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Annual work program, budget chart new course for FY2018

Posted on July 27, 2017

Transparency is the hallmark of PDS’ annual work program and budget for the fiscal year that began the first of this month. As approved on a unanimous vote of the PDS Council and adopted on a unanimous vote of the PDS Management Board, the new document includes a number of initiatives—both written and inherent—that take the agency into new territory.

The most noticeable change to the work program and budget, at least to those familiar with past documents, is the budget format change. Where past budgets were created around revenues and expenditures by the agency’s five departments—Administration, Building Codes, GIS, Infrastructure Engineering, and Planning and Zoning—the FY18 budget is focused on PDS’ four programming areas. Those are community planning services, general governmental services, GIS, and One Stop Shop codes administration services.

“Our budgets have always been inward-looking, meaning they relied on a basic understanding of the organization to facilitate their review,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director. “And, while we made them available to anyone who wanted to understand our operations, if you didn’t understand PDS’ programs, you could get lost in departmental details.”

Gordon says the new programming budget uses terms that more people know and understand. They include: small area studies; infrastructure inspections; economic development technical support; websites; zoning text/map amendments; public engagement; planning commission support; codes enforcement; building permits; and, rental inspections to name a few.

The new budget format parallels that used by most Kenton County local governments. Gordon says this fact facilitated the review process staff pursues each spring with members of the PDS Council and Management Board. “The format just felt more comfortable to them.”

One objective found in the organization’s work program ties directly to its goal of financial transparency, according to Gordon. It calls on the staff to pursue publishing financial records online using the same OpenGov software used by many local governments across Northern Kentucky. January 1st is included as the goal for this objective to be operational.

The FY18 annual work program includes a number of other objectives that “take the agency into new territory.” Included among those objectives are:

  • publishing an annual report that includes among other things numbers from the now-institutionalized ‘PDS by the Numbers’ initiative—a regular reporting of PDS analytics;
  • pursuing the Z21 (Zoning for the 21st Century) initiative, reviewing and updating as necessary the zoning ordinances that serve many of Kenton County’s 20 local governments;
  • crafting a replacement to Kenton County’s near-twenty-years-old bicycle and pedestrian plans;
  • implementing electronic plan reviews for the land subdivision process, engineering plan submittals, zoning application reviews, and building plan reviews;
  • preparing for the 2020 US Census;
  • ramping up PDS’ public outreach program to keep Kenton County’s citizens up to date on planning efforts of interest; and
  • beginning to plan for the agency’s move to the new Kenton County Administration Building in Covington.

Gordon says these and other objectives are to be funded with a ‘compensating tax rate,’ meaning the same amount of money as the agency used this past fiscal year.

“We know it’ll be a challenge to get this list completed,” said Gordon. “But, if we don’t set our sights high, we’ll never know what we’re capable of achieving.”

PDS’ annual work program and budget are subject to annual review by the county’s elected and appointed officials. The Management Board—an appointed group charged with daily oversight—helps staff create the document for review by the PDS Council—a 20-member group with one elected official from each of Kenton County’s local governments as members. This group is responsible for oversight of setting the tax rate, its members being elected officials. Once these members have approved the work program, budget, and proposed tax rate, the document is sent to the Management Board and staff for implementation.

The FY18 Annual Work Program and Budget will be uploaded soon to the PDS website. Questions about it or other facets of PDS’ operations should be directed to Gordon.


Summer interns and co-op students help get the work done

Posted on June 30, 2017
When you think of summer you think of going to the beach, swimming, picnics and eating al fresco. But if you’re a high school or college student you think about summer jobs or internships. PDS is supporting students this summer with employment for four special student interns.

Two of PDS’ interns have joined staff for a second time. Aileen Lawson is a student from the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning who is again working with the PDS’ planning staff. She says, “The Planning and Zoning department here serves such a wide variety of work, from small area studies to Kenton County Planning Commission issues to day-to-day services for all of Kenton County’s jurisdictions. My experience here has been so diverse; I’ve gotten a richer experience that will serve me well when I enter the workforce after graduation.”

Also returning is Mitchell Masarik, a recent graduate from the University of Louisville’s GIS program. He said, "When I first started at PDS last summer I was nervous and anxious as I began my first few days in the office. However, after meeting and getting to know staff members, I immediately felt at home and that I was truly part of something bigger than myself, a team, striving to give the best products and services to the customers that we serve.”

He goes on to say, “I can honestly say that thanks to PDS and its amazing staff I’m constantly putting my skills to the test in new scenarios and never feeling left out of the overall conversation of success that our team tries to deliver on a daily basis."

The other two interns are first timers to PDS. Dillion Rhodus, a GIS intern, attends Virginia Tech and is trying Cincinnati on for size with thoughts of relocating here after graduation. Many say that Cincinnati is a “hungry” city for new talent, according to Rhodus.

"I’m very excited to be working with LINK-GIS this summer. I’m eager to not only apply my skills that I've learned at Virginia Tech but also to see what I can contribute to the team and how I can grow as an individual through this opportunity,” states Dillon about his internship with PDS.

Ethan Paff, a recent graduate from Scott High School and Kenton County Academies’ Bio Medical program, is pursuing his first paid internship out of school in GIS. Ethan will be heading to Brown University in the fall. Paff said, "Having an internship means having the ability to experiment with one's own future, to walk several paths before deciding on one."

The real work and résumé builders that PDS interns are pursuing consists of many projects; addressing, land use inventories, small area studies, rights-of-way and easements, and economic development to name a few. “Having interns is essential for PDS to help us learn how to bridge our demographic gaps in reaching our audience,” said Trisha Brush, GISP, Director of GIS Administration.

While working closely with our staff, interns receive on-the-job training and knowledge. In turn, PDS gains different perspectives and fresh ideas that help bridge the generational gaps.

All in all, having interns join staff offers new energy and awareness as PDS does its share to contribute to the workforce readiness movement.

Fiscal Court, PDS resolve funding issues for collocation in Covington

Posted on May 04, 2017

The PDS Management Board voted unanimously on April 27th to accept Kenton County Fiscal Court’s invitation to move its operations to the county’s new administration building in Covington. That building will soon be under construction as the county rehabilitates and adds new space to the historic Bavarian Brewery building at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard exit from I-71/75.

The board’s decision follows several meetings between its members and Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann and County Administrator Joe Shriver. It also follows an affirmative vote by PDS Council members—elected officials who oversee PDS on behalf of Kenton County’s 20 local governments—following a presentation by Judge Knochelmann.

“Frankly, the county made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS Executive Director. “Making this move into cohesive space on one floor will facilitate our efficiency and workflow while also relieving us of our long-term debt was almost a no-brainer. It will also relieve Kenton County taxpayers from paying for two buildings.”

Construction of the new facility is expected to begin this fall with an anticipated occupancy date of early 2019. More information about the project may be found on the county’s website.


Monthly staff performance metrics will be available online soon

Posted on January 03, 2017

How many inspections does PDS staff pursue in a month? How long does it take to get a permit? How many phone calls did staff handle last month? How large is PDS’ total collection of GIS data? How many code enforcement cases is staff handling currently?

Staff gathered the answers to these and dozens of similar questions over the past 12 months. The collection of these data will become the base data in a new program being called PDS by the Numbers.

“It’s difficult at times for people to comprehend all the activities that our staff handles on an ongoing basis,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director. “Even for those who understand our responsibilities, it’s sometimes tough to realize how quickly work numbers grow when you don’t experience them on a day-to-day basis. These situations are the reason we’re initiating PDS by the Numbers.”

Gordon names Kenton County Commissioner Joe Nienaber the catalyst for the new program.

“As a member of the PDS Council—our oversight body, Joe frequently asks about numbers of permits, processing time, customers served, and the list goes on,” according to Gordon. “We usually have answers to his questions, or at least are able to get them, but they prompted me to consider gathering those data on a more routine basis. Publishing them just adds to our transparency.”

Gordon approached PDS’ GIS programmers with some of these data earlier this year. He asked them for an effective way to present the information in an interesting way, one that would catch attention and allow for some level of interaction.

“Christy (Powell) and Joe (Busemeyer) provided me with a template in pretty short order,” said Gordon.

PDS by the Numbers’ 2016 data will appear on the agency’s website sometime in January; new numbers will be added on a monthly basis. The interactive display will provide visitors with an overview of the most important of 89 criteria gathered by staff on a monthly basis. As the program moves forward, current data will be portrayed in comparison with last year’s activities as an indicator of staff’s workload.

“At first the effort it took to collect these numbers was a bit tedious, more about remembering to do it than anything else. Once everyone made it a part of his or her routines, it became second nature,” said Gordon.

He concluded by suggesting that some of the numbers are going to surprise people.


Kenton Fiscal Court OKs Vacant Foreclosed Property Registry

Posted on January 03, 2017

Kenton County Fiscal Court voted unanimously last month to enact a county-wide vacant foreclosed property registration program. The program, which became effective December 9, increases the tools available to PDS staff for effective code enforcement activities. Most Kenton County cities advocated for the approval since early 2016.

Implementation of the new program will save tax dollars for PDS’ 16 One Stop Shop program jurisdictions by requiring lenders pursuing foreclosures to register a responsible party to maintain the vacant property. Knowing whom to contact reduces the time spent locating a responsible party when violations arise. The ordinance applies to all Kenton County communities regardless of whether they’re part of the PDS program.

In developing the ordinance with Kenton County Attorney Stacy Tapke, staff sought information from communities that have adopted vacant property registration programs. That research showed this type of program has proven to be a useful tool for other communities.

“The benefit at the office level is allowing faster turnaround times for property clean up,” said Joseph Parson, Planning/Building Inspector for the City of Morehead, Kentucky. That jurisdiction enacted a vacant property registration ordinance in 2011.

The City of Cincinnati uses a similar program. Cincinnati issued a report two years after adopting its vacant foreclosed property registry which details the changes in code enforcement effectiveness before and after adoption. The report states that prior to adoption of the ordinance, an estimated 20-30 percent of foreclosed properties degraded in condition during the foreclosure period. Within the first year after adoption, only ten per cent of those properties degraded in condition. That number dropped to 4.5 percent in the second year.

The cost of administering this program will be the sole responsibility of the banks and lending institutions that must maintain these foreclosed properties. The program will be funded through a required $150 property registration fee. In addition, the registration will reduce costs related to code-enforcement activities by increasing staff efficiency in dealing with vacant and foreclosed properties.

“Requiring a local contact for these properties allows us to contact a person who has the authority to address issues such as tall grass or maintenance violations in a timely manner” said Rob Himes, PDS’ codes administrator. “Under the current system, code enforcement officials’ only option is to mail a violation letter to the lending institution which is often out of state and that rarely yields results.” 

Vacant foreclosed properties can drag down property values in an otherwise well-kept neighborhood. There are an estimated 1,321 properties currently pending foreclosure in Kenton County, some dating back to 2006. Most of these properties set vacant and unmaintained through all or part of the foreclosure process. Kenton County’s new Vacant Foreclosed Property Registry provides cities with a mechanism to require that these properties be maintained to reasonable standards while in foreclosure.

PDS staff is reaching out currently to all lending institutions doing business in the metro area to inform them of this new requirement. It is also working with each of Kenton County’s 20 jurisdictions to discuss the program and provide necessary information to local staff.

Contact Emi Randall, Director of Planning & Zoning Administration or Rob Himes, Codes Administrator, or call 859.331.8980 for more information.


Board authorizes Wall of Distinguished Service to honor contributors

Posted on October 07, 2016
At 55 years of age, PDS is taking steps to acknowledge those whose distinguished service helped the agency succeed. The PDS Management Board last month authorized the creation of a Wall of Distinguished Service and set ten and 20 years as the thresholds for consideration of citizen members and staff respectively.

“We created a Wall of Honor several years ago and posted the names of all individuals who’ve served on the Area Planning Commission/PDS Management Board, the NKAPC/PDS Council, and the Kenton County Planning Commission,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director at PDS. “NKAPC had just turned 50 and we thought it was entirely appropriate to honor the organization’s history.”

“What could be more appropriate than to honor the citizens whose decisions built the organization,” he asked.

Gordon says as appropriate as that step was, most agreed that some of the persons whose names appear on the wall should be singled out for their distinguished service to Kenton County and NKAPC/PDS. Many current officials also felt that some of the many professionals who served as staff over the years should be included too.

Upon its creation during October, the Wall of Distinguished Service will include resolutions honoring 18 citizens and five staff members. It will be located physically in PDS’ front corridor where all persons entering its building will be able see it.

Staff begins ten-year review of One Stop Shop codes admin program

Posted on October 06, 2016

It’s been ten years since the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission (NKAPC; now PDS) established its One Stop Shop Codes Administration Program. Much about the program has changed over that time period. PDS staff is pursuing an in-depth review of the program, its finances, the services it provides, and those being requested by member jurisdictions.

The goal is to assure that the program meets the needs of Kenton County’s 20 jurisdictions in the future as well as it has these first ten years.

“Initiating the One Stop Shop program was relatively easy,” recalls Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director at the time and now. “It was born out of one of those a-ha moments when people come together, agree on a goal and a course of action, and move ahead.”

Gordon says the “common sense” that led to the creation of the program also prompted a number of the changes through which it has come. He cites the number of jurisdictions served as a prime example of the change. ‘One Stop Shop’ as it’s commonly called today started out serving eight jurisdictions. The program serves 19 today with a number of services.

In 2005 the program provided zoning administration, zoning enforcement, property maintenance code enforcement, building code administration, and staff support to eight local boards of adjustment. Today the program provides those services plus staff support to a joint board of adjustment board serving seven jurisdictions.

There were no code enforcement boards in 2005, but today the program provides staff support to a joint code enforcement board serving 11 jurisdictions and four single-city boards. Nuisance codes are now part of the services provided along with permits and inspections for HVAC systems, a requirement handed down by the state.

Participating jurisdictions have requested consideration of additional services to be provided by PDS. That list includes a vacant foreclosed property registry and support for administering an urban vacant property tax. According to Gordon, funding will be the primary guide as to whether these services can be accommodated.

One Stop Shop started with a somewhat detailed funding plan in 2005. That plan called on applicants to pay a portion of the cost for the services they needed, participating jurisdictions to pay a percentage of the costs associated with providing the service, and NKAPC/PDS to cover the balance. The addition of services and communities served have made the original funding plan difficult and time consuming to administer. Gordon says staff is looking for a simpler way to account for costs.

“Because of the January 1st deadline imposed on several of the services we provide, we need to wrap up this review soon,” says Gordon. “A number of the changes we anticipate—particularly funding issues—won’t take effect until July 1, 2017 but we still need to get this information to those we serve as quickly as possible so they can make the decisions right for their citizens.”

For explanations of other services being provided currently as mentioned here, please read the first article is this newsletter, Staff works with local jurisdictions to bring about HB422 compliance.

Multi-agency collaboration supports Latonia Lakes turnaround

Posted on July 29, 2016
In what can only be described as a tremendous collaborative effort, a number of local agencies have joined forces to improve the quality of life for residents of Latonia Lakes. Those taking part include the Kenton County Fiscal Court, the Kenton County Public Works Department, the Kenton County Sheriff’s Department, the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington (CGN), Oak Ridge Baptist Lighthouse Church, PDS of Kenton County, and the New Hope for Latonia Lakes Community Group.

The collaborative effort began in 2014 when residents contacted local, state, and federal officials about fixing the roads and maintaining the dam and lake within the community. What began as a conversation about basic services in the community grew into a groundswell of residents and local officials working together to address the larger needs of the community.

Kenton County Fiscal Court accepted the former Latonia Lakes roads for maintenance in October 2014. Since then the Public Works Department has been working with the Northern Kentucky Water District and SD1 to upgrade water and sewer lines before installing new streets throughout the community.

In an effort to increase the safety of the neighborhood, the Police-Community Partnership was initiated in November, 2015, according to Melissa Bradford, a principal code enforcement official with PDS.

“This partnership has led to a decrease in several categories of criminal activity. It’s also spawned a positive relationship between the officers and the residents—specifically the children—as evidenced by the spirited cornhole games that took place at the recent community cookout.”

The New Hope for Latonia Lakes Neighborhood Organization was formed in the fall of 2015. Since its inception, the organization has applied for and achieved 501(c)3 status and is using CGN as a fiscal agent, which means the organization can accept and use donations for neighborhood events and projects.

The group meets monthly at Lighthouse Baptist Church to discuss community projects, issues affecting the community, and residents’ concerns. A list of upcoming meetings, events, and additional information is available at Kenton County's New Hope for Latonia Lakes website.

“This little community continues its efforts to improve and thrive,” said Bradford. “In June, they held a community cookout at the lake. County officials and police officers, several of us from PDS, and Rachel Hastings of CGN and Byron Lile of the New Hope Group attended.”

“The group grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and provided games for kids of all ages. Everyone considered the event a huge success and is awaiting the next event eagerly.”

After considering what all has been accomplished, Byron Lile had this to share, “The Community of Latonia Lakes had a great start, but years of neglect left us in a mess. Instead of giving up, we chose to move forward and fix the problems.”

“It’s been a lot of hard work and the community has experienced a lot of disruptions, but the gain has been worth the pain,” he said. “In the past two years we’ve seen many positive improvements—road repairs, old abandoned houses torn down, properties cleaned up, and several community cleanup programs initiated.”

In concluding, Lile asserted, “From a grateful community, we say thank you! The gain has been worth the pain for a great community environment.”

New budget funds electronic plan review for all PDS projects

Posted on July 29, 2016
Submitting a plat, a site plan, or building plans to PDS for review and approval? You won’t need to hit the PRINT button on your CAD system to create the hard copies for submission. The agency’s FY17 budget includes funds for transitioning its staff to electronic plan reviews and away from paper. Full implementation of the new process is expected by next June.

“We took our first step in this direction two years ago when we purchased development-tracking software,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “Virtually everything we do now as an agency—planning, engineering, building review, and code enforcement—is stored in TRAKiT. And, because our GIS provides the supporting foundation for the entire tracking system, all records are tied to the parcels on which the activity takes place.”

The TRAKiT system employed by PDS has made accessing records and tying those records to individual parcels significantly less time-consuming, according to Gordon. The one exception to this new process is the time it takes staff to scan paper images into the electronic system, and of course the time it takes then to handle the resulting paper.

“Handling plans in electronic format is going to improve the workflow in several ways,” Gordon suggested. “Staff will be able to receive plans, applications, and payments via email using PayPal. Those same time savers will apply to customers who won’t need to drive to our office any longer. They won’t have to buy paper and print plans—some that look more like small logs than anything else—and we won’t have to scan and eventually dispose of them.”

One of the great benefits of TRAKiT’s all-electronic format is that inspectors can access all relevant records and plans in the field using their iPads and the internet. Being able to review original plans rather than scanned versions of those plans will only improve this ability.

Gordon said that builders in particular have wanted to be able to submit plans electronically for some time. The technology to do that has existed for quite a while. But, he suggests, electronic plan review needed to be part of an overall strategy for improving workflow for PDS customers and staff—and that took time.

“We’re happy to be able finally to meet our customers’ requests,” Gordon said. “PDS is a service organization. Even though our customers don’t have the ability to go to a competitor for the services we provide, we try to operate in a manner as though they do.”

Transitioning to electronic plan review will begin sometime in the fall, once software and hardware are purchased. As staff are trained on the software, they will eventually move away from paper plans toward CAD drawings on their computer screens.

“We intend to pursue this transition in a slow and easy manner,” concluded Gordon. “We’ll all have things to learn, customers and staff alike. We want this to go as smoothly as possible.”

PDS will continue to accept plans on paper for the foreseeable future.

Staff facilitates public information with social media posts

Posted on June 07, 2016

George Bernard Shaw once opined that “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Mr. Shaw was obviously not thinking of social media when he offered his assessment of the need to communicate. His opinion is nonetheless as pertinent today as it was during his lifespan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With the understanding that in 2015 the average time spent per adult user per day with digital media is 5.6 hours, and 51% of that time is on a mobile device, PDS staff members are growing the agency’s presence on various social media platforms. The goal is to keep the public informed on what it’s pursuing and how citizens can get engaged.

PDS’ Facebook page and Twitter page (@PDSKC) has been online for several years now and Pete Berard, the agency’s public information coordinator, has used that platform to provide timely notices to followers for some time.

The GIS team committed to social media communications last year when team members realized that hanging one of their maps in a room or hallway was not going to reach the masses and was not a very effective way to spread useful information.

Trisha Brush, GISP, Director of GIS Administration (@twbrush) was the first to tweet, “Join us for the future of trails in NKY meeting 9:00AM at NKAPC sponsored by Green Umbrella.” Members of her staff followed by creating a twitter account (@nkymaplab) for residents to follow staff’s monthly NKYmapLAB initiative. The mapLAB account is managed by Louis Hill, GISP, AICP, the agency’s geospatial data analyst.

The push to social media is a response in understanding how citizens receive their daily news, and an acknowledgement to the age and technologically savvy citizens that live in the Northern Kentucky area.

Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director at PDS, is gearing up for a twitter account dealing with planning issues and news of PDS’ projects.

“I read a good deal about planning in different parts of the country and am always coming across articles I believe are relevant to issues here in Kenton County,” said Gordon. “Until I witnessed what our GIS folks were able to accomplish with tweets, I wasn’t able to share those experiences with friends and acquaintances here locally. I’ll soon be tweeting along with members of my staff.

Gordon says other staff members will follow him over the course of FY17 which begins next month.

Social media posts typically cover project updates, approaches to solving new problems, and success stories. Posts can spark conversations that follow any number of directions. In many cases they can lead to new opportunities, more frequent staff interactions, and an increased awareness as to the overall capabilities of PDS.

Benefits the GIS team has realized by using apps like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and GeoNet are increased data sharing, a wider reaching audience, networking opportunities and best management practices. Keeping current on industry standards and development are major rewards as well.

“Rather than waiting for formal venues, such as conferences and organized training, to network, we are doing it on a weekly basis” said Hill. “We’ve also widened the reach of our products and services through professional social media use. We have more eyes on our work, receive more feedback, and have increased the overall quality in our products.”

PDS’ GIS team and the LINK-GIS partnerships ascertained that the good data and works of the GIS team, which seemed obvious to the partnership, failed to translate into effective external communications. The messages seldom reached outside the partnership.

Using social media as a deliberate tactic in communication has resulted in unforeseen increased revenue by 25 percent for PDS and the LINK-GIS partnerships.


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