'Cautious, conservative’ budget moves City forward

Almost three-fourths of Covington’s General Fund is used to fund operations in Public Safety and Public Works.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of two stories on the City of Covington’s 2019-20 budget.) 

COVINGTON, Ky. - The City of Covington’s 2019-20 budget is balanced. It doesn’t raise taxes. It continues to fund core services like public safety, job creation, business recruitment, neighborhood support, housing and upkeep of public infrastructure.
And it makes targeted, focused investments that will ultimately create a stronger city and a higher quality of life for its residents.
“But it does so in a way that is cautious and conservative,” Mayor Joe Meyer said. “We have no intention of retreating on the momentum we’ve made, but given some pressures inflicted on us from outside the City, we’re also not making promises that we will not be able to keep in the years ahead.”
Said City Manager David Johnston: “This is the consummate ‘status quo’ budget - one that holds the line yet also defends the line.”
The Covington City Commission tonight approved the $110 million all-funds budget on a 4 to 0 vote. This was the final reading; a first reading was given on June 18.
The figures: The 2019-20 budget totals $110,159,000. It contains two parts:
  • A General Fund budget of $55,955,000 which uses revenue from familiar tax streams and allocates money primarily for staff and operations. 
  • And an “All Other Funds” budget of $54,204,000, which includes almost two dozen dedicated funds. These funds get revenue from a wide variety of sources, including federal and state grants, old bond proceeds, General Fund transfers, trusts, and other dedicated sources. They’re used for a wide variety of expenditures, such as Devou Park improvements, housing subsidies for individuals, vehicles and equipment, streetscape projects, and health insurance.
The budget is higher than last year because the City stands to receive $5.1 million more in state and federal grants and because the City expects to gain almost $1.2 million more in interest and related income, primarily because of a more comprehensive investments policy created and implemented by the Finance Department.
Rainy Day Fund: That $110 million figure does not include the City’s reserve funds, commonly called the Rainy Day Fund. Because that fund is restricted, the City’s accountants separated it from the budget.
The fund will begin the 2019-20 Fiscal Year with about $7.4 million, and the City hopes to add over a $1 million by year’s end, Finance Director Muhammed Owusu said. It’s working toward a goal of 25 percent of the operating budget, which this year would be about $14 million, Owusu said.
Highlights: By dollar amount, public safety continues to represent the top priority in the General Fund budget, with the combined police and fire budgets representing 56 percent of that fund. Next highest is Public Works at 16 percent.
Johnston said much of City Hall’s internal focus next year will be on continuing to develop consistent and comprehensive policies, procedures and best practices that will more clearly define goals and duties and also increase efficiency of operations. But much of that work is not reflected in budgetary line items. 

Nevertheless, here are some of the priorities and new programs funded in the 2019-20 budget:
  • Creates a new position of business recruitment specialist so “the City can be more pro-active about bringing new investment to Covington instead of merely reacting to overtures,” Economic Development Director Tom West said. “This is capacity that we desperately need, especially as we seek to implement the new citywide action plan we will be getting soon from consultant Garner Economics.”
  • Again allocates $150,000 to help small businesses with their first-year rent and help commercial building owners improve their facades. For the third year in a row, the City ran out of money with the program mid-year.
  • Sets aside money to continue the process of turning Covington’s obsolete and rigid Zoning Ordinance into a form-based neighborhood development code that better reflects development patterns, is easier to work with, respects the City’s historic character, and better enables the type of development the community wants in its neighborhoods and business districts.
  • Allocates $175,000 to fix the HVAC system at Police headquarters.
  • Buys 10 marked cruisers and four unmarked cars to replace aging vehicles, a collective investment of about $580,000. (Some of the cars will be “recycled” for use by code enforcement inspectors.)
  • Sets aside about $20,000 to replace an aging K-9, if needed.
  • Allocates money to transition from .40-caliber pistols to 9mm pistols.
  • Sets aside about $20,000 to update video surveillance cameras in the interview room.
  • Sets aside funds to help Covington host the CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) Conference in November 2019.
  • Buys two new ambulances and an SUV, a collective investment of about $540,000.
  • Sets aside $175,000 to fix the HVAC system at Company 1.
  • Sets aside $20,000 for a local match if the City receives a grant to replace self-contained breathing equipment.
  • Sets aside an additional $600,000 in General Fund money to retain eight firefighters funded by a now-expired federal grant.
  • Sets aside $60,000 for partnering with neighborhood groups on community projects.
  • Uses $7.7 million in federal funds to help Covington residents secure affordable housing.
  • Contains $1.3 million in federal funds for lead hazard abatement.
  • Buys a bucket truck and four F350 4x4 pickups, a collective investment of about $255,000.
  • Continues funding of the iWorQ Service Request App/online portal.
  • Funds an array of resurfacing, streetscape, and street reconstruction projects. (See Capital Improvements below.)
  • Sets aside up $100,000 from various funds for a citywide master parks plan.
  • Allocates $245,000 in park improvements, including at Barb Cook Park in Latonia.
  • Sets aside $50,000 to upgrade and improve the City’s website.
  • Invests in IT infrastructure.
  • Contains $15,000 for downtown holiday decorations.
  • Sets aside $310,000 to finish the ongoing effort to create conceptual plan for the soon-to-be-vacant IRS site and gain development control from the federal government.
  • Turns a half-time position into a full-time position to reduce reliance on outside computer services and contractors.
  • Allocates new or carryover money for 26 different projects and line items, including annual programs funded by grants and multi-year projects that are underway or in the planning stages. These include things like street resurfacing, street reconstruction, vehicles, park improvements, and technology, including the 
    Riverfront Commons project and the Scott Street streetscape project. The total of these projects and programs is $21.7 million (although many of these projects have been discussed for years). 
  • Does not propose any new debt. Payments on previous borrowings and bond sales represent 7 percent of the General Fund expenditures, and the City is determined to lower that figure.
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