“Welcome to the city of Highland Heights, the home of Northern Kentucky University,” said Highland Heights Mayor Greg Meyers as he announced that NKU would be officially incorporated into the small city that surrounds it.
Meyers, alongside University President James Votruba, signed the agreement that would merge the two areas April 23. Currently, NKU sits on unincorporated Campbell County land. Any property it buys, such as residential Highland Heights homes, decreases the property taxes feeding the city’s coffers.
With this agreement, all NKU employees will pay a one percent payroll tax to the city, amounting to $800,000. Votruba said those funds will pay back the city for all the property taxes it has lost.
“I have seen, more times than I’d like to count, universities turn their back on their communities,” he said. Without university support, the surrounding communities risk sliding into economic peril and its infrastructure fails. “Once a community gets down too far, it’s hard to lift it back up,” Votruba said
Votruba has, however, promised that he will use the university’s rainy day funds to compensate employees for the tax in 2008. He said that Highland Heights won’t be the only beneficiary of the merger.
NKU will receive a new $6.5 million soccer complex near the $3 million Civic Center, which the university will purchase for $1. The city will raise money to construct it through a bond measure. Construction is expected to begin in September. Forty percent of the revenue from payroll taxes will help finance the project.
The incorporation comes along as NKU faces a six percent cut in state funding, amounting to $3.2 million. Votruba acknowledged the funding difficulties that NKU is facing, but warned against focusing on one issue.
“What you can’t do in a financial crisis is allow yourself to become shortsighted,” he said. “That’s why I chaired Vision 2015.”
Meyers said that Highland Heights and NKU had been talking about incorporation since the university’s founding in 1968.
But only in the past two to three years, Votruba said, has it become “serious.” He added that the contract was a “terribly complex thing.”
Melissa Koppenhoefer, the Student Government executive vice president-elect, said that she thought the annexation “brings the whole community together and encourages students who graduate to come back and work in the community.”
Campbell County Judge Executive Steve Pendery also praised the collaboration.
“This is just a marriage of sorts,” he said. “What NKU and Highland Heights have put together, let no man put apart.”
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