Top stories of 2020: New I-75 interchange, police department issues highlight year in West Chester Twp.

West Chester Twp.
West Chester Twp.

West Chester Twp. had both struggles and triumphs in 2020 including the opening of the new Union Centre Boulevard diverging diamond interchange and the stalling of the giant Kroger Marketplace project.

Here are some of the bigger township stories for 2020:

New Union Centre interchange opened

The unique $20 million diverging diamond interchange on Union Centre Boulevard at Interstate 75 reopened to traffic last summer.

When the work was completed, Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens told the township trustees the DDI was the superior design both financially and safety-wise. The price for the free flowing traffic design was revised several times, due to the fluctuating construction market. The township paid $6 million in TIF cash and financed the rest through the special business tax district.

ExploreNew Union Centre interchange celebrated as major traffic update

The widening improvements to the busy Tylersville Road interchange were also completed this year.

Giant Kroger Marketplace nixed for now

A new store was headed for Tylersville and Cox roads until it was derailed in August. Regency Centers, Kroger’s landlord at that location, canceled a sales contract with the township to purchase the old Activity Center that would have paved the way for a 117,166-square-foot Marketplace.

Regency had agreed to pay the township $1.8 million for the center on Cox Road. The deal was contingent on Regency being able to sign a lease with Kroger, purchase the adjacent Providence Bible Fellowship church and property from Chesterwood Village.

ExploreKroger Marketplace project canceled, for now, in West Chester Twp.: What we know now

Ryan Ertel with Regency told the Journal-News last week the plan is still on hold.

“Kroger and Regency are still very interested in the project but as you can appreciate under the current challenges we are more or less in a holding pattern,” Ertel said.

Two new safety services levies pass

Voters overwhelming approved new police and fire levies in November that will bring in about $10 million annually. The 2-mill fire levy passed 73% to 27% and 2-mill police levy won by a 65% to 35% margin on Nov. 3.

Fire expenses for this year are projected at $16.8 million against approximately $14.6 million in total revenues. The fire fund has a $12.2 million carryover from last year, which is expected to drop to nearly zero in 2022.

The police department budget is $18.3 million against $12.6 million in revenues with about $10.7 million in carryover to balance the budget. The police carryover is also expected to drop to zero in a couple years.

Police chief accused of inappropriate behavior

Police Chief Joel Herzog was accused by two of his captains of inappropriate behavior earlier this year, and he and one of the captains were given improvement plans by the trustees.

Captains Jamie Hensley and Joe Gutman lodged the complaints against their chief in February, and Hensley resigned June 23. They accused Herzog of making sexist and racial remarks, favoritism and retaliation. The township hired an independent lawyer to investigate the charges, and he found Herzog should not face disciplinary action but some of his actions were not appropriate.

ExploreWest Chester Twp. trustees say matter of police chief’s actions ‘closed'

Herzog and Gutman were given performance improvement plans to address “two years of conflict and dysfunction within the command staff” at the police department, both plans read. The trustees said they considered the matter closed.

“Chief Herzog has been raked over the coals and publicly shamed for saying things that are inappropriate, but there has been little acknowledgement for all the good he has done,” said a statement from the trustees issued by Trustee Ann Becker in later July. “Police Chief Joel Herzog’s actual actions and willingness to engage all parts of our community exhibit a deep desire to understand, incorporate, and celebrate diversity in our community and West Chester’s law enforcement efforts.”

New fire station construction

Construction began this year on a new fire station on Duff Drive, which will cost less than originally budgeted and is expected to open in the spring.

At the outset the estimated cost to raze the 50-year-old station on Duff Drive was $3.5 million and budgeted at $3.7 million. The township received about a dozen bids and awarded a contract to Graybach LLC for $3.1 million, with contingencies the trustees approved up to $3.4 million in March.

ExploreCost for West Chester fire station below estimates

“To get 11 bidders is just amazing,” Trustee Mark Welch told the Journal-News. “That just creates more competition and so I believe that the contractors were sharpening their pencils. The range without the 10 percent contingency was $3.1 to about $3.7 (million), it was good, good for us.”