By Chelene Nightingale, JPI
In 2007, Barren County was awarded the #1 best rural place to live from the Progressive Farmer Magazine. Unfortunately, the county did not retain this top spot for very long.
Recently, the American Community Survey listed Glasgow #8 in the top 10 poorest places to live in Kentucky. Additionally, Glasgow ranks 12th in crime according to FBI data.
Based on these statistics, it’s understandable why the local community is speaking out and addressing their grievances on social media. It’s also a major reason why Barren County residents voted for a change last November replacing former Judge/Executive Micheal Hale, a Democrat, for Jamie Bewley-Byrd, the Republican challenger.
Judge Byrd participated in the Oath of Office ceremony conducted by State Representative Steve Riley on December 16, 2022. The first official fiscal court meeting presided by Judge Byrd occurred on January 3, 2023.
The Barren County Progress (BCP) contacted Judge Byrd and scheduled an exclusive sit-down interview on August 11 to discuss accomplishments, plans, and vision to bring Barren County back to reigning as the best rural place to live.
As we walked in, BCP immediately noticed the decorative yellow chairs. Looking around her office, the brightly colored furniture, the lovely family photos, and the sun shining through definitely reflect her outgoing, friendly personality. Her charm and energy helped get her elected, but these traits are also an asset in her position to help revive Barren County.
Judge Byrd confessed at the beginning of our time, “The last six months has been about movement. Meetings, bringing awareness to Barren County. Beautifying Barren.”
She added, “We want to make Barren better, more livable for the community, and more presentable for investors and businesses.”
Judge Byrd mentioned working with all three mayors in Barren County in order to work in unison. They have discussed strengthening and expanding Cave City’s tourism.
Currently, Cave City Mayor Dwayne Hatcher and Judge Byrd are working on bringing a major hotel next to the Cave City Convention Center. Their hope is with the convenience of a hotel next to the Convention Center, it will increase the attraction to book more events at the facility which adds revenue to the area.
Judge Byrd has ensured spending time with Park City Mayor Larry Poteet.
“Park City has felt overlooked,” Judge Byrd said. “They are included in all our plans. They are hosting events now. We had a fun karaoke in the park event which was successful.”
Judge Byrd shared that 17 acres has been purchased with a vision of a drive-in movie theater and a sports complex.
“We are laying ground work to improve the quality of life here.”
Judge Byrd not only has a strong background in cheer and athletics, but she is also a busy mom with four precious children. Thus, it makes sense that she would consider building an indoor sports complex for families to enjoy. Judge Byrd would like the complex to include pickleball, basketball, and volleyball. She is currently seeking both grants and private money for this project.
While on the subject of sports, Judge Byrd is pleased with the unity of GAP (Glasgow Athletics Program) and Barren County Parks & Recreation overseen by Director Chris Jennings. They were able to raise funds to upgrade Jackie Browning Park. Extra fields will be added and the parking lot will be expanding.
One of Judge Byrd’s missions includes improving Glasgow’s Marquee-Highland Cinemas. The judge executive contacted corporate and met with management. The health department visited the theater which resulted in $200,000 from an environmental agency to renovate the cinema complex. Her hope is that local residents will not travel to Elizabethtown or Bowling Green to visit another movie theater, but will instead keep their spending here.
Judge Byrd realizes that not everyone will be enthused with news of improving the aesthetics of Barren County, but she is convinced that Barren’s image will help draw positive attention to the county and put us back on the map.
Currently, she is speaking with a major investor in Bowling Green to bring another major restaurant in town.
“If we have more places to eat, better parks, more activities, and a better appearance, we will attract more opportunities.”
Judge Byrd has also reviewed all the empty buildings in the area. She is speaking with owners to either sale or restore their buildings and put in businesses.
BCP brought up the former RR Donnelley building which has remained vacant for three years now.
CATL, a company headquartered in China and part of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), purchased the old RR Donnelley building, which at the time of purchase was LSC Communications, Inc. for $8.5 million.
Allegedly, the agreement with the Chinese-operated battery manufacturer stated they would hire 350 employees with a $25 per hour pay plus benefits.
Judge Byrd agreed with BCP that we should not allow China to buy up our land and businesses. She shared that she has spoke with the owners and is applying pressure for them to sale or establish a business, and she is confident action will happen very soon.
BCP asked a variety of questions including the drug crisis in the county.
Jamie responded, “We need stricter drug penalties. We need to ensure that we have a strong coalition with law enforcement and the community to help combat the crisis.”
She added that the jail cost $550,000 per year to operate. She commended Jailer Aaron Shirley on the great work he has accomplished since his election.
During our conversation, Judge Byrd revealed that when she took office, the books were not balanced and the county was spending too much money, so Judge Byrd and her team of staff and magistrates examined wasteful spending and looked for ways to raise funds without raising taxes.
“We reached out to Frankfort for more money. We hosted an auction of old equipment. We consolidated. We sold real estate.” Additionally, the team reviewed the ARPA funds and closed accounts.
The balancing of books and raising funds allowed the county to purchase the old US Bank building on Green Street for $1.1 million. The parking lot will expand and will allow more parking in the downtown area. The Health Department will be located on the first floor. The vision for the building is to be the one destination for contractors to conduct all their business. The US Bank building was not the first choice, but unfortunately, the other location was too costly.
Judge Byrd wants to see the Public Square restored. Currently, funds are being utilized to repair the historic courthouse and move her office there.
While discussing repairs, Jamie took the time to acknowledge the road department.
“We are more responsive with road concerns than in years past.” She has filed for more funds from Frankfort to help improve the roads in Barren County.
Judge Byrd was pleased that they were able to raise pay for the road crew and other county employees, including the sheriffs office without raising taxes. She admitted it had been several years since these county employees had received raises.
Judge Byrd confirmed that Barren County needs work and opportunities, but she is confident residents will begin to see and benefit from their movement within the next year or two.
“The last several months have been opening the lines of communication. Networking with investors, Frankfort, and other counties.”
In fact, Judge Byrd and the magistrates have met with the judge executives and magistrates from both Hart and Edmonson Counties to exchange ideas and create opportunities for the region. One of her long-term goals is to build an agriculture expo in Barren County.
BCP suggested that Glasgow appears to have an identity crisis forgetting their heritage and trying to become modern. She understood and said she has been working with Glasgow Mayor Henry Royse. Her vision is to help Glasgow’s image by creating a Christmas town tradition.
“Glasgow is known for having the largest evening Christmas parade in Kentucky, so it makes sense to expand our Christmas image.”
This Christmas season, Barren County residents and visitors will see new decorations. Judge Byrd is counting on an increase in tourism during the Christmas season in the future.
Concluding our interview, the judge executive was still energetic and optimistic. Her love for her hometown is very apparent and she is determined to make sure Barren County becomes the most desirable rural county to live in again.
Also, expect to see more concerts at the Historic Plaza Theater through Judge Byrd’s Helping the Hardworking, LLC.
Fiscal Court Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of the month at 9:00 am. For questions regarding the meetings, call 270-651-3888.