Mary Beth Sallee, Reporter
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
By definition, a fiscal court is the governing body of a county that is responsible for enacting ordinances, approving the budget, and voting on all fiscal matters and county services, including roads, public safety, and human services.
But perhaps the true foundation of a fiscal court lies within one keyword: unity.
And unity is exactly what the Hart County Fiscal Court strives to achieve not only among its elected officials but also throughout the entire county among its citizens, small business owners, hard-working farmers, and school system.
The Hart County Fiscal Court is comprised of Judge/Executive Joe Choate and five magistrates: Gary Gardner, Ricky Alvey, Ronald Riordan, Doug Wells, and Lee Miles.
The following are the successes, concerns, and goals that each Fiscal Court member has in hopes of a better tomorrow for Hart County.
Judge/Executive Joe Choate
“As we ushered in the year 2020 with the normal plans and enthusiasm, little did we know the challenges we were about to meet,” Choate said. “Soon we heard of a virus, COVID-19, that would be spreading to our nation, state, and county.”
By March of last year, cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Hart County and local citizens were faced with a pandemic right here at home.
“This greatly impacted our government, our schools, and our businesses,” Choate said. “We had to respond in unconventional methods to continue operating county business and at the same time trying to assure the safety of our citizens. There were masks mandates, Fiscal Court meetings were conducted by Zoom, and training was done virtually as we tried to adjust to the new norm.”
As of January 25 of 2021, there had been a total of 1,574 cases of COVID-19 in Hart County. Of those cases, 1,255 had recovered. Unfortunately, there were 16 Hart Countians who lost their lives to the virus.
“In spite of the challenges we faced, we still managed to move the county forward…” Choate said.
The following are the Hart County Fiscal Court positive impacts of 2020 as outlined by Judge Choate:
- Reduced Compensating Rates on Property Tax from 10.5 to 10.3
- Initiation of Coronavirus Plan with Weekly meetings of county Officials for updates
- Received $49,684.00 Open Dump Grant to Clean-up 14 Illegal Sites in County
- Received $11.6 million for Green River Water Plant Expansion
- Secured $80,000 for 80/20 Bridge Program
- Litter Grant for Jail $36,000 Roadside pick-up
- Completed construction of USDA Grant $250,000 for water on Quarry Road with Green River Valley Water
- Completed Sister Schubert $63 M expansion, creating approximately 70 new jobs
- Surveying has begun for Hwy 335 Truck Connector, $7.9 M.
- Completed the State Road resurfacing of Hwy 31-E from Barren Co to Larue County Line
- Hart County Jail operating on -0- County dollars in the current budget
- Compost Grant $394,071.66 from Division of Waste Management for pretreatment plant in Horse Cave
- Homeland Security Radio Grant of $223,550 for Sheriff, Munfordville, and Horse Cave Police Departments
- Accepted to attend the prestigious Appalachian Leadership Institute for 2020-2021
- Upgrading of Road Equipment, vehicles
- Chamber of Commerce Office to move to old Sheriff building
- Partnership of Green River Water and Fiscal Court to purchase and build Rio Park and Boat Ramp to Provide Public Access to the Green River
- Announcement of T. Marzetti $136 million Expansion Creating 250 New Jobs
- Lease Agreement with Fairgrounds to construct Animal Shelter in Hart County
- Contracted with ERS Wireless to upgrade 911 Tower Sites at Bonnieville and Horse Cave
- Received $648,000 Kentucky Cares Act
- Received $219,000 in 2nd round of distribution for Kentucky Cares Act
- Reappointed to Kentucky State Fire Commission Board
- Received $10,000 Grant money for the election process
According to Judge Choate, the year 2021 has arrived with much hope and anticipation and also a celebration that 2020 had finally ended.
“With the new year, we see vaccines are already available in our county,” Choate said. “I am hopeful, determined, and ready to meet the new year head-on. I am confident that with everyone working together, we can soon return to normal and work on the challenges and goals for 2021. I see good things ahead for Hart County and together we can make this happen.”
The following are the Hart County Fiscal Court goals for 2021 as outlined by Judge Choate:
- Encourage All County Citizens the Opportunity to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
- Continue Participation in Appalachian Leadership Institute 2020-2021
- Completion of Construction of Animal Shelter
- Establishment of Board to Oversee Hart County Animal Shelter
- Deep Cleaning and Sealing Exterior of Judicial Center
- New Roof and Gutters for Court House and Coroner’s Office
- Apply for Grants that Become Available for any County Services
- Work with School System to Ensure Collaboration between our Business and Industry Facilities and Our College and Career Academy
- Continue to Work with the Hwy 335 Truck Connector Project in the Construction of Right-a-ways and Utilities.
“In conclusion, I want to assure the folks of Hart County that myself and Fiscal Court are working together for the betterment of all Hart Countians,” Judge Choate said. “As I have said many times, we are so blessed to live in a small, rural county. God bless.”
District 1 Magistrate Gary Gardner
Magistrate Gary Gardner is well aware that the pandemic presented many challenges in 2020.
One of his concerns include roads not being blacktopped due to lack of funds from the state.
As far as what he would like to see done in the future, Gardner said it has nothing to do specifically with what can be passed locally, but rather lies in the hands of Frankfort.
“I would like to see Frankfort get a little bit more aggressive in passing laws or ordinances,” Gardner explained. “Now, I know this is not going to be popular, but the motor fuels tax needs to be raised because our roads are falling apart. It’s a safety issue for our school children, and it is a farm to the market issue because if our roads are bad, our farmers can’t get their product to market.”
“I know there are these groups out there who don’t want the legislatures to do that, and I don’t think they are from what I’m hearing,” Gardner continued. “But if they just raise it 10 cents on a gallon, and I drove 12 to 15 thousand miles a year, it would only cost me $50 extra. If they do that, then our counties can have their roads in better shape than what they are…I know people don’t like taxes. I hate to pay them, but I know we gotta have taxes if we’re going to make government work. Frankfort’s gotta do it.”
Nevertheless, Gardner stated that there have also been many positive impacts despite the challenges.
“I think the biggest positive thing we did, we have not raised taxes,” Gardner said. “We have not raised taxes. We kept them where they need to be…”
“…As far as COVID is concerned, yes, it’s in our county, but it could’ve been a lot worse,” Gardner added. “I think our people are trying to do what’s right and keep their neighbors safe because they care about their neighbor.”
Overall, Gardner said he is ready to see life get back to normal.
“I know we gotta be cautious, I know we gotta do things safely, but I think it hurts us when we sort of just bottle up and don’t continue to live,” Gardner said. “…I believe that Jesus has this thing under control…I know that offends some people, but I don’t like this crawling off in a hole and our children not going to school. They’re suffering. They’re suffering bad, and I hope we can get them back in school ASAP. We are all better when we’re around people.”
In conclusion, Gardner stated that things have worked out fairly well within the county. He also encouraged all citizens to contact Fiscal Court with any questions or concerns.
“People still work well together,” Gardner said. “I can’t say nothing bad about any of them (other magistrates). I think we’ve got the county’s best interests at heart, not individual people, and a lot of counties can’t say that.”
“If citizens have a concern or if they don’t understand something, they’re certainly welcome to call me. They can call me or the Judge’s office,” Gardner added. “Find out the facts if something is bothering somebody. We want people to know the facts, and the more they know the better we can do our job, and they can understand why certain things happen. We want open communication.”
For anyone with questions or concerns, Gardner can be reached at 270-528-6488.
District 2 Magistrate Ricky Alvey
Balancing the budget and moving forward – these are two key aspects that Magistrate Ricky Alvey said has kept things positive within the Fiscal Court.
“We’ve had few cutbacks on some things, but for the most part we’ve not done a lot of cutbacks,” Alvey said. “We’ve managed to stay positive and keep everything moving…You know, a lot of other counties with their occupational tax and so forth, they lost revenue and they are really behind on their budget not matching what they budgeted for and all of that. But for our county, we all have worked together to keep everything budgeted.”
Alvey said that he is proud of not only his fellow magistrates and Judge Choate for their hard work, but is also very proud of the unsung heroes that keep the county and its cities clean.
“I want to thank the county road department for keeping the mowing done, the road work done,” Alvey said. “They haven’t slowed down any even though they’ve been shorthanded, and I just want to compliment the county road department for going beyond their call of duty and everybody stepping up at the plate and doing a good job.”
Alvey is also proud that the work industry in Hart County continues to thrive despite the pandemic.
“We’ve got T. Marzetti getting ready for a groundbreaking. Sister Schubert’s just added a new line,” Alvey said. “This means more jobs for our community, more jobs for our local people who can have good paying jobs…Even with all this that we’re going through, Hart County still has a lot of things going for it.”
As for what he is looking forward to for the rest of 2021, Alvey stated that he hopes Fiscal Court can maintain what it has done in trying to keep everyone safe and trying to keep a positive climb to success.
“As magistrates, our number one goal is to look after the people of Hart County,” Alvey said. “We want to make the best choices we can make for the people…If we can just keep doing what we’re doing, try to stay positive about everything down the road, and balance the budget like we have this past year, hopefully we’ll have a better 2021.”
District 3 Magistrate Ronald Riordan
At a time when the county could have been torn apart in the midst of a pandemic, Magistrate Ronald Riordan said he saw quite the opposite.
“This county has come together during this pandemic,” Riordan said. “There are different agencies working together, supporting one another. There have been acts of kindness shown to our health care workers, truck drivers, businesses, and so forth. There’s also been so many prayers and support during this pandemic.”
Although he wishes he could have seen more improvements made to roads last year, Riordan stated he is focused on a better 2021 for everyone in Hart County.
“I will continue to support our industry,” Riordan said. “Jobs are very important for our families to have a better quality of life.”
“We as a Fiscal Court will continue to make good financial decisions, and we will continue to have a balanced budget,” Riordan added. “We will do maintenance to our roads that we were unable to do last year because of money that we did not receive from the state.”
While the duties of a magistrate include voting on budgets and ordinances, for Riordan his loyalty and commitment will always lie with his constituents.
“I appreciate the citizens of this county,” Riordan said. “It’s a great place to live and raise our families. I just love Hart County.”
District 4 Magistrate Doug Wells
“I’m proud that we were able to maintain and keep afloat.”
Those are the words spoken by Magistrate Doug Wells as he looked back at 2020 and how the Hart County Fiscal Court overcame hardships in the middle of a pandemic.
“I know it doesn’t seem like it with COVID, but we in Hart County are doing better than some other counties as far as getting relief money,” Wells said. “Some of these other counties are not applying, not working.”
Wells has found pride not only in the Court’s ability to maneuver through a difficult year but also in the leadership of the county.
“I’d say I’ve been proud of the leadership,” Wells explained. “Joe (Choate) has done most of this work. I’m proud of our Judge and what he’s done in staying on top to get what we deserve, our CARES Act money for the county. From what I’m hearing from these other judges and magistrates in other counties….they’re not doing even half of what we’re doing, and we owe that to Joe because he’s on it.”
Despite the county having success in a balanced budget, Wells is still aware of the need for improvement.
“We’re a little behind on our blacktop of roads,” Wells said. “But that’s due to lack of money from the state.”
Wells said he would also like to see the school district provide better internet access to students for virtual learning.
“Some of these other counties have Wi-Fi hot spots on their school buses that are parked throughout their counties,” Wells said. “I’d like to have that available for our kids in the county as well.”
As for goals for 2021, Wells stated that Fiscal Court will continue working towards getting the county’s debts paid, such as what is still owed on the jail. He also would like to see some sort of improvement regarding the 911 tax on the water bill.
“The 911 water bill, I’m getting some calls on it,” Wells said. “I’d like to get it to where it’s easier for the ones who have multiple meters to get their money back quicker….I would like for it to be easier for them to get reimbursed for multiple water meters that farmers and others have.”
As the new year continues on, Wells is looking forward to working in the best interest of all Hart County citizens.
District 5 Magistrate Lee Miles
2020 seemed to put everyone to the test, but Magistrate Lee Miles believed the Fiscal Court did the best it could during a tough year.
“I think it tested us to do more with less,” Miles said. “…We’ve had to rearrange our schedules and office schedules with people getting COVID, had to shut down some offices. We were really put to the test, but I think Fiscal Court handled it very well.”
Like the other magistrates, Miles stated that blacktopping roads – or lack thereof – has been a concern.
“One of my main concerns is that a lot of roads in my district have suffered,” Miles said. “If the legislature will pass that gas tax reform…You know, we’re way under funded on our road projects, and it really hurts me and my district. Districts 4 and 5 have more roads than the rest of the county put together…I’m hoping in 2021 we can secure more road funding for our roads.”
Miles also said that he hopes the county can once again be able to utilize the help from the Hart County Jail.
“…Israel (Bergenson) has done a magnificent job in what he does over there at the jail,” Miles said. “But I’m hoping our…inmates can get back out there soon, working and helping our county road department.”
Overall, Miles is very pleased that everyone has been able to come together and stay focused on the betterment of the county and citizens.
“For us (Fiscal Court) to keep our budget balanced the way we have, all of our departments are doing extraordinary,” Miles said. “…Like I said, working with what we have, it’s really made us all come together and think as one. It’s brought us all closer, I do believe. It’s really tried us all, especially our Judge (Choate), and we’re blessed to have him.”
“I just want to thank the citizens for being patient with us and understanding and working with us through these trying times,” Miles added. “Of course, everybody gets upset every now and then, and rightfully so. We all are in this together, and I am very proud of the people that we serve that come together and help us through it all.”
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly presented a challenge to fiscal courts across the state, including here locally. But by continuing to work together in unity, Judge Choate and all five magistrates have persevered. The Hart County Fiscal Court was able to overcome the chaos of 2020, and as the new year continues, the Court is looking forward to more success in 2021.