KAMM Regional Training (Region III @NKAPC)

KAMM_LOGO(2)Yesterday I attended a training put on by the Kentucky Association of Mitigation Managers at the NKAPC (Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission). The training was a basic introduction to Flood Management and Mitigation and the changes coming to Kentucky (and the nation) under the Biggert Waters reform passed last year. Every time I read “Biggert Waters” I always think “bigger waters” instead. Sort of a funny coincidence given the connection with flooding, though the changes being made are no laughing matter.

The first ‘session’ covered Flood Plain Management and discussed the basics of flooding, how we find flood plains, and other terminology. As well as federal, state, and local agency contexts, regulations, and KRS.

The second ‘session’ covered the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and Biggert Waters Act changes (KAMM hosts a PDF of the presentation). Specifically section 205 and 207, which hold many of the more controversial changes. For those of you unfamiliar with the Biggert Waters Act, it was a reform to the NFIP that eliminated many of the existing subsidies for those being insured in or near a flood plain as well as how flood plains are determined. This will effectively create ghost towns in some parts of Kentucky and the US as many homeowners could be forced to abandon their properties due to the increased cost of insurance.

The final session covered mitigation and grants as well as introducing the new CHAMPS tool. CHAMPS, or Commonwealth Hazard Assessment & Mitigation Planning System), “a tool used by local, regional, and state managers, planners, and responders to build community resiliency through a streamlined and standardized process for planning, assessments, and funding of projects.” Already, I’ve heard positive feedback from my co-worker that handles hazard mitigation that this system is fantastic. If you’re interested in learning about CHAMPS (see here to find out if you’re the target audience), the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management is hosting training on CHAMPS. More information about where and when they will be having these trainings is available on the KYEM website.

Why don’t these towns have a website? Accept credit cards? Or use Twitter?

One question I keep coming back to in my personal and professional experiences is how has small town X not started using Y or Z technology?

Obviously this is an opinion piece, but let me write it down just in case–these are my opinions and do not represent those of my current and previous employers.

This question has come from a laundry list of experiences I’ve had working, driving through, or living in rural/small towns. Most frustrating was my experience with a small city that would only accept payment for traffic tickets with certified checks, ignoring the progress in payment systems that so many places seem to have made. Many cities now accept personal checks, credit cards, or even PayPal. We live in an era where E-GovLink  allows municipalities to accept BitCoin. I think this highlights the gap in technology adoption and the digital divide between rural and urban places.

A Digital Divide

Access to computers and technology is still an issue in many places. Kentucky continues to operate its Broadband KY Initiative with the hope of wiring up more homes to the internet. Google Fiber is making progress to offer free internet access to people  and non-profits and community organizations. I would have guessed that by 2014 most places would at least have a web presence. Instead, I often search for cities and counties on Google and find that they have zero presence.

Cinci Public Services doing it right.
Cincinnati Public Services getting it right.

One example of the successful adoption of social media and web presence is the Brimfield, Ohio Police Department.  One of the most used parts of the City of St. Bernard’s website was the tax department webpage (disclosure, I worked for the city from 2009-2011). The Tax Department offers digital copies of their tax documents and information for residents ultimately lessening the calls the city get about taxes. The City of Cincinnati has made my life a bit easier by offering information through their Public Services Twitter account, connecting with residents to let them know about snow removal efforts, remind residents about winter safety, and posting about snow emergencies. Cincinnati has a whole slew of twitter accounts and Facebook pages, all helping residents connect with and get information from the city.

My result for the MyNKY Young-Voice game. I can only imagine how much traction with would get on Facebook if it shared the result like a "What Harry Potter Character are you?" Survey
My result for the MyNKY Your-Voice game. I can only imagine how much traction with would get on Facebook if it shared the result like a “What Harry Potter Character are you?” survey. Click the picture to take the survey too.

Social media and web presence are often discussed as mandatory in comprehensive planning efforts. One particularly cool recent example is MyNKY, Vision 2015’s new public participation campaign. Using an interactive game (and what seems a lot like dot voting) participants contribute a quantitative opinion about spending priorities and follow-up with qualitative descriptions in a targeted survey. Not only is it easy, but the quant-qual pairing makes it easy to for MyNKY to demand preferences and then drill down into what those preferences mean to each participant. Not only is it efficient, it minimizes the time commitment to participate.

A bit more complicated than an easy button:

With so many examples of best practices, why don’t more cities use the web and social media for public engagement and information distribution? In my experience it comes down to a lack of available talent and budget priorities. My evidence about the talent needs of cities is anecdotal at best, but most places I’ve worked with that lack these elements also have an institutional attitude with little or no interest in websites, social media, or technology; essentially there needs to be organizational will to make it happen.

Even with the will to make it happen, figuring out how to finance it is not easy. Budgets continue to grow tight and there is no easy way to make room for an IT budget or department (especially in the smallest of cities). Some cities are already facing impending cuts to services or employees and cannot possibly cram in an IT budget.

One of the benefits of my current job with the NKADD is that I get to share my experience with technology, web development, and social media with the jurisdictions in our service area.

That doesn’t mean sharing my experience will always result in successful websites and a social media presence. Social media can require near constant monitoring and some citizens come to expect almost instantaneous response. Setting clear definition about the kinds of communication possible and when that communication can happen is difficult. Websites also need work to maintain them and take time to develop appropriate content.

Even in spite of the financial and labor requirements of having a digital presence, I think it is still worthwhile for cities to pursue. The possible benefit to efficiency, public interaction, and engaging younger generations is too critical to continue to ignore it altogether.

#NKADDSNAP Challenge

1:30pm 1/12/2014:

Aldi's breakfast bars.
Deciding on what breakfast was going to make sense.

I just got back from my last run before the snap challenge that starts tomorrow. Unlike the SNAP recipients that depend on these benefits, I will be eating a big supper tonight. I’m planning to go to Aldi’s, where my family shopped back when we were a family of four with a single income. I double checked to confirm that Aldi’s does take SNAP (USDA has a store locator to check who accepts benefits).

I will take pictures of my receipts and I plan to track the nutrition in myfitnesspal. I’m planning to focus on repeating the same meal for seven days, with the idea that if I was doing this for weeks at a time, I would rotate my main grain and protein while sticking to simple staples like peanut butter and jelly for lunch. I am a bit concerned that I won’t be able to get enough calories to continue running this week.

A picture of the USDA locator map showing Aldi's
Aldi’s is in the USDA’s locator.

This week I’m hoping to focus on rice and chicken as my two staples since they are easy to vary perpetration and taste/texture. I’ll be including a simple (and low fat) slaw with most of my meals as a convenient way of prepping a lot of vegetables and eating them multiple times.

3:05pm:

The trip to Aldi’s was a success, I managed to spend $30.23 (thats $0.42 more than I had planned to spend based on a budget of $29.82). However, there were a series of things I had to adjust for since Aldi’s didn’t have everything I wanted to get and I thought (assumed) someone on SNAP benefits couldn’t necessarily drive to multiple stores.

What I ended up with was calorie dense, flexible, but questionable in terms of nutrition. Prices and having to adjust on the fly meant I ended up with all canned vegetables. Thats not bad in and of itself, I only ate canned vegetables when I was younger, but I would have liked to include some fresh produce. Aldi’s did not have black beans in stock and cabbage was no where to be found (eliminating the slaw idea I had).

On top of that, I was disappointed by the prevalence of low-fat products, specifically low fat yogurt. I firmly believe that 2% yogurt is by far more filling than low-fat (and obviously more calorie dense). I didn’t even get the chance to check whether the yogurt contained active cultures or not.

I’ve uploaded all the pictures I took to a google+ album I’ve made public here.

NKADDSNAP2014
Here’s what I purchased for $30.23.

I plan to have a granola “protein” bar for breakfast M-F and to have a larger brunch on Sat/Sun. For lunch I’ll be sticking to peanut butter and jelly (though I was dismayed to find I could not squeeze in actual jelly, instead opting for what is pictured). For dinner I’ll be having half or a whole can of vegetables paired with some chicken and a grain (ramen, brown rice, or whole grain spaghetti). I also regret not being able to squeeze in cheese. If I had to do it again I think I would have given up the third grain variety in favor of the dairy addition.

Kentucky Affordable Housing Conference 2013

Let me first get some musings out of the way:

I love it when conferences have a twitter hash-tag with no intended use or purpose, it reminds me of the sort of pseudo embrace the practice of planning has often (but not always) given social media (we’ll use it, but we’re not sure if its actually participation). The 2013 KY Affordable Housing Conference had a hash-tag, #KAHC13. Of course, I and a few other people immediately got it wrong with #KAHC2013. Afterward, I think I saw maybe a handful of tweets in the correct hash-tag (with my tweet of all things being the “top tweet” for that hash-tag). Clearly if a conference wants to have a hash-tag it might also be prudent to have a plan or strategy. For instance, I think allocating one of the door prices to a random user of the KAHC hash-tag might have been a useful driver for more tweets.

The Conference

The conference itself left me a little disappointed, which doesn’t say much since I found myself disappointed even by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Conference I went to last year. But more on that in a second.

The keynotes were both great, Rick McQuady, CEO of the Kentucky Housing Corporation, was both an excellent opening speaker and a great emcee. His conversational tone and light humor kept things lively. The final keynote was given by Nancy Welsh, current chair of the Board of Directors (and founder) of Builders of Hope in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her message was clear, her slides easily connected to what she was trying to teach, and her presence on stage was engaging if not engrossing. I left her keynote feeling excited.

The sessions I attended, however, fell bellow my expectations. Session descriptions were farther reaching than their execution. The content of every session failed to match the breadth promised in its respective description. Reflecting upon it now, I think that perhaps given the time limitations (an hour and a half) that many of the sessions did the best they could given the opulence of backgrounds found in the attendees. Even still, I often find myself taking notes on a slide only to find that the slide and the elements being discussed overlapped nearly to the word. Public speaking is not easy, but I’m not entirely sure that reading from your slides can be called public speaking as opposed to a reading.

With my laid out, I should also talk about the the silver lining. The sessions I attended were a good refresher on what I learned in school. As well the networking was pretty decent with plenty of opportunities to meet others on Wednesday night. Even the screening of Potter’s Field proved interesting and entertaining.

Overall the KAHC conference was a worthwhile attendance, but the sessions of this conference (like most conferences I’ve attended) needs a tighter grip on presenters to ensure they deliver what they’ve promised. Though my experience with academic conferences remains supreme in this category as often presenters would have completely changed the topic of their presentation or not done any of what the talk had promised.

This week I’ll be attending a retreat for those with a similar title in other Area Development Districts. One thing I’m eager to find out more about is the implementation of KY HB1.

KY APA and the Awesomeness Mini-conference

Last update, Sept. 19th? Yikes!

Since the 19th I attended the Kentucky APA conference down in Louisville and the Awesome Collective’s mini-conference in Covington, Ky.

The government also shut down and the ACA’s health care exchanges went live. Its been a busy few weeks.

Kentucky APA

The Kentucky APA conference was held on Friday, September 27th, and it was my first state APA conferenc. The buffet lunch was hearty and almost broke my calories budget for the day! Luckily I came in 100 calories below my goal thanks to a long evening walk.

We ended up arriving late and missed the Ethics session but arrived right on time for the Law session. The presenter was interesting and the topics covered all centered around how to stay out of court and whether you could be charged with practicing law without a license.

The session over lunch discussed the successes of various groups and their urban redevelopment projects in and around Louisville. I found the delicious lunch a little more than distracting.

The afternoon started with a round table on rural development. Everyone had something to say about “poo” (waster water treatment). However, the session was marked by a lack of depth as each presenter shotgunned through data, maps, and discussion point.

Finally, the conference ended with a presentation from the NKAPC (and friends) to discuss the Crittenden-Piner Tornado, which I’ve heard about in other venues. The breakout success of the presentation was Andy Hatzos of the National Weather Service, whose sheer passion kept my interest throughout.

Be Awsome! A Mini-conference for Community Change-makers.

Held yesterday, October 3rd, the Awesomeness Mini-conference was held at various locations around Covington, Ky. Highlights from the parts I attended (there were breakout sessions at time) included Griffin Van Meter, whose epic beard nearly stole the show, Tarek Kamil, who inspired my to start tracking my own awesomeness index, and Seth Beattie and Brian Friedman from Collinwood in Cleveland, Ohio.

Seth and Brian’s presentation was near and dear to my heart as an ex-rust belt native. Their project and its success was worth hearing about. Redevelopment attuned to the creative class is working for them on both the engagement and revitalization levels.

Tarek Kamil had excellent presenting skills and had a topic that anyone could relate to. The major take away is, in a nut shell, track something (like happiness) because tracking something is better than knowing nothing. And when you track something you can change try to change something.

Griffin Van Meter was perhaps the most disorganized but also the most engaging. His oratory style is unique and his passion is contagious. His success with the NoLi CDC was interesting to hear about if only because I’m an Economic Developer/Urban Planner, and that type of work is our bread and butter.

Overall the conference was interesting, informative, and inspiring. Hopefully some community change does arise from the conference.

Government Shutdown

You never realize how much you need government websites until they’re gone. For work I find myself cruising Census.gov and other data sources at least weekly. Tuesday morning, a midst the growing pains of the ACA Exchange websites, I found myself stopped from completing a good chunk of work on my current projects.

Hopefully the whole shutdown is resolved sooner, rather than later, and without any major concessions on the Affordable Care Act. I’m not a hardcore liberal, but the stories I’ve heard on the ground here in Kentucky suggest that its as necessary and prescient as Gov. Beshear says it is.

Health Care Exchanges

I’ve managed to get quotes from both Kentucky and Ohio’s exchanges now, and in both states my healthcare costs would be less than a third of my employer’s current cost to provide health insurance with similar benefits, similar deductible, and the same provider if I lived in Kentucky (where I currently work).

Stories have been coming out all week about the demand placed on these exchange websites alongside success stories of people from all over the political spectrum. Though, the one that caught my eye was that of an Alabama man who voted for Ron Paul that is touting the insurance he gets through Alabama’s exchange a success. Take this with a grain of salt, though, it comes from ThinkProgress.

Reggae Run

This weekend I’ll be running my first official 5k race, which I’m calling the Hell Hill Run. The 3.1 mi course takes place mostly up hill and will likely be the death of me.

I’ll report back Monday with a completion time (supposing I survive).

That about covers the last two weeks, now its all smooth sailing to the weekend.

Tax Rate Calculations

Recently, I’ve been working on tax rate calculations for cities in Northern Kentucky. This is a yearly service the ADD provides for free. Kentucky cities and special districts utilize these tax rate calculations to ensure they receive at least the same amount of revenue each year from real property and tangible property taxes. This helps provide a stable amount of cash flow to the city or special district each year. One danger in this calculation is dropping values, or if a property falls off the tax rolls for various reasons, this can spike the rate that is calculated in a given area.

The city does not necessarily have to take the tax rate that these calculations provide. They are free to choose their rate, with some limitations provided by the Kentucky Revised Statutes. Therefore the calculation sets the rates used to benchmark some legal requirements in the tax rate adoption process.

Beyond the compensating rate, the rate that would provide similar revenue, I also calculate a “substitute rate” and a “Rate +4”, which provides for 4% more revenue. There are some procedures engendered by taking a rate above the compensating rate, including public hearings and, if the city goes beyond the Rate+4, the opportunity for a recall vote on the rate. (Note: the recall can only be for the portion above 104%)

Being an Ohio native, this process has been a bit foreign to me. Luckily I’ve been able to pickup and understand the process and the purpose of the calculations fairly quickly. Though they are not perfect, I think there is some merit to what Kentucky is doing via this process. Ensuring cities remain viable would do much and more in Ohio where the 2008 economic crisis doomed many cities to debt or bankruptcy. I should be clear, however, this process does pose a possible strain on the citizens of Kentucky cities in that rates fluctuate to accommodate revenue year to year. Because of this the loss of businesses or, as I mentioned above, the falling off of property from the tax roll can adversely affect local tax rates.

I do not feel like I know enough yet to make a firm conclusion about whether the tax rate calculation process is more beneficial than harmful, but it is certainly a unique idea.