Mayor, judge agree community progress is on the rise

BILL MARDIS I CJ

Bobby Clue, center, executive director, Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, shares a light moment with Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, left, and Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley ahead of State of the City and County Addresses by Keck and Kelley. The presentations were Tuesday during the June membership meeting of the chamber.

Camaraderie at times reached a revivalist's pitch. It seemed a harbinger of even better things to come.

The Somerset mayor and Pulaski County judge-executive appeared on the same stage, symbolically joining hands for community progress; from SPEDA (Somerset-Pulaski County Development Authority) to new and innovative policies to spur economic development.

Mayor Alan Keck and Judge-Executive Steve Kelley highlighted Tuesday's June membership meeting of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce with their State of the County & City Addresses, This is the first time in memory highest elected officials in the city and county appeared together on a chamber of commerce stage to talk about current efforts and challenges that lie ahead. Even the title of their presentations promoted the event in one sentence, like a handshake, with a friendly and connecting "&."

Both Keck and Kelley took a " ... where are we now and where are we going" pitch to an overflow crowd at The Center for Rural Development. Keck put it this way: "We're changing our culture ... our mindset. We're bring people together ... collaboration."

Kelley based his remarks on the acronym JETT -- jobs, education, tourism and transparency. "Unemployment has dropped from 8 to 4 percent, the judge-executive said. "Many local businesses and industries have expanded. We have seen recovery and growth."

Keck talked about a record investment in first responders. He said economic development is centered around downtown revitalization. Both Keck and Kelley praised SPEDA and Chris Girdler, the agency's recently hired president and CEO.

The county, according to Kelley, has seen improvements to a leaky and deteriorating courthouse. During his administration, 9-1-1 Communication Center has been relocated, there have been vast improvements to Pulaski County Park and the animal shelter, and merger of Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation with newly formed SPEDA, he said.

"We are preparing our workforce for tomorrow ... better than any county in Southern and Eastern Kentucky," said Kelley, referring to educational opportunities. "The engine is fine tuned and running well," he added.

Noting county financial reports and expenditures are online, Kelley emphasized transparency. "Without trust of its people no government can achieve sustainable results," he declared.

Keck mentioned the city's recently approved $65 million budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. He emphasized the importance of growth and annexation and revealed a healthy Somerset initiative. "We want Somerset to be the healthiest place in the state of Kentucky," he declared.

Kelley assured county government is a good steward of " ... your tax dollars." He said Pulaski County has the third lowest property tax rate among 120 counties in Kentucky.

The city and county are working together, according to Kelley and Keck. Among major improvements in the future are the planned cloverleaf interchange at Ky. 80 and Ky. 461; possible new industrial parks at the vacant General Electric Somerset Glass Plant property and on East Ky. 80 near the corridor of the still undeveloped northern bypass of Somerset. There are city-county efforts to keep viable Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, called our "Window to the World," by Girdler during a recent speech to Somerset Kiwanis Club.

State of the city and county presentations, casual at times, were a grandiose declaration of improved city-county relations. It painted a steep rise from a years-ago low point when a moat was mentioned as a way to separate city residents from their rural cousins. Keck and Kelley insist they have moved far beyond that.

Days have passed since an angry bulldozer threatened to raze Fountain Square to free up weekend traffic jams. In its place is a bubbling and peaceful fountain, a focus, a centerpiece.

It was another time when neighbors formed a bucket brigade in a mostly futile effort to knock down a fire outside the city limits. Somebody had to pledge $250 for Somerset Fire Department to quell a fire in a rural area. The most horrific example was during the late 1950s when city fire trucks halted at the corporate limits and watched a fire rage in West Somerset, then outside the city boundary. Now the county has a fire station in practically every neighborhood, and there is a spirit of cooperation among city and county firefighters.

The county government building constructed during the 1970s on the west side of Fountain Square is a "courthouse" to most people. Few are aware its official name in Pulaski County Governmental Complex. Its original intent was to house both city and county governmental offices. However, when city officials learned city offices would be on the second floor, they backed out of the project, not aware then city offices in the future would be housed in the palatial Somerset Energy Center.

Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce has been a bridge for unifying efforts between the city and county. A name change years ago added Pulaski County to the original Somerset Chamber of Commerce moniker. The chamber's popular farm tour takes members through cornfields, over plowed ground and inside cattle barns, giving city residents a taste of life on the farm.

"For the first time county and city governments and the chamber of commerce are working hand in hand," said Keck.