NICHOLASVILLE — Democrats voting in the primary for Jessamine County judge-executive must decide between Bob Damron, a state lawmaker for two decades, and George Dean, who has been on the county's fiscal court for a little more than 20 years.
Damron, 59, a state representative since 1993, said his background in finance and contacts in Frankfort could be of great help to the county.
"I understand the legislative process and understand how governments are funded," Damron said. "I think it's a good fit for me from a management standpoint."
Dean, 66, a magistrate since 1994, said he was more familiar with the inner workings of county government because he's been there.
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"I've got the experience," Dean said. "I understand the issues facing the county, and I believe my experience on the local level has prepared me well to be county judge-executive."
The winner in the May 20 primary will face Nicholasville funeral-home co-owner and operator David K. West, a Republican, in the Nov. 4 general election. The winner in November will succeed Neal Cassity, 75, who has been judge-executive since 1990. Cassity has not endorsed Damron or Dean.
Cassity's successor will oversee a rapidly growing county with a general fund budget of $13 million and a total overall budget — including funds for the jail, roads, economic-development and emergency services — of $21.5 million. The county employs more than 200 people.
Damron said he supported the proposed "connector road" that would stretch from U.S. 27 to Interstate 75 in northern Madison County. Critics say the road is unnecessary and would threaten sensitive ecological and historical areas. Damron disagrees.
"I think it's critical to the economic-development future of Nicholasville and Jessamine County," he said. "If you look at the 10 fastest-growing counties (in Kentucky), we're the only one that's growing that does not have access to an interstate. We're growing by houses, not jobs. Any community that is growing and bringing jobs to that community and having businesses locate in that community has direct access to an interstate highway. That's just the way it is."
Dean is among the 15 members of a Citizens Advisory Committee that receives periodic updates about the connector project. At the moment, an environmental impact study is being done, and its results will be known this summer. In October, Jessamine Fiscal Court members, including Dean, voted 6-0 in favor of completion of the study. The vote was a largely symbolic gesture because the study will be completed with or without fiscal court's endorsement.
"It's a long-term project, several years down the road," Dean said. "And until the study is completed and some of the questions are answered about how it's going to be funded and where exactly the route is going to be, I can't say right now if I'm for or against" the connector.
Both candidates say they would take a more active role in trying to bring new employers to Jessamine County.
"You've got to go out and solicit people to come into this community to develop these jobs. I have the passion and the desire and the contacts to be able to make that happen," Damron said.
He said that with his urging, various people are working to have the county designated as a "work-ready community." That designation from the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet basically assures business and industry that the community is committed to providing the trained workers they need.
Dean said the county needed to be more active in recruiting small businesses.
"I would take a more active role than the county judge has in the past, and I will work hand-in-hand with the economic-development director," Dean said. "I think we need to look at some of our planning and zoning regulations to make them more user-friendly to small businesses."
Both candidates see a need to expand the county jail, but they say that can be accomplished at its present site near downtown Nicholasville. Because of a lack of space, inmates who can't be kept at the Jessamine detention center often are housed as far away as Casey or Marion counties.
"I would not be in favor of re-siting the jail; in other words, moving and building a whole facility," Damron said. "But there is adequate property around the existing jail that we could probably expand the existing facility and renovate it less expensively than demolish this one. We would probably have to acquire two or three pieces of property."
Dean takes a similar position on the jail.
"We need to expand it now for what our needs are," he said. "We don't need additional cell space to bring in prisoners from other places."