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Race for the Top Job

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Estimated 300 people attend judge-executive debate

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The five candidates running for Carroll County judge-executive were put to their first test of the campaign season during a debate Tuesday night in the cafeteria at Cartmell Elementary School.

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It was standing-room only for about 300 voters who came to hear candidates Jesse Saggus, Kathy Goff, Bobby Westrick, Dean Miller and Clay Cable debate issues facing the county. Each took turns at the podium answering questions from moderator Jeff Moore, publisher of The News-Democrat, which co-sponsored the forum with the Carroll County High School FFA. Some of the questions were taken from the audience; the rest were written by Moore and the newspaper staff.

The proposed new campus for Jefferson Community and Technical College was touted by all five candidates as the one thing that would bring the most positive changes to the county, such as providing opportunity to build an educated work force and having the potential to attract more people who work in the county to live here, too.

So far, the state legislature and Gov. Steve Beshear have included funding for construction of the new campus in the proposed 2014-16 budget, but that won’t be finalized until the legislative session ends in April.

Studies show that about 60 percent of those who work at the industries that line U.S. 42 in Carroll County commute from their homes in surrounding counties.

Westrick said this is why the occupational tax is so important, because it does return some of the money these workers earn back to the county.

“It does start with education,” candidate Cable said. “Companies do hire out of state and out of the county. A lot of the people here are overlooked. My kids came back [after college] to work here. It can be done; it has been done.”

The new campus “will give [local residents] a better chance to get jobs,” Saggus said. “The fact is, not everyone is ... qualified enough. We need to retrain, re-educate. ... [The industries] do draw employees from other counties because the jobs are so valuable. We have to step up our game.”

Goff agreed. “Carroll County people have to go out and take those courses to get those jobs. It’s a golden opportunity, with the college coming ... to get together and put everyone in Carroll County back to work.”

Camp Kysoc and improvements at the county’s Robert Westrick Memorial Park on State Hwy. 36 East were popular topics with all five candidates; each said they support adding a youth football field to the park and making other improvements to the facility, which already offers youth baseball, softball and soccer, and an outdoor swimming pool.

“I’m the last guy in the world to let you all down on the county park,” quipped Westrick, whose father is the namesake for the park. He said improvements are also needed for the concessions offered at the park, as well as better restrooms and repairs to the walking trail.

Miller, who currently is a magistrate on fiscal court for District 2, said the county is looking to buy property on Ladder Lane to expand the park, and fiscal court is working to repair walking trails there and at Kysoc. He explained that the county has a five-year lease, with an option for another five years, on the Kysoc property, which originally was home to an Easter Seals summer camp. The property includes a lodge, office building and cabins, as well as an indoor swimming pool.

But the uncertainty of the county’s continued ownership of the property was seen a stumbling block for several of the candidates.

“We need a longtime deal, otherwise it’s not wise to put a lot of money into it,” Cable said.

Saggus agreed, adding that it would be better to spend money on the park and suggested the county pool be “boxed in and make it [available] year round.”

Goff called Kysoc a “hidden treasure,” adding “whatever is done needs to be done with great care.” She agreed that improvements to the county park should come first, as long as the county does not have a long-term lease on Kysoc.

While the five agreed that a community center – a topic long discussed by city and county officials – would be a good thing, most did not support spending county money for such a project.

“I’m for it,” Cable said, but added that the cost to build and maintain such a facility is “not feasible for the taxpayers of Carroll County.”

Saggus said he believes there are grants the county could apply for to build a community center, but said location is the most important consideration.

“We need to find the right piece of land” where it can be easily accessed by children who live in the city of Carrollton and out in the county, he said. “We need to bring it to a vote [but] it’s our money, and we’ve got to spend it right.”

“A YMCA or community center sounds great,” Goff agreed. “I would love to see a community center or a Y. ... But we need JCTC first. We need to get people educated and then move to the next step.”

Westrick said he would be in favor of a community center “if there’s money to be made, but if not ... if it’s not used, where are we actually at? We need to do other stuff first.”

“For eight years, I’ve been working on the community center [project]. We have the money to match grants, but there are no grants out there” because of the recent recession, Miller said, adding that every time the subject comes up and plans are discussed, “it starts out small but then grows out of control. We’ve got to be able to fund it. We have the money and can do it now, but if the county can’t keep it up,” it would be a mistake.

Asked what they believe might be their best accomplishments after four years, if elected, making Carroll County a better place topped the list for most candidates.

“I expect everything we got now to be better,” Miller said, adding he would focus on infrastructure and making sure the smaller cities of Worthville, Sanders and English get more attention. “Sometimes, they get forgotten about,” he said, pointing out that when the regional water treatment plant was built, the city of English, which is nearest the Greens Bottom facility, was overlooked and did not get a much-needed sewer system.

Cable said his accomplishment would be bringing in new jobs and new business, and getting more people to move to the county.

“I hope people in Carroll County would have an easier life, a better life” after her first term as judge-executive, Goff said. “When you come into the county, it’s not a beautiful sight. We need a happy, cheerful community. I want it to be a place where people want to come and live, not just work here. I want the Carrollton that used to be, where the kids are safe, there are no drugs, and happy schools that are at the top.”

Saggus, however, offered a clear vision, saying his accomplishment would be to expand the Carroll County Detention Center.

“I got into this race because I wanted people to know my ideas,” Saggus said, describing the CCDC as “a revenue stream” for the county because it houses inmates from four counties, and those counties pay to house them here.

“I worked there four years. ... I met a lot of good people in bad situations,” he said. “The jail owns the land and has money in the budget [for an expansion], but nobody wants to talk about it. It’s something we need to look into.”

None of the candidates held much optimism about hopes for bringing high-speed Internet into the farthest reaches of the county.

“Who’s going to pay for it,” Westrick asked. “I don’t know, but I think [Internet providers] are trying to work on it. The county needs to work on it ... but I don’t see it” happening.

“Frankfort is working to get phone companies to do more,” Miller said, adding that success in getting the service to those living in the hilly areas of the county may not happen in four years, “but it won’t be long. The federal government and the state are pushing for it.”

“A lot of people have asked me about it, and I don’t know the answer,” Cable said. “I don’t know if the answer is there.”

“I’m for it being affordable,” Saggus said, adding that in Japan, the government requires G6 Internet service to be available to everyone there. “If I have to go to Frankfort and talk to somebody, I will.”

Goff said there is no real answer to the Internet question, quipping, “there are some places in the county where the sun never shines,” inferring that getting Internet service to those places would be difficult.

Asked, “Who wants zoning?” the resounding answer was “no one” from all five candidates.

“That’s the worst word in the English language,” Cable said. “I don’t care for it. There are places where it’s needed, but I think Carroll County can live without it. People should have a right to do with their property what they choose.”

Even broaching the issue causes “a lot of headaches,” Saggus said, adding his belief that getting people to agree on which areas should be zoned and how would be difficult. “It’s not something to get into. ... It would create further problems down the road.”

“Zoning could be good, if the voters are for it,” Westrick said. “Put it on the ballot. ... People should decide how they want it or don’t want it.”

“The only people you hear talking about [zoning] are people who live in the city,” Miller said. Though he believes stricter ordinances are needed for new subdivisions, particularly to ensure that roads built in new subdivisions would be up to county specifications. Otherwise, he said, “leave people who live in the county alone.”

“In some places, zoning is very good. But in Carroll County, I don’t see the need,” Goff said. “It’s something we need to discuss later, but not now.”

 

The debate was broadcast live on the Carroll County Schools YouTube page and can still be viewed: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheCCSchoolsKY.

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