NICHOLASVILLE — City-county cooperation has yielded gains for Nicholasville and Jessamine County in the past few years. The incumbents for mayor and judge-executive say they want to build on that foundation, and so do the challengers who seek to oust them.
In the Nicholasville mayor's race, incumbent Russ Meyer faces former Mayor John Martin in the Nov. 2 non-partisan election. Martin lost his bid for re-election in May 2006, when he was eliminated in the primary.
In the contest for Jessamine County judge-executive, Neal Cassity faces his first opposition since he won the seat in 1989. The challenger, Mark Tucker, is making his first attempt for elected office.
Meyer and Cassity say they have worked well together, but Martin and Tucker said they would, too, if elected.
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Here's a closer look at the two races.
Meyer, 42, said one of the biggest accomplishments during his first term was the adoption this year of a joint comprehensive plan for the city and county. The land-use plan outlines, in a single booklet, goals for growth for Nicholasville, Wilmore and the rural areas of the county.
"It put us all on the same page of where we're going to grow," Meyer said.
Martin, 70, also praises the joint comp plan, but said the logical follow-up is to merge the Nicholasville Planning Commission and the Jessamine County-City of Wilmore Joint Planning Commission. He had hoped to merge the two when he was mayor.
"We don't need two planning and zoning commissions," Martin said. Meyer agreed that the joint comp plan "opens the door" to the possibility of merged planning commissions.
Meyer said Nicholasville has weathered the recession about as well as any city could. Payroll-tax revenue slumped in 2009 but has begun to rebound. The city has a bond rating of AA+, which means it will be able to borrow at a lower interest rate when it comes time to build a new city hall or another fire station. And the city had a fund balance of $3.5 million at the end of June, so it has been relatively unscathed by the economic downturn.
"We were able to pull in our reins, fight through it and get out of it without raising taxes or laying people off. So I was pretty proud of that," Meyer said. (The city government employs about 210 people and has a $14 million general fund budget and $23 million utility budget.)
Meyer said the community has had a net increase of 450 jobs since the recession began. That doesn't include the more than 180 jobs from Sam's Club, which opened this summer.
And local, state and federal officials arranged long-term financing to save 275 jobs at McKechnie Vehicle Components when it appeared that the auto-parts maker might close.
Nevertheless, Martin said the community could improve its retention and recruitment of employers. Martin praises the efforts of economic development director Wayne Foster, but said "he's only one man."
"We need to put together a team of professional people who will volunteer to recruit businesses, to get on that phone to recruit industry or any kind of business on a daily basis," Martin said.
Martin spent $641.95 for his primary campaign in May and had an ending balance of $40.45, according to filings on the Web site for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Meyer spent $9,446.58 before the primary and had an ending balance of $33,933.94.
"Basically it was preparation for the fall," Meyer said of the expenditures.
Finance reports on the general-election campaign were not available yet on the Web site.
Encountering opposition for the first time in 21 years is a novel experience for Cassity, 72. For that matter, the whole experience of campaigning with 21st-century tools is new to the incumbent Jessamine County judge-executive.
"When I ran in '89, you didn't have Facebook, you didn't have computerized campaigning," Cassity said. "I've had to learn a lot about that part of it. I'm not a computer cat anyway.
"But you've still got to see the people. I feel like people want you to come to their door and talk to them," he said.
Cassity said he and his wife, Joyce, have campaigned throughout the county to remind them about the restoration of Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, the advent of 911 emergency service, the placement of sanitary sewers in northeastern Jessamine County and other accomplishments during Cassity's years in office.
His opponent, Tucker, 50, who owns a carpet-cleaning business, would not bad-mouth Cassity.
"I love Neal, he's a great guy," Tucker said. "But it is time for him to retire. I want to see him have a retirement and enjoy it."
Cassity said the county has $4.5 million in its fund balance, which Tucker said is too much cushion.
"Either you're not supplying enough services or you're taxing too much," Tucker said. "Don't get me wrong: I like having a rainy day fund. But last time I checked with our taxpayers, it was pouring. Let's cut the taxes a little bit and help our people out."
Cassity counters that "the county (property) tax rate is almost 2 percent less than it was in 1990. ... It's always good to have about a fourth of your budget" in reserve.
Tucker raised and spent $762.57 for his May primary campaign, according to a report he filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Cassity spent $13,901 in the primary and had a balance of $9,913.77.
Asked why so much was spent in the Democratic primary if Cassity had no opposition, campaign treasurer John V. Carpenter said money was spent on T-shirts, a reception and advertising to let people know that the incumbent was running again.
"Whether you have opposition or not, you still start running," Carpenter said. "A lot of people didn't know he was running because he didn't have opposition."
Finance reports on the general election for both candidates were not available yet on the registry Web site.