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Judge reflects on first-year accomplishments

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By Donald Richie

On Monday, Alex Barnett will finish his first year as Harrison County Judge-Executive and he has a lot to say about what has been accomplished in the county.

?I think we?ve had a very busy, successful first year,? he said.

Barnett entered the job on Jan. 1, 2007, after beating two-term incumbent judge Dean Peak and Republican challenger Rick Chasteen in the previous year?s elections.

He served as a magistrate in District 6 and took the helm after an election which saw five new members named on the eight-district fiscal court.

Barnett said he set out immediately on establishing a rapport with the magistrates.

?I?ve tried to make county government a team sport,? he said.

That?s why when he speaks of the past year?s business, he is quick to include the whole court?s importance in the changes.

When he ran for office, Barnett?s main campaign promise was to work hard and spend money wisely.

One of the key places he said that can be seen is at the county road department.

In 2007, road crews chip sealed over 40 miles of road. The cost for that is around $10,000 per mile, he said.

If a contractor is brought in to hot mix a road, the cost jumps to around $75,000 per mile, said Barnett.

The chip seal is being put down with a paver and he said residents have been positive about the new system.

Some roads, however, are too highly traveled to use the chip seal. On those, Barnett said new equipment has allowed county road workers to do that work in house - work which normally would have been bid to contractors.

?Doing this work ourselves keeps work here in the county and saves the county money,? he said, noting the $20,000 to $25,000 per mile cost if county crews do the work.

Another change in road maintenance has been in the bridge system.

The department has gone to a metal bridge package instead of the precast system.

?We were able to reduce our bridge cost about in half,? Barnett said.

Keeping with the in-house system, county road crews installed a bridge on Dixon Road themselves, costing less than $10,000.

?That?s something we kind of want to shoot for in coming years, is to be able to put these bridges in ourselves,? he said, noting that work would be in the fall when weather prohibits other road work.

The weed spray program was cut in half in 2007, which Barnett said saved the county a considerable amount of money.

?[Before] we were spraying roads that didn?t need to be sprayed,? he said. ?We?re getting good control this year, the same as we did last year, spraying half the roads.?

Barnett acknowledged that county government is not all-knowing. He invites the public to call his office, 234-7136, if there?s a road project that needs to be addressed.

?The guys at the road barn are working hard,? he said. ?If there?s something we can do, we?ll let you know and if it?s something that?s not necessary right now, we?ll let you know, too.?

Cooperation between the city and county governments has been a hallmark of the first year for Barnett.

There have been two joint meetings of the fiscal court and Cynthiana City Commission and Barnett said a lot of work has been done to make things work smoothly between the two bodies.

?We?ve hammered out issues, we?ve opened up communications with the city, and for the first time, we have a joint employee? he said.

Wayland Quisenberry, who was deputy judge at the beginning of Barnett?s term, was hired by the two governments as the community development coordinator.

?We didn?t need a full-time deputy judge, so we were able to reduce his salary cost to the county by half,? he said.

Recreation has seen more growth in 2007.

Barnett said he started the year by keeping the Oddville Avenue park clean so people can walk on the trails.

Late summer saw the rec department?s 20-team soccer program move to the facility.

And after the season was over, the city and county approved starting phase one of the master plan on the park. That will include some grading, construction of gravel parking lots (on the footprint of where paved lots are planned for later), possible football fields and a picnic shelter.

A pool feasibility study was also approved by the two governing bodies, which Barnett sees as the first step toward having that part of the park come to reality.

?That?s the first step to building a new pool,? he said. ?Once they get back to us, hopefully we?ll find a way to finance it and eventually break ground.?

Barnett also said work with the Cynthiana-Harrison County Airport board and Cynthiana Mayor Jim Brown helped secure funds for a new terminal at the facility.

?That all ties back into economic growth,? he said. ?Once we get a nice airport here, we?re trying to set ourselves up to grow economically in the future.?

Although no new industries have committed to the Cynthiana-Harrison County Business Park, Barnett said major strides were made in economic development for 2007.

A pallet company located in Berry, bringing in 10 jobs, E-Z Pack has reported a growth trend and the opening of Wal-Mart Supercenter added jobs to the community.

Looking at the numbers, Barnett said while Harrison County?s unemployment rate is low - its citizens? employability can be a problem.

The issue: drugs.

Barnett said there is a growing problem locally where employers have trouble finding help because job applicants cannot pass pre-employment drug tests.

?We need to work with addicts to treat them for their problem instead of locking them up and putting them back out? he said. ?We need to work hard and treat them and help them return to being a viable part of the workforce.?

For that, Barnett has helped establish a task force on drug issues which is in its infancy. Although Barnett admits the drug problem has no easy solution, he hopes the efforts which have been started will continue past his administration and results will be seen down the road.

?I look for big things out of it,? he said.

His participation in the Harrison County Tomorrow survey was another highlight of his first year, he said.

All in all, Barnett said there were no big surprises to the job.

?It?s about what I expected,? he said. ?I really enjoy... getting to meet different people and getting out in the community.

?You feel like you can make a difference for people, and maybe improve the community for the future.?