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HILLVIEW - Opponents to an annexation proposal by the city of Hillview expected to have an opportunity to speak on Monday night.
However, mayor Jim Eadens and attorney Mark Edison said that was not the message delivered last month during a public hearing on the annexation of property which contains Whatever It Takes Transmission and Hester’s Fitness Center on East Blue Lick Road.
The result was a confrontation Monday evening that included two individuals being asked to leave the meeting and police officers called to make sure that happened.
After some contentious moments, the Hillview City Council voted 4-2 to move forward with annexation of the property. This would result in the company being subjected to property taxes and employees being subject to the 1.5 percent occupational tax.
“What you are doing is wrong,” said Kenny Hester, chairman and founder of the employee-owned company. “We should have a voice.”
After several councilmembers made statements, Hester approached the microphone but was told by Eadens that there would be no public comments at the second reading.
“They heard you all last month,” said Eadens.
“You didn’t tell us we couldn’t speak,” said Hester. “Nobody told us that.”
After the vote was taken, Hester did not leave his place in front of the podium.
Eadens then requested police chief Glenn Caple to remove Hester if he would not leave on his own. Then another comment from the audience said it was OK for the city to allow meth labs to operate.
With that comment, which was directed at Eadens, whose son was recently arrested on charges of manufacturing meth, the mayor directed that individual to be taken to the parking lot.
Several of the WIT employees took that as a threat of violence from the mayor; Eadens said after the meeting that his comment was not against the employee but for the police to remove the man for the inappropriate comment.
Councilmembers Karen Johnson and JoAnn Wick voted against the annexation.
Wick’s vote came after she made a speech earlier in the meeting which seemed to contradict her final decision.
In her speech, Wick said she was sorry the employees didn’t agree with the proposal to annex the property. If she owned a business, Wick said she would be proud to be part of Hillview.
She pointed to the many community events hosted by the city which are primarily geared toward the children, including the recent Winterfest.
Councilman David Conn, who made the motion to approve the annexation, said that the property was an island with the city boundaries all around it.
He said city police officers do serve as backup to the sheriff’s department. In the past six months, Conn said city officers responded on three occasions.
When the city officers respond, Conn said that is tax dollars which are being spent and that he wanted to make sure those dollars are spent wisely.
Following the vote, the employees assembled outside the government center.
“We’ll see them in court,” promised Hester. “And we’re going to let all the businesses in the city know that we won’t be spending our dollars here because of this.”
Coming into the meeting, Hester said he already knew how the vote was going to go; however, he said it was not right to not allow the employees to speak.
“It’s a money grab,” said Hester. “That’s all it is. It’s like we’re in a Communist country.”
With the tough economic times, anything taken out of the pocket of the employees is bad, said Hester.
While the company won’t change its practice of helping area charities, those organizations may no longer be in the city of Hillview.
“You can’t take it out on the kids,” said Hester. “It’s not their fault.”
But he said the company had made annual donations to Operation Santa and that will probably switch off to the Angel Tree programs in the schools.
Rick Skaggs, vice president of operations, said he felt the mayor threatened one of the employees with his comments.
At the conclusion of the meeting, city officials did allow those who signed up to speak to share their comments.
Marty Hester, an employee, said he didn’t believe the city council considered what the occupational tax would do to the workers.
“The bread ain’t no good without the butter,” said Hester.
He hoped the council would reconsider its vote.
Skaggs inquired the process to reverse the decision.
Edison said the council could change any action at any time if a councilman presented a motion and received a second. If the motion was successful, the action would be reversed.
With that in mind, Skaggs requested the council to do what was right and reverse its action.
He said the company hasn’t asked for police protection and has donated money for over a decade to area charities. He said the company brings money to the community businesses but it doesn’t need to be in the city limits to do that.
Lindy Marcum also asked the council to reverse its action. She said this would be taking money from her paycheck and from her children.
Steven Atwell thanked Wick and Johnson for their support. If the city needed money for certain programs, it would have been easier to ask the company for a donation than to place a tax on the employees.
John Senger has been an employee for a long time and has always contributed to the local charities. But in a time when workers and families are struggling to get buy, this added tax burden will be tough.
He did pledge to be active in the next round of elections for council next year.
Gary Loyall, who lives across the street on Velva Drive, was concerned about being annexed. However, Eadens said no residents are being annexed.
Loyall said he still supported the WIT workers.
Kenny Hester said there was nothing done by the city that was right or moral.
“There’s nothing right about this,” said Hester. “What you are doing makes no sense.”
Hester said the company, which he founded and then brought back to Bullitt County from Riverport, has always been generous in its giving to local groups. But everything has changed.
“We will fight you all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court,” Hester promised.
The city collects a 1.5 percent occupational tax on employees. For an employee who makes $20,000 per year, the tax would be $300.