Strand Associates Engineering Vice President Mike Woolum hopes to begin the first of four phases for the West Main Streetscape Project as soon as this summer, which would take about nine months to complete.
During the Richmond City Commission workshop meeting on Tuesday, Woolum and commissioners discussed the details of the project in each phase and the budget for the first phase of the project.
"We are here to talk about phase one today, but we have actually done an overall quarter study to actually develop a layout, a concept and an overall budget for the entirety of the project," Woolum said.
The first phase of the project, which addresses the urban core, Woolum said, would focus on expanded project limits, overhead utility betterments, accommodations for phase two, partial extension of decorative lighting and improved turning geometrics at Lancaster Avenue.
The design includes expanding the downtown portion of West Main Street to include three lanes at 11 feet of width each, bike lanes on both sides, extending the sidewalk to five feet and adding more greenery.
The second phase and third phases will address the residential section that extends from Lancaster Avenue to the four lane area toward Arlington, where the project originally was said to begin primarily to address traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
In discussing the plans of the area around Tates Creek Road, Woolum said, "That's a really interesting situation with the intersection, and the curve and the stop light, and that is something that will be addressed in phase two, where we are trying to make some improvements there to realign lanes and address some of the curbs and add more turn lane storage to actually make it more of a structured intersection when it is all said and done."
He said this phase would also include more definition in crosswalk labeling near Lancaster Avenue and Water Street to improve the overall safety of pedestrians. Additionally, for pedestrians to feel safer in that crossing, the second phase will narrow the entrances to the Gulf gas station to provide extra sidewalks to provide pedestrian paths to make that "a better situation."
Aesthetics and lighting are also a factor in the project with a goal to extend the decorative lighting concept down to Fifth Street to "have the feel that you have in fact entered the downtown area."
The project design focuses on narrowed lane width, unclearly marked lanes, defining those lanes, curb extensions and bicycle and pedestrian mobility.
The fourth and final phase applies out past the residential areas going into the four lane section out by Arlington and approaching the Robert R. Martin Bypass.
To complete this project, the city will be required to pay a 25 percent match to the $1 million Transportation Alternatives Program Grant awarded by the state transportation cabinet, costing them $250,000.
In order to widen the roads, it is required that the utility poles be relocated, which has caused the project that was introduced in 2015 to be halted for more than a year due to an issue with Kentucky Utilities considering the project as an aesthetic project as opposed to a roadway project as it was presented.
After former Mayor Jim Barnes received a letter from KU stating the company did not consider the West Main Street project a road improvement project, but a city beautification project, KU then opted the city of Richmond pay $79,000 for the company to be able to move the poles.
The former mayor responded to this letter stating that some of the project was seen as beautification, and the city should pay for it, but also stated some of the project is road improvement, and the cost should fall on KU.
KU's response was for the city to cover all costs that includes bundling lines, moving crossing lines and all of the company's utility movement. The city has agreed to pay the nearly $80,000 in order to continue on with the project.
Once the two orders for the $250,000 and $80,000 payments are passed, the signed documents will go back to Strand Engineering, where they will approve the finalized phase one design of the project. From there, they will submit the final plans to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for approval and bid the project out to a contractor, something City Manager Rob Minerich said could take up to 90 days.
In other business, the commission discussed the city's Charity Tracker program, which has been implemented since 2013.
The cloud-based system is an online system that allows all the charities in Richmond to connect to in order to prevent "double dipping" and allowing the charities to be "more efficient with our funds," according to the local administrator of the program, Amanda Agee, who has been in that position since 2016.
Charity organizations in Richmond help provide assistance to people needing access to food, shelter or assistance with utilities, and with Charity Tracker, organizations can take the name and birthdate of an individual and monitor whether or not they are receiving other assistance from other programs.
"This program has cut down on that tremendously," Agee said. "We see anywhere from 80 to 100 clients in the morning, and when you are seeing that kind of volume, this is a really helpful tool."
Each organization pays a monthly fee of $25 to have access to Charity Tracker. However, the program requires that payments come in a bundle from one fiscal entity requiring that Richmond pay $4,000 and Berea pay $2,000, totaling $6,000 between the two cities.
Commissioner Jacob Grant questioned if there was a cap on the number of charities involved and if the fee had the potential to increase.
"It could change," Agee said. "It could definitely change. You would have more information coming on. I don't foresee it changing for one, because I don't feel that with 22,000 cases here in Madison County, I feel that we have probably 90 percent of our data entry as already entered. Our folks receiving assistance, their cases are already in the management system."
Tracy Bryant, the city's information and technology director, asked who has access to individuals' information and who would be liable if someone working in an organization was to misuse the information.
Agee explained that as the local administrator for Charity Tracker, she has the login information to the cloud. That allows her to have access to the information. Each charity has login information to access and see the database within their organization. Once logged into the system, members of the charity can see the name of people who have been recently added, but they need a birthdate to access any person's case information.
When a person sits down to be entered into the database, they have given their consent for their information to be shared within the tracker system.
"It's just like going to the doctor's office when you go to the doctor's office, it is the same technology," she said.
Agee said they do not take social security numbers or driver's license numbers, and they try to keep it to very basic information.
Bryant expressed concerns regarding a state law, House Bill 5, and potential liability issues because of people's personal information being used in the software. She said she believes that if anyone were to misuse people's information, people could come after the city.
Minerich asked that if the city administered the tracker program, if that would eliminate the liability, to which Bryant answered, "yes."
"The way I understood it when I signed my contract, was as contract work, I am not an employee," Agee said. "Therefore, anything that I do cannot come back as the city. That is the way I was explained to."
Each agency that has signed on to take on each individual's information would be legally responsible as a charity, Agee explained.
Minerich claimed that because the city paid for the software, it would be under the city's ownership, to which Agee replied, "not technically, no."
"There is no software, you pay for a login," she replied. "You see, it is a cloud-based service, so there is no software."
"There has to be an owner of the login, which would have to be the city," Minerich said.
Agee disagreed saying that the owner would technically be the administrator.
"When I called Charity Tracker and talked to them, they said, 'Whoever is the admin, owns the information,'" she explained. "So is the city of Richmond, and they said, 'They are not admin, your name is admin, because you are a contractor worker for them.'"
She went on to say that if something were to happen with personal information, the agency would then be responsible for that issue because they, as an agency, have taken on that responsibility to comply with the rules.
City Attorney Garrett Fowels said that in searching for HB 5, he cannot find it.
"I am not so certain that we own anything," he said. "At best, we are licensed perhaps to use the software, but I don't think anything that has to do with Charity Tracker falls on the city … essentially what the city is doing is we are making a charitable contribution. We're not active, it is not our database, it is not our software."
"We can never lose sight, in our rules and in our regulations, that we are ministries," Agee said. "That is first and foremost. That is what is in our hearts … to help these folks. We use the software so we can have more to help the genuine cases."
The next Richmond City Commission meeting will be held March 26, at 6 p.m. at Richmond City Hall.