In Dec. 2 IssueBy John ThompsonTimes Journal ReporterEditor's Note: Those who were re-elected will not be interviewed, as the purpose is to get an understanding of what the newly elected has planned for their term. This and future interviews will briefly go through the newly elected candidates history before quickly moving on to what vision they hold for their future term in office.
With November's election came some new faces on the political scene and others that have held office either previously or have been elected to a new position. Last month, the people of Russell County spoke and elected former magistrate for District 5, Gary Robertson, to be the new county judge-executive. The race was a close one, with Robertson beating out local businessman Ralph Creech by only 61 votes; 3,445 to 3,384.
Robertson recently took a little time off from his lifelong profession as a cattle farmer to speak on his new position.
Robertson is no stranger to working in government both as an elected representative for four years as a magistrate as well as retiring after 22 years working for the Kentucky State Government, in administrating Medicaid as well as a few years within the Transportation Cabinet where he says he established some good relationships.
He has also worked his own business raising livestock since 1990 and has earned a reputation as being a good businessman.
Robertson began by thanking the voters of Russell County, and offering kind words to his opponent in the race. "Ralph ran a good campaign and we've talked a few times since the race. He offered his support in any way he could help as did a couple of his close supporters and I respect them for that."
Over his years as magistrate Robertson had opportunity to travel to Frankfort with outgoing Judge-Executive Mickey Garner. Those trips proved fruitful in getting an understanding of how grants are received. Specifically he mentioned the grant received by Russell County with the grant writing help of Lake Cumberland Area Development District Director Donna Diaz to renovate the old Shiloh Motel for emergency shelter and Habitat for Humanity. "We were the only rural community to receive money through this grant," Robertson said. "The first time around 10 applicants got money and we were number 11. Someone above us didn't fulfill their obligation and that moved us up. We were very fortunate."
The coming years offer some unique challenges for the upcoming fiscal court and Robertson indicated he is well aware of that.
"Everyone knows its tough economic times right now; there's less money. Over the past four years of being a magistrate, the first two years I had quite a bit of maintenance money to operate with. The last two years was 60 percent less than the first two years, so that's quite a bit of a cut to try to get by on." Robertson said. "Everybody's in the same shape and it's just hard to get money to do work with, but we'll work hard with the people in Frankfort to get all we can."
There are a number of projects underway in Russell County and we talked about a few of them, including the new Detention Center and Judicial Center.
Robertson said he has been behind getting a new jail from the beginning and thinks it's the right decision.
"It got to the point that we weren't building a new jail because we wanted one," he said. "We had been notified by the Department of Corrections that our jail would be shut down, so our backs were against the wall; either build a new jail or transport our prisoners. I've been for building a new jail the whole time and I stand by that."
Robertson was clear that it would be tough getting the new jail up and running but feels confident that with cooperation it will prove successful.
"With the cooperation and involvement of the fiscal court, the new jail staff, jailer and deputy jailer; it will be a major challenge but I'm sure we'll get through it."
Without the new jail it's projected that the cost of transporting and housing prisoners in other counties would run $350,000 to $400,000 a year. Bond payment will be somewhere in that range.
It is hoped that the county will receive enough state prisoners to keep the jail at near maximum capacity. Robertson estimates that if we house between 30-35 state prisoners at a rate of $30-$32 we will accomplish this goal.
"That will be the key, to keep someone on the phone trying to keep state prisoners coming and keep this thing full of prisoners," he said. "That's the main objective in order to make money."
Robertson explained that the new judicial center was mandated some years ago and that 45 counties were mandated to build them. The new facility will be paid for and maintained, including utilities, by the state but there will be lost revenue as the current courthouse receives rent through state agencies for offices and the courts.
Another pressing issue facing the county will be the future funding of 911 Dispatch services. Robertson said that would be very early on an issue on the fiscal court agenda, as the current funding agreement with the cities of Russell Springs and Jamestown will only last until October 2011.
"We're going to have to start working on that pretty quick this Spring, how to subsidize this 911," Robertson said, adding that the service is imperative and that the enhanced capability has already proven itself by saving a life of someone who was unable to speak to give their location after dialing 911.
With all the changes facing the county of expenses coupled with decreased revenues, the subject of how to pay for everything was next on the list. Robertson was straightforward, "Like everything else you're going to have to cut some expenditures or raise social revenue to pay for it, one of the two. I've got some plans I'm looking into," Robertson went on to explain that some areas have been able to levy property taxes on boats that are housed in their county more than 60 days a year. "That may be a way to raise some extra revenue. There are no assurances but I think something like that would be more fair to try and do that before we try anything else. If anything happens on this lake our people are responsible to help them. That's why we should be able to collect any revenue we can on this property instead of paying the property tax on their boats where they live."
Such an idea is not unprecedented, as Robertson said that other parts of the state are doing it.
"I know some lakes in western Kentucky have been pursuing this," he said. "It's roughly a new thing that hopefully can be worked out as some new revenue."
The agenda for the Russell County Fiscal Court could be impressive in January when he takes the helm as county judge-executive, and Robertson wants to make information as available and transparent as possible. One way he hopes to do this is to revamp and reinvigorate the county's website, russellcounty.ky.gov, to include detailed agenda facing the court as well as a posting of the minutes from meetings.
"I'd like for it to serve as kind of a news network to let people know what's going to be happening, any type of roadwork or anything being done that people need to know about. It could be more informative and share what's going on with the general public," Robertson said.
Robertson said that attracting industry, along with tourism, is imperative for the wellbeing of Russell County, but that competition is tough between the 120 counties in the state.
"I'd say every county has an industrial park, and I'd bet that every one of them has a building sitting empty." He said he looks forward to working with the Industrial Development Board to offer attractive packages to lure new industry into Russell County.
Robertson was straightforward when talking about potential ethics violations during his tenure, saying that knowing the facts was first and foremost, along with discretion until everything is understood. Beyond that, Robertson said there is an ethics board that would convene to handle such situations, "but I hope nothing like that ever happens," he said.
He said he's standing by his pledge to keep volunteers on boards for a maximum two term limit.
"It's nothing personal, and I hope they don't take it personal, but if they've been on the board two terms I think it's time for someone else. That's just the way I feel," he said.
During his campaign Robertson said he sent a letter to all the local fire chiefs as well as the commander of the rescue squad to try to get each on board toward unified effort when applying for grants. Possibly named the Russell County Fire and Rescue Association, the purpose would be put together an organization that will allow for group purchases and grant application efforts.
"That way you kind of streamline everything," he said. "That way you won't have South Russell writing a grant, Eli writing a grant and end up butting heads."
The purpose of the board would remain limited in intent and would not require an extra major investment from the different organizations personnel, Robertson promised.
"It looks like I've got a good bunch to work with and I'm looking forward to working closely with them to get the business of Russell County done," he said.