between the Licking River and Philadelphia Street.
Officials from GEST Carts and OGGO had sought City approval to operate what essentially are free taxi services, moving people to places like restaurants, bars, and entertainment and art venues. Would-be riders can hail a vehicle or use a phone to order a ride.
The companies make their money off advertising, and drivers work off of tips.
GEST is already operating in Cincinnati and will soon operate in Newport. CEO Patrick Dye said the company planned to open an office in Covington and permanently station a number of vehicles in the City.
Covington officials said the service could alleviate parking pressures in the City by moving people from parking garages along Madison Avenue to the Roebling Point District, MainStrasse Village, and hotels along the riverfront, as well as from Cincinnati and Newport.