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If elected the next Carroll County judge-executive May 20, candidate Dean Miller promises not to raise county property taxes while he is in office.
“I don’t like taxes,” he told the Rotary Club of Carrollton April 16. “When I came into office, the tax rate in Carroll County was 13.9 (percent). Since I’ve been there, especially the last 12 years, it’s 3.49 (percent). That’s over 65 percent less and if you look at anybody else’s tax rate, the organizations or anything, they’ve all raised. We’ve been able to do it and still help all the community.”
Miller said Carroll County Fiscal Court has increased the amount of money allocated to the county fire departments and has purchased a couple buildings. “We take our time and find the money before we buy it,” he said. “You can go out here and buy anything and then you have to pay for it … Since I’ve been onboard, the county has had zero debt. Anything that we’ve bought has been paid for.”
Rotary hosted talks from all five judge-executive candidates at its weekly meeting, beginning March 19. The order was determined by random draw.
Miller, a Carroll County native, graduated from Carroll County High School and earned a business degree through an 18-month course at Sullivan Business College. He has owned his car lot business since 1976. He also owns a rental business and tears down and rebuilds houses.
“The main thing I can do for you is taxes,” said Miller, who is serving his 16th year as District 2 magistrate. “Anything else you can take care of yourself. I believe in taking care of the ones that can’t take care of themselves.”
Miller said he is in favor of programs such as Meals on Wheels and Big Brothers Big Sisters. “The ones that can’t take care of themselves, we need to take care of,” he said. “I also believe in teaching them how to fish and not just buying them a fish dinner.”
As magistrate, he has worked with the animal shelter and Carroll County Animal Support and is in favor of the group having their own place downtown so they can adopt more animals. Miller said he wants to attract new businesses to Carroll County and run more infrastructure out in the county. “The state, in the last six or eight years, has not provided any funding, but it’s coming,” he said.
Miller said the new Jefferson Community and Technical College campus is “the best thing that has happened to Carrollton.” He also said Carroll County Memorial Hospital has done a great job the last five years of getting going. “When you start from zero, it’s hard to get started. The hospital started way in the hole, so they have done great.”
Miller said he is a Democrat, but also pretty conservative. “I’ll give you money, but I want to see what it’s spent for and if it don’t get spent that way, you’re going to have a hard time getting the next bunch.”
If elected judge-executive, Miller’s main goal is building a community center. “Whether you like it or not, if I’m elected, by next December there will be a community center in Carrollton,” he said. “It should have been done before. We’d already got our part of the money for it. It won’t be the gigantic thing that everyone wishes. We can pay for it, but then we can’t pay for the upkeep. You just can’t do it for the size that we are.”
Miller said the gymnasium would have a walking track and a basketball court, with the option for another court if it is used. He wants the facility to be free to the public.
D.J. Carroll said Oldham County’s property tax rate is about 8.5 percent. He asked Miller if he thought Carroll County would be in a better position to offer better services if the tax rate were about 6 percent. If the county doubled its tax rate, which would still make it one of the lowest in the area, it would have more income to provide better services, including a better recreation center.
“You think we should pay $500,000 a year to upkeep a building? With a 10,000 population?” Miller asked Carroll.
“One of the things I don’t agree with is a free center,” Carroll said.
“So, without a free center, these kids we want to educate, how are they going to use it?”
“It would be a discounted service.”
“A discount is nothing if you don’t have a dollar,” Miller said. “If you don’t have any money, there’s no use having a discount.”
Carroll told Miller about the Armstrong Pavilion located in Decatur Central Township in Indianapolis, Ind., that charges membership fees. Seniors, college students, high school and middle school students and employees receive discounted rates, according to the center’s website. Carroll said the schools provide bus routes to the center for after school activities. “I think that by having some type of vested interest in that, they will care for it more, so you’re not going to have things that are just getting run ragged because no one is putting money up for it,” Carroll said.
Miller said the county would not make enough money in memberships to pay for the upkeep. Carroll agreed, but said if the tax rate were higher, it would help pay for it. He also offered the example of teaching a middle school student how to weed a flowerbed and paying for his membership fee. “I keep hearing this low tax rate when I’m the only Republican in the county that’s running, so if anybody is against tax increases it’s myself,” Carroll said, who is running for District 3 magistrate.
Miller said if the community center is used, it will be expanded.
“If I’m elected, there will never be a tax increase in Carroll County,” Miller said. “… If I’m elected, I’ll be the judge for the next eight years, and then I hope somebody in my court will take it over.”
D’anne Smith said she attended the judge-executive debate in February and did not like the responses given regarding county zoning because each candidate followed what the other said. “I know everyone has their own ideas, so I hope you can share, truly, about zoning in the county because zoning is not just about making someone move their yard, which is what I think people think about.”
“If you’re in for zoning, I’m not your candidate,” Miller said.
Smith asked, “What does zoning mean to you, though?”
Miller said when zoning, it’s great. But 10 years down the road, a different board comes in and totally changes everything. “Now ordinances, I have no problem because if you buy it and you’ve got it, that’s fine. You want a subdivision, you go by the subdivision regulations, whatever they are, and that’s fine, you know what they are. But I don’t like regulating you after you own your property.”
However, Miller said one thing that needs to change in the current ordinance is the 200-foot setback for cleanliness. “It’s got to be a sight setback,” he said. “We cannot have growth and new property and you’ve got what you have some places. But we need to do that as a step-by-step thing as far as I’m concerned.”
Miller said the public can address zoning situations better without the government stepping in. He gave the example of a farm he bought on Ghent Eagle Road. The owner zoned the property before selling it, putting in the deed that there could be no trailers built on it. “You can do it without the government and you can do it better without the government,” he said. “Anytime the government gets involved, it’s not a good thing. We’ve got to have the taxes, but I’m 100 percent against zoning.”
Smith asked Miller to educate her on zoning since it is such a broad term. When she thinks about zoning, she thinks about signage and improving the look of the community. Miller said that is something that could be changed by ordinance.
Smith asked how to address issues such as complaints about the business next to the interstate. Miller said that business currently meets the 200-foot setback criteria, but he believes the ordinance needs to be changed.
Carroll asked about the raggedy billboards on Hwy. 227 and why that has not been cited. Miller said the only way the process works is for someone to make a complaint, which is sent to Solid Waste Coordinator Mitchell Perkins. If he agrees it is a problem, he will work on it, Miller said. If not, it goes to current Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson. If it is not addressed, it goes on to County Attorney Nick Marsh. Marsh said the last time a complaint was initiated was last summer, noting that the ones the county typically deals with are excessive grass growth in foreclosures.
Education for parents
Carroll asked Miller how he plans to educate parents in Carroll County.
“I honestly don’t know how you educate them enough, but I’ve seen these kids,” Miller said, telling the story of a child about six or seven years old walk to school by themselves because they missed the bus. “That kid has no one to help him … Odds are that kid is going to be living in that same situation.”
He said programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters help, but that the parents need to be educated.
Smith said she talks to a lot of small business owners and how they do not get a lot of traffic, but citizens also do not have the money to spend in town on particular businesses. Part of the problem appears to be that Carroll County is one of the poorest communities in the state, but fourth highest paid with workers not living in the county, creating a gap. She asked Miller how to address this issue.
“It’s hard to start a new business, and most of them, the worst thing we’ve had in Carrollton, to me, is you start a business on what you like and when you start a business on what you like, it’s a fun business, but you get burned out,” Miller said. “When you get burned out, you can’t afford to hire the help, that’s what happens in Carrollton. You just said we’re a poor [county], so if you want to do a business in Carrollton, you’ve got to do business to the poor people.”
“If we continue to be reactive, are we ever going to get where we want to be?” Smith asked. “So in my mind, I would like to be in a community that is vibrant and growing and bringing the youth in and a prosperous community. And if you want to be a community that looks like that, you have to build the structure to attract that kind of community, the kind of people that want to live in that community. If, on the other hand, we continue to recognize, OK, we are one of the poorest communities so we’re going to address those needs, then we’re going to continue to have flea market-type stores all over the place and is that what we want to become?”
When he was 16, Miller said there was not an interstate so Carrollton had a department store and two men’s store. But now everyone drives to Louisville to eat and shop. The community does not have enough people to support an expensive clientele business that specializes in one thing, he said.
Miller pointed out that the stores in downtown Carrollton still close at 4 or 5 o’clock. “We’re a two-shift society now, and if you close at 4 o’clock, this other place is open to 6 and 8 [o’clock] and I can shop and I can go out to eat. … Business owners, until you get that out of your head, you’re not going to grow your business.”