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City, county governments look ahead

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

In the coming year, local governments could face a variety of new challenges, including just how to conduct city and county business in a time of financial difficulties.

But some officials say that challenge may not be as tough for them as it will be for others.

Henry County Judge Executive John Logan Brent said the primary issues facing county government in 2009 will be a continued focus on the new Henry County Recreational Park on U.S. 421 and continued work with Cedar Lake Lodge to bring that agency to the park.

“We’re working on the final details of the contract, and we think we’ve reached an agreement,” Brent said. On Monday, he said there was a possibility that agreement could be finalized by today.

But the economy will factor into some of what the county does. “You won’t see the county take on any new projects this year,” Brent said. “We’re kind of like a lot of other agencies, wait and see with the economy.”

What  that doesn’t mean, he said, was that projects already budgeted and in progress would stop – they’ll continue. “Most of the projects at the park have either already been funded by grants or fundraising efforts,” he said, noting that the only project actually in the 2008/2009 budget is the creation of bathrooms at the park for the new youth ball fields. Brent said those fields could be active and in use by late summer.

Of course, maintenance “continues to be our other priority,” including maintenance of roads, parks and day to day activities like running EMS and solid waste.

Brent said the county will weather the economic storm well in 2009. Unlike neighboring counties, Henry County is not dependent upon an occupational or insurance tax for revenue. “The only thing that will really affect us is if property values dramatically decrease, since property tax is the primary source of income for Henry County,” he said.

Where the economy will affect Henry County, he said, is within grants and appropriations the county “has been very successful in securing.” Brent said he doubted “we’re going to see any special road money come out of Frankfort, or see any significant grants or do special projects at the park.

“We’ve seen those in the last year, and it was just two years ago we had a $250,000 appropriation to pave county roads. I think at this time, we’re counting our blessings for what we’ve been able to receive in the last several years.’

The good news, he said, is that the county already has secured enough funding to “keep us busy for the next year or two.”

Two Henry County cities already know they’ll face ongoing concerns with their sewer systems.

In Campbellsburg, completion of phase two of the waste water project likely will dominate council conversations, according to Mayor Carl Rucker. The city is waiting on a bid from Salmon Construction to see whether or not a rebid is necessary. From there, Rucker said, the city will need to finish extension of sewer lines and work on lift stations.

But the work isn’t done there. Once the work on the actual project is done, then the city, along with Carrollton Utilities will have to solve the problem of inflow of excess water into the sewer system.

“All the lines have been smoked and they have been filmed, and ... seemingly our biggest problem is Maple Street and Cardinal Drive, lines that were put in in 1975,” Rucker said. He added that he hoped that the work would be completed by mid-summer, and no later than early fall.

Pleasureville too will have sewer concerns, but of a slightly different nature. Between maintenance, repairs, loans and a rate increase from Eminence for waste water treatment, Pleasureville finds itself pinched, and tightly.

“The main pumping station had to be repaired, and we’ve had to replace pumps,” Pleasureville Mayor Rodney Young said. The city also has has more water going out than coming in, which Young said indicated a leak, or the possibility of sump pumps hooked on to the sewer lines. He said that hopefully, the main pump station repair took care of some of that difference.

With no growth, the only answer for the city may be to increase rates, something their auditor recommended in Monday night’s commission meeting.

“There’s not much you can do,” Young said. “We don’t have any growth. We don’t have any industry.”

When it comes to the economy, Young said that he believes the city will whether the storm.

“We didn’t have any taxes going up ... (there’s) nothing going down that we’re relying on,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about factories closing, but it would be nice to have something.”

Rucker’s comments on the economy were similar. “I think the city will be able to hold its own, I really do, barring any major disaster or something like that,” he said.

Development in Campbellsburg still is a possibility, according to Rucker, who said there have been inquiries about “what the name of the new hotel will be,” and one caller who has twice asked about a restaurant tax, “which leads me to believe there’s something on the horizon.” He added that he also received a call regarding assisted living apartments.

Eminence Mayor Jim Petitt’s outlook was more pessimistic. “We had a lot of things that we wanted to do, but unfortunately, we’re going to have to watch the economic impact quite a bit,” he said. “I think the big thing is to get through the year with everyone keeping their jobs.”

Petitt said that with little motion in the economy, there likely will be little “coming our way.”

“I’m assuming it’s going to be a tough year for every city,” he said. “Everyone’s going to want to watch their money.”

If the city’s three factories continue at a “fairly good pace,” Petitt believes the city will be okay. But that depends, he said, on the world economy.

Priorities for the Eminence council, Petitt said, will include work on the city’s sidewalk grant, and a playground. A budgeted item — a new floor for the community center — may get pushed back, depending on the economy, Petitt said.

New Castle Mayor Judy Diederich said she believes Henry County faces many of the same issues it did two years ago. “The county is facing growth issues,” she said. “How are we going to direct and control growth?”

Diederich said she hopes new commissioners will help address New Castle’s growth.

“With the economy growth not looming quite as soon as before we need to take this time to study the issues and draw conclusions,” she said.

Diederich said with tax revenues not up to the level expected she sees lots of challenges in 2009. She said those revenues are what funds programs such as county road aid. “Where will we get the dollars to do what we need to do?” she said. “We have to be more creative in accomplishing our goals.”

Diederich said the key to facing the upcoming challenges is to keep working. “We don’t want too many thinking we can’t,” she said, “instead of how can we.”

A message left for Smithfield Mayor Kenny Baker was not returned.

 

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