Higher taxes and big projects on tap for Butler County in 2023

Costs for some plans, such as roadwork, shot up due to inflation.

The Butler County commissioners have agreed to finance a number of large projects countywide, and 2023 will be the year some of these projects, such as ramped up roadwork and new educational opportunities, will get underway.

The commissioners received $74.4 million in COVID-19 pandemic relief funds from the federal government and decided to share the wealth with other entities and jurisdictions. So far, they have authorized 23 projects totaling $68.4 million. A couple large allocations where countywide endeavors like providing high speed internet to all areas and $5 million more to help repave county and township roads.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with struggles spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. When the commissioners learned of the windfall last year, they invited other governments and entities to pitch projects, the requests totaled in excess of $200 million.

The larger projects include $10 million to bring high speed internet countywide and a large amount — $20 million total — to educational endeavors, namely $15 million to Butler Tech for new advanced technology centers for aviation in Middletown and advanced manufacturing in Hamilton. An additional $5 million went to Miami University’s College@Elm workforce center.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News these projects will move forward this year and will go far to address the labor shortage problem COVID-19′s impact caused.

“One of the themes of the ARPA money was because people were sent home and now we have labor shortage; there’s several projects that we funded which are going to have people trained for specific jobs needed by companies in Butler County,” Rogers said. “I think we’ll be able to see that’s working even this year.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said now that much of the money has been allocated — roughly $6.3 million is left to award including interest — her main goal is to ensure all of the projects are done correctly. While the money has been disbursed to various entities, the county is ultimately responsible to the U.S. Treasury in terms of the proper use of the funds.

“The most important thing we’ll be doing is monitoring the ARPA projects,” Carpenter said. “Making sure they’re where they need to be, the funds are being spent appropriately and that we’re going to get the projects completed on time and as they should be, as was contracted.”

Higher taxes coming

With the uncertain post-COVID economy, the commissioners declined to extend the $18.5 million property tax rollback this year and the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities also canceled their tax break. The combined impact will be roughly $84 per $100,000 in home value.

Commissioner Don Dixon said the rollback was always supposed to be a one-year tax break, and given the current climate it wouldn’t have been “prudent” to extend it.

“It was the first time it’s ever been done in the county and it was $18 million, so that’s a benefit — how much we don’t know, but certainly it benefited some,” Dixon said. “The goal is to reduce the real estate tax permanently but we got sidelined with COVID and everything else.”

Former Auditor Roger Reynolds also lost his two-year battle with the state over property value hikes last year. That means taxes will be going up again — taxes already increased an average 14.5% after the 2020 reevaluation — for many taxpayers in Fairfield, Fairfield Twp., Hamilton and West Chester Twp., where the mandated hike is roughly 20%.

Nix said the auditor’s office is still finalizing numbers with the state and they hope to have hard figures within the next couple weeks. The treasurer said, “unfortunately without concrete estimates from the auditor’s office I can’t comment on the possible impact to taxpayers.”

Detours ahead

The commissioners also gave a healthy boost to paving projects for county and townships, allocating $5 million worth of ARPA money. With that windfall, newly promoted Chief Deputy Engineer Dale Schwieterman said the paving plan is estimated at $17 million, up from $9.3 million budgeted last year.

Many of the townships are also using their own ARPA money for road and infrastructure projects. Cities manage their own road maintenance and paving programs, but the county engineer bids and supervises township road projects, and the townships pay for the work.

He said they are still finalizing the plan before they go for bids later this month because with the current construction climate — costs shot up around 40% last year — some county roads might have to be postponed.

“Our general hope is prices have kind of leveled and we’re going to at least be near where we were last year,” Schwieterman said. “Our ultimate hope would be we’d see some reduction of what it was because it was such a big increase, but obviously prices usually go down a lot slower than they go up in these circumstances.”

Roughly $13.5 million will be spent on a host of larger projects, several new roundabouts, road widenings and the final phase of the massive $32 million Liberty Way interchange project. The overpass reconfiguration and new roundabout at Veterans Boulevard are complete — some final touches like paving will be done in the spring — but additional turn lanes at Liberty Way and Cox Road are on tap for this year.

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Dixon said there is higher-level work planned for this year to get all the county jurisdictions in a room to discuss major road projects for the next decade or so. He said they convened a summit like that in the 1980s and it was successful, so they’d like to revisit the process.

“We need to get a long-term plan to improve more roads — you’re not talking $2 million or $5 million those projects are $50 million, but we can get those if we all come together and support one project at a time,” Dixon said. “That’s going to be the first meeting of that kind in a long time, but it’s going to have a huge impact if we can get it done.”

He said projects in the $100 million range he is talking about “you can’t fund that out of cash” they need to go collectively to the federal and state governments and others for help “speaking as one voice.”

Work continues on long-standing projects

Work crews have been crawling around the façade of the iconic Historic Courthouse in Hamilton since last year as the long-awaited $4.6 million restoration project began.

The $1.65 million contract for the first phase of the three-phase project was awarded to NR Lee Construction to replace the roofing systems, namely the slate roof and adjoining gutter systems and the flat roofs and repairs to plumbing and the chimney.



The county received seven bids for the second phase that range from $1.2 million to $3.3 million; the offers are still under review. County Administrator Judi Boyko said they will award the contract in the coming weeks for work on the building façade and roof replacement.

She said the first phase should be finished by late spring and then Phase 2 will start. The final phase, a continuation of exterior restoration, “will be an ongoing project for the next several years.”

The commissioners have been talking about fully automating their “Stone Age” garage since 2015. The commissioners approved spending $200,000 in January to fully automate the five-story garage that is connected to the Government Services Center, making it a 24/7 operation.

The project has stalled several times and Boyko said they are still working out some kinks before they can deploy the automated operation.

“There is some technical and transactional processing where the county systems have to align with the Parking facility systems, that have to align with our financial systems,” Boyko said. “Identifying a pathway to align and link those has been a challenge.”

Right-sizing space for better customer service

The county commissioned the long-awaited space utilization study this year, and while the commissioners weren’t pleased with the product their consultant produced, Boyko said she believes they can make progress toward the goal of the plan to right-size county spaces.

“I understand the results of the study may not have met the commissioners expectations,” Boyko said. “However I’m hopeful the board will spend some time identifying perhaps some of the solutions in light of their direction to me since I’ve been here — we need to shore up our building and facility portfolio.”

All three commissioners have agreed the first two projects — out of the $15 million capital reserve budget they’ve established — will be to co-locate County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix’s morgue and offices and expand the sheriff’s dispatch center.

Looking ahead

For the first time ever, the three commissioners plan to hammer out some goals for the year. Rogers said they have been hit with so many unexpected things in recent years they want to be proactive instead of reactive.

“We’re going to get together and actually make a plan to try to anticipate some scenarios which could happen and narrow it down to two or three goals we want to attain,” Rogers said.

Carpenter said she has wanted to do this since she took office.

“We’re going to work on developing the mission and vision for the county for the year,” Carpenter said.

Ongoing coverage

Journal-News staff writer Denise Callahan covers all-things Butler County government. Sign up for e-mail newsletters for more articles about where you live. journal-news.com

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