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State of County unique perspective

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My Views/by Thomas J. Barr, publisher

 SHEPHERDSVILLE  — After 34 years of reporting, there are few “first” events that you get to witness.

The State of Bullitt County address hosted by new judge/executive Jerry Summers was one of those new encounters.

Around 350 braved rainy weather and some college hoops games to come out to Paroquet Springs Conference Centre to listen to Jerry’s vision for the next four years.

To put things into perspective, I guess you have to bring a sense of reality to the governmental phase called transition.

Summers spent the first few minutes relating some of his experiences when taking office on Jan. 7 — no furniture and very few records.

There were some other comments about the state of the county when he took over. From the standpoint of having covered all the good and the bad over the past administrations, dirty laundry never smells good.

That is, unless you happen to be against the folks who were previously in office. Unless the past elected official decided to not run again and unless the new and the old happen to be of the same party, transitions normally don’t go too well.

The meat of the presentation, which can be viewed at www.pioneernews.net by going to my story from Wednesday’s Pioneer News, didn’t reveal any earthshaking revelations.

That is, if you don’t keep up with the local paper, then some of the items were new to you.

The top priority is now public safety. If Jerry and his team didn’t know it during the campaign, they know it now.

And they probably knew it Jan. 7 when they took office.

Having only a handful of paramedics employed by EMS, the county was at a crisis situation. And it still is. But so are a whole lot of other agencies.

It’s a paramedic’s market right now. Bullitt County has a hard time competing against the salaries offered by Louisville Metro, some of the cities in Jefferson County and some of the fire departments which are going into the EMS business.

Bullitt Fiscal Court acted pretty quickly when it increased the pay for full-time EMS personnel by $4 an hour. 

It puts Bullitt County in the competitive hunt. And it sounds like some of those who were working as part-time paramedics for Bullitt while working full-time at other agencies may be interested in making the local agency their service of choice full-time.

The issue is that there are only so many paramedics to go around. The question is how does the region get more people interested in pursuing that profession.

The other issue is that this problem just did not occur overnight. Former director Mike Phillips made numerous proclamations to fiscal court that a shortage was coming.

We just didn’t act back then before the fire departments started their services and the pool of paramedics quickly shrank.

Next will be the focus on other public safety personnel — dispatchers and sheriff’s deputies.

Both are well documented to having pay levels at below market value. As a result, Bullitt County is training them and employees are taking those skills to higher-paying agencies.

Identified as an issue to be named later, we’ll talk about the revenue enhancement discussions a little later.

Besides public safety, the second most common theme was the county’s ability — and need — to work together.

Summers, who is no stranger to Frankfort officials after being a liaison between those folks and Jim Beam Brands officials, has connections.

Whether those connections will garner any additional revenue, it is yet to be seen. However, having connections goes a long way to getting things done.

Currently, he is meeting with officials from eight other revenue-generating growth counties. They are meeting to determine ways that state government is hurting them and trying to figure out ways to get them out of local life in county courthouses.

The elected county judges are studying things like fees charged by the state to see if there is a better way.

They are comparing things that work well in some counties and not as well in others.

With Summers having the ability to talk with a whole lot of folks, there is a coalition happening in Bullitt County.

The mayors are agreeing to work with Summers to develop a list of priorities for the state to consider. Many on the list involve transportation improvements.

In the past, former state Rep. Linda Belcher got with the mayors for a list of suggestions. She was able to get some projects completed. But she did that without a commitment of support from the former county judge and four magistrates.

For many, many, many (have I listed the word ‘many’ enough?) years, there was not a united front on major ticket items.

Under county judge Kenneth Rigdon, there was a coalition of enough officials, businessmen and medical folks to convince the state to approve a Certificate of Need for a 60-bed hospital by Jewish Hospital. The medical offices and a very, very busy emergency room were established. The hospital beds did not happen.

For the most part, bringing legislators a fully-endorsed single pecking list of priority needs did not occur.

So, we know that public safety is the top priority. And getting a unified effort to bring a single message from a guy who has deep connections in Frankfort is the next goal.

This is where the citizens of the county should want more from their officials.

There were rumblings of revenue enhancements being mentioned during the State of the County address.

No options were mentioned and most of the comments revolved around less funding being available in the future to handle bigger needs.

But it is only two months and you don’t want to shock the people just yet.

There was no mention of the county’s parks program.

Maybe the greatest part of the discussion — although probably overlooked by many — was the opening discussion on all the services provided by the county.

People probably don’t realize that their entire property tax bill does not go to the county. The county gets a small portion to pay for things like EMS, Central Dispatch, the jail, parks and recreation, planning and zoning, general governmental operations and the road department.

It also appropriates funds for the sheriff’s department.

I keep waiting for a pie chart each October when tax bills are sent out showing where those dollars actually go.

In the spirit of that over-used word “transparency,” any time people come out to listen and question their government leaders, it is very positive. 

We hope to begin quarterly public conversations this summer with Summers and other leaders to talk about different topics. Tried in the past, the turnout is normally very small. But it is something we need to do once again.

Since myself or a member of our staff are at all the public meetings, the topics discussed recently weren’t really anything new.

What would be great is if those who attended and weren’t aware of many of the topics might feel the urge to become better informed.

My unapologetic plug is that your community newspaper is the place to find this information. We’re not involved with the national or state scene. We’re local.

Our opinions are on this page — the editorial page.

For Jerry’s vision to come true, it will take a county of informed citizens. Whether you agree or disagree, the elected officials need to hear that voice.

It is time that Bullitt Countians from all parts of the community come forward. The fight for money will be fierce. It will take vision. Maybe a little thinking outside of the box.

But there is one thing that is true — the efforts must be united and Bullitt Countians must come out to the polls to show the rest of the state that we are serious.

That will make the State of Bullitt County truly a bright one.