Links to the more important articles posted on the Mariemont.com blog during the past 12 months.
Links to the more important articles posted on the Mariemont.com blog during the past 12 months.
Things to Consider for the Future of Mariemont
If you are progressive in your views about the future of Mariemont, I believe that you would support many of the following initiatives during the next four years.
Dick Wendel MD, MBA
Each year Cincy Magazine ranks the top 50 Cincinnati area communities. Mariemont’s ranking this year is number 43 with Indian Hill, Terrace Park and Madeira ranked number one, two, and three. Newtown was #26 and Fairfax #39. Rankings for the past nine years are listed in the column below.
2006 – #3
2008 – #3
2009 – #19
2010 – #12
2011 – #14
2013 – #20
2014 – #28
These rankings may seem arbitrary, but this type of publicity makes one worry about future property values in Mariemont and how our Village Government is functioning. It begs the question, who will step forward with the management skills, leadership and vision to reverse this trend?
The new fire truck is a firefighter’s dream. This type of fire truck is called a ‘quint’ reflecting four capabilities that include an aerial ladder, pumping capabilities, a tank for water and storage of ground ladders and tools.
The span of the aerial ladder is 107 feet with a 750 pound tip load that easily accommodates the weight of both the firefighters and rescued victims. The truck has a 400 gallon water tank and can pump 1500 gallons of water per minute.
The vehicle accommodates six firefighters and a 1000 foot large diameter supply hose and many smaller hoses. Its state of the art toolbox includes the extricating ‘jaws of life’ that can cut through metal and other barriers to remove trapped accident victims.
Notably, Mariemont’s old fire truck was sold for $8,000 and the purchaser refurbished it for $2,500 and it was placed back into service. I wonder why another community could repair the truck and use it when Mariemont could not?
Thus it begs the question, did Mariemont really need a $750,000 fire truck that ate into the reserves of the Permanent Improvement Fund (one final installment of about $250,000 due this year) as opposed to a standard fire truck? It is also noteworthy that there are two fire departments with ladder trucks within a radius of 3.2 miles and most structures within the Village of Mariemont are just two stories tall. Those that are over two stories have sprinkler systems that meet code.
I know it is comforting to have a fire department with a superior ISO rating of 2, but is this really necessary, and when did we last have a significant fire? Most insurance companies do not base their rates on ISO ratings. Moreover, Terrace Park residents feel quite safe with an all volunteer fire department (24 volunteers) that annually costs between $130,000 and $150,000 per year to maintain versus Mariemont’s cost of $821,187 in 2013 (exclusive of the $254,000 installment for the fire truck).
– Dick Wendel, MD, MBA
The South 80 in Mariemont: history, transformation and future
The South 75+ acreage was bequeathed to Mariemont in 1976. Historically the acreage was used to grow corn and beans although, at one time in the early 20th Century, it was a nine hole golf course with a club house, the remnants of which still exist. During recent years H. Hafner & Sons have cultivated the acreage without land rent in exchange for disposing of the yard waste and leaves in the Fall. Few Villagers even knew that this acreage was a part of Mariemont until small garden plots were offered to Mariemont residents in recent years and the Eastern Corridor project resurfaced.
During most of my 52 years as a Mariemont resident, the ‘South 80’ was considered just farm acreage in the flood plain adjacent to the train tracks at Clare Junction. In the days when Clare Junction was an active switching yard, the din from the steam engines and coupling of railroad cars was fairly continuous. Plus the smell of smoke or diesel fuel often settled like an early morning fog over the community. There was also an artesian well with a water tap at Clare Junction where anyone could fill containers with the pure Silver Springs water.
When my children were small, the ‘bottoms’ as we called the South 80 was a great place to shoot off bottle rockets, fly model airplanes and skip stones in Whiskey Creek. At that time, unbeknownst to most parents, the kids used to climb through the large pipes running to Whiskey Creek as well as climb up to the top floor of the abandoned steam-power plant along the railroad tracks.
Now let’s fast forward. Almost overnight, this fertile farm land has become a remarkably prized piece of real-estate. It has morphed into the site of an ancient Indian Village and has allegedly become a lynch pin for Mariemont’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. Most now refer to the South 80 as a Park. Indeed, it has a nice hiking trail for a pleasant walk in the out-of-doors and numerous small garden plots for residents to grow vegetable and flowers. Additionally, a well with a hand pump has been dug for clean but non-potable water for the gardens.
Three major public work projects have catapulted the South 80 into prominence in the media and conscience of Mariemont. These include the Eastern Corridor Project for Route 32, the Oasis Trail Transit for light passenger rail and the Wasson Line Bicycle Trail. The foremost project creating the most pushback from the residents of Mariemont, Newtown, and Madisonville is the Eastern Corridor Project that entails building a “boulevard” extension of Red Bank Road to act as a connector to Route 32 in Newtown. The argument for building this extender is to relieve traffic congestion on Route 50 and the Beechmont Levee and provide a more direct route to Eastgate, Clermont County and beyond. ODOT contends that this boulevard would stimulate economic growth in the region even as the proposed route would bypass the business district in Newtown.
One of the Routes under consideration by ODOT for building a part of the Eastern Corridor carries the Route 32 connector through the South 80. Supposedly, this route is being considered because a more direct extension of Red Bank Road to Route 32 across the Horseshoe Bend in the Little Miami River would be more costly and challenging from an engineering standpoint.
At this juncture, this segment of the Eastern Corridor Project is unfunded even as it has been on the drawing board for over three decades. Furthermore, where is the $100 billion coming from with so many other competing infrastructure needs such as the Bent Spence Bridge? At the end of the day, I think it will be the no build option that wins out and, if the Ohio State Route 32 project ever moves forward, it will not be in our lifetimes.
The following objections were expressed in the Mayor’s Bulletin in early 2013 concerning the rerouting of Route 32 through the South 80.
In the 2013 Mayor’s October Bulletin, he showed how the Eastern Corridor opposition was gaining momentum. The Mayor was appealing to the court of public opinion and listed the groups showing support to preempt any ODOT plans. This opposition list included the Village of Newtown, the Madisonville Community Council, the Village of Terrace Park, Little Miami Incorporated, Sierra Club, the National Trust in Washington, D.C., John Ruthven, Dr. Ken Tankersley of the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Preservation Association, the Mariemont Preservation Foundation, Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel, Greg Hartman and Todd Portune, Laure Quinilvan, Dr. Stanley Hedeen, the National Trust of Historic Places, the Hillside Trust, the Ohio River Way, Heritage Ohio, the Ohio Ornithological Society, the Cincinnati Bird Club, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, State Representative Peter Stautberg, Brad Wenstrup, and the Piqua Shawnee Native American Tribe. To obtain the endorsements from this mind-boggling array of individuals and agencies must have consumed a huge amount of the Mayor’s time. In general, it seems like overkill and an invitation to make ODOT a hostile advisory to the interests of the Village.
In another Bulletin, the Mayor disclosed that he had enlisted the services of an attorney, Matt Fellerhoff and Bob Newman, to represent the Village in this matter and initiated a program to raise money for legal defense and appeals.
To further muddy the waters, ODOT sponsored community poster sessions for the Oasis Trail Transit Project and the Eastern Corridor Project. Even though the whole engineering crews was present at these meetings, the presenters shed little light on the specifics concerning the rerouting of State Route 32 and Light Passenger Rail.
At a recent scheduled ODOT meeting in Fairfax to explain the programs, I attempted to get some answers from Andy Fleugemann, the 8th District Deputy Director of ODOT. Despite intense probing, he provided no specifics and seemed indifferent to the rising tide of negative public opinion. At that meeting there were no less than 6 engineer representatives from ODOT and I came away with the impression that these Projects were insuring long term employment for this cadre of engineers.
There are many questions to answer if the State Route 32 extender were to go through the South 80.
None of these questions have been answered to the satisfaction of the vast majority of Mariemont Residents.
When I hike the trail, I see additional opportunities for the Village to consider in the utilization of the South 80 such as:
This is just brainstorming to produce food-for-thought for the council committee that oversees the South 80. The minutes of their meetings have been posted on this blog in the past. As the first step the 1.4 mile scenic trail around the South 80 acres below Miami Bluff is a great addition. The community is indebted to the volunteers for the hard work that brought this about.
Village Residents that follow the political landscape in Mariemont are dismayed that Mariemont was ranked 28th among the suburbs in Greater Cincinnati by Cincy Magazine. Let’s try to sort out why Cincy Magazine might make this assessment. It certainly does not relate to our school system or safety services. Indeed, Mariemont is a safe, walk able community with many amenities that make it an outstanding place in which to live and raise a family.
Perhaps, our high comfort level with the way things are may breed complacency that fosters an acceptance of the status quo. In business school parlance, the residents of Mariemont might be “dumb, fat and happy” so why change or become circumspect as to why Cincy Magazine does not rate us amongst the very best suburbs? Maybe it may relate to the management of Village finances and strategic planning during recent years.
In 2014, the Village posted a General Fund budgetary loss for the first time in many years of $28,652. Also, the Permanent Improvement Fund or Capital Fund notably decreased by $183,272. Taken by themselves, these losses are fairly modest but they do suggest a downward trend in Village finances.
The financial position of the Village has been and will be impacted by the following factors.
With these threats to Village income, what is left to cut to balance the budget? At this time, it appears that the Village is poorly positioned to meet the coming financial crunch without higher taxes.
In retrospect, when the Village was flush with revenues during the past ten years, many strategic initiatives could have been undertaken to enhance the standing of the Village amongst the suburbs in Hamilton County. These might have included:
When I first heard that Mariemont was ranked 28th among the suburbs in Hamilton County, I was incredulous. However, this ranking does point to the fact that the status quo may not be good enough.
Does the current structure of Village Government cede too much power and control to the Mayor?
Mariemont has always had a strong mayor or mayor-centric form of government which is the norm for small communities. In Mariemont the Mayor is elected for four years without term limits.
Six Village Council members with four year terms are the only counterbalance to the authority of the Mayor. In January 2014, the two elected official positions of Village Clerk and Village Treasurer were eliminated and replaced with a Mayor appointed ‘Fiscal Officer.’
Typically, two or four Council candidates are nominated at an annual Village Town Meeting in March or April every other year and generally run unopposed. Many prominent residents believe the Village Town Meeting construct is an outmoded and antiquated system that as a ‘default result’ produces weak candidates due to a lack of resident participation. Moreover, councilmen receive nominal compensation of about $1000 per year for their volunteer time and efforts that includes many meetings that deal with mundane matters. It is easy to see why so few Villagers wish to become involved in local government and at the present time, most new recruits for Council are ‘persuaded’ as ‘friends of the Mayor’ to run for Council. It is not surprising that the turnover rate for Village Council members is quite high due to term expiration, resignations and relocation.
Unlike corporate America and larger nonprofit boards, the members of the Village Council are not selected based upon their competitive range of skills, knowledge and abilities and, as a consequence, there is limited diversity and narrow skill sets in council membership. Additionally, there is no formal Village Administrator to handle operations and provide input and feedback to the Mayor and Council.
To understand the dominant power and control equation enjoyed by the Mayor consider the following:
My suggestions to improve the make-up of Mariemont Village Government include:
Responses to this post from Mariemont Residents:
In the MPF’s Vision 2021, a shortage of parking spots around the Mariemont Square is mentioned many times because it creates an inconvenience and obstacle for visitors going to the Theatre, Quarter, Greaters and the Inn during peak hours. Events in and around the Square also overload parking. One quote from the Vision 2021 Plan states, “While parking changes have been instituted on an as-needed basis, much of it has been reactive and not proactive in solving the underlying parking problems. Parking decks and an increase in on-street parking might curb such issues as the Village aims to attract new businesses and conveniently serve the needs of visitors to the village.” Others suggest, “Create a parking deck behind the cinemas/create garage parking behind The Strand” and “solve the existing parking problem—not enough parking.” For as long as I have lived in Mariemont, inadequate parking has been a chronic problem that has resulted in friction between property owners, businesses, the Mariemont School Board and Village government. It would seem reasonable that a long term strategic plan for Mariemont address this problem in a definitive way.
A parking garage in Mariemont is not a new idea. When the Mariemont Inn was renovated, there was talk and push back about an underground garage.
The parking area behind the Mariemont Theatre currently accommodates approximately 100 cars. I would conjecture that increasing this number to 200 or 250 parking spaces would address Mariemont’s parking needs once and for all. The topography and space behind the Theatre is quite adequate to accommodate an underground parking garage with the upper deck providing the foundation for restoration of the existing storefronts. Parking garages are not cheap and each space typically costs about $20,000 to build. Thus projected costs would run between 4 and 6 million dollars.
The development costs may seem overwhelming, but there are many financial instruments to consider in funding such a project including: TIF financing, municipal bonds, grants, a Community Development Corporation and investment by owners and businesses. To financially succeed, parking fees probably would become a necessity in Mariemont so as to generate funds to service the debt and make up for the lost revenues due to tax abatements. Moreover, with the disappearance of estate tax revenues for the Village, an additional revenue stream may be necessary to balance the Village’s budget in the near future with or without the garage.
A project such as this warrants a feasibility study conducted by outside consultants, qualified local residents and interested developers. If successful, Mariemont would have a real trump card to attract and retain businesses as well as foster gentrification and new business development.
— Dick Wendel, MD, MBA
Should the Village of Mariemont have a Village Administrator?
At the present time, Mariemont has two employees that are called ‘administrators’ but act mainly in a clerical role of answering questions with a job description of “assisting residents with questions or concerns regarding such items as road repairs, drainage problems, trash collection, recyclables, weather-related issues and zoning issues, and serving as an information source for numerous other parties such as real estate agents checking on zoning matters or contractors.”
In adjoining communities, Village Administrators take a much more active role in community affairs and services. For instance, in Fairfax the Village Administrator’s job description is defined as follows:
I was unable to find any Village, City, or Township in Hamilton County that does not have a City Manager or Chief Administrator. The only person that Mariemont has to deal with the aforementioned functions is the Mayor, and to some extent the council.
In most municipalities, the elected Mayor presides at ceremonial and council functions, puts together the budget and directly oversees the police and fire departments. The administrator reports to the Mayor and village councils or board of trustees.
Mariemont is an incorporated municipality with about 1,450 households and an annual budget of roughly 3.4 million dollars. As a sizeable entity, it is difficult to imagine that both the burden of administrative and governance functions can be adequately managed by just one person, or a mayor.
Many of us would encourage the Village Council and Mayor to consider hiring a full-time Village Administrator with experience and skills that could smooth out the processes of Village administration. This would free up time for the Council and Mayor to consider longer term strategic initiatives to enhance Mariemont’s exceptionalism with the goal of becoming the best suburb in the Cincinnati area. Many of the recommendations in the Mariemont Preservation Foundation Vision 2021 are truly worth considering as a strategic template for the future.
MPF’s Vision 2021 Plan: A Remarkable Gem of a Document that garnered a resolution of support from the Village Council in 2009 and was published in 2011, but withered primarily due to resistance from the Mayor. The MPF committee members David Zack, Frank Raeon, Millard Rogers and Don Keyes put in endless hours of work compiling creative and constructive ideas from an exhaustive range of sources. A link to the full document is available here