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Top 10 news stories of 2007

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By The Staff

1. County faces budget crisisCiting a $3 million budget deficit, Oldham County Judge-Executive Duane Murner and fiscal court took steps to balance the county budget during the last year.In May, the court voted to lay off 10 county employees and temporarily shut down the county recycling center before re-opening with an un-manned recycling drop-off.In August, the court voted to increase property tax revenue by 4 percent, the most allowed by law without the chance for referendum.And in November, the court voted to double the insurance premium tax from 5 percent to 10 percent and to increase the 911 tax by 50 cents per phone line.Murner called the practice of dipping into reserves to balance the budget — as has been done six of the last seven years — irresponsible.

2. Oldham goes smoke-freeThough not comprehensive as local group Smoke-Free Oldham would have preferred, Oldham County Fiscal Court passed a smoking ban that prohibits smoking in public places.The ban took effect May 1.A comprehensive version of the ordinance was passed in December 2006, which would have banned smoking from all public places with only a few exceptions given to areas considered residential in nature. However, after a new court took office in January, members put the ordinance on hold to consider further exceptions.The court revisited the issue in April, passing an amendment that would allow employee-only, independently ventilated smoking lounges by a vote of 5-4. Magistrates said they felt employers should be entitled to build lounges for employees if they determine it necessary.

3. Airport study stirs conflictThe prospect of building a commuter airport in Oldham County became more of a reality this year after three possible construction sites were publicly announced in November. This reality struck a negative chord with many residents, who brought outrage — and a few questions—to a public hearing on the site selections Nov. 12. The airport board, chaired by Jonathan Westbrook, was appointed by Judge-Executive Duane Murner in March. The board released preliminary results of a feasibility study at the Nov. 6 fiscal court meeting. Entran Designs, an aviation engineering firm based in Nashville, is the consultant for the study.The study measured the costs of the airport and projected economic impact. Westbrook said the $22 million project will create $4 million in economic development to the county, along with more jobs and a greater tax base. The board stressed that the results of a survey on the environmental impact of each site will not be complete until the end of 2008. The board determined that with Federal Aviation Administration grants and state funding, fiscal court would only be responsible for 3 percent of the cost, or $500,000 over the course of five years. The locations, which are 250 acres and currently have no more than 10 private homes located on site, include sites at Dawkins Road, Blakemore Land and Gathright HIll. A public hearing on the issue was cut short when protesters disrupted Westbrook’s attempt to answer questions raised by residents. Residents complained the project will put added stress on the current budget deficit, and that an airport will create noise and pollution. Since the meeting, the airport board’s progress has halted. Magistrates Scott Davis and Robert Leslie requested the court disband the airport board in December. Both motions failed, with the court awaiting a more detailed study on the project.

4. Rawlings arrives in La GrangeThe Rawlings Company’s move from Waterfront Towers in downtown Louisville to La Grange Oct. 8 marked the first sign of success for the Oldham County Economic Development Authority’s executive park project, Oldham Reserve. The company, which specializes in data mining and health insurance claims, brought 550 employees to the county. The $20 million three-story building’s amenities include a workout facility, an in-house coffee shop and several flat screen televisions. The Oldham County Chamber of Commerce welcomed employees as they entered the doors of the building on Oct. 10, handing out goodie bags full of information on local businesses. The business is looking to expand, as it has office capacity for about 900 workers. About 60 of the company’s employees live in Oldham County.

5. Emerson is Ky.'s top teacherChandra Holloway Emerson was named the Kentucky Teacher of the Year in October.Emerson, a language arts teacher at Oldham County Middle School, was honored by the Kentucky Department of Education and Ashland Inc. with a $10,000 prize and will compete for National Teacher of the Year honors in the spring.Raymond “Ed” Farrar, a science teacher at South Oldham High, took home High School Teacher of the Year honors from the ceremony at the state capitol.

6. New fiscal court leads countyFour new magistrates, a new judge-executive and other county elected officials were sworn-in in January, marking the beginning of a new administration that has made correcting the county’s poor financial situation its top priority. Soon after taking office, Judge-Executive Duane Murner unveiled a familiar organizational structure for fiscal court. He created 13 standing committees in an effort he hoped would improve the court’s efficiency and decrease disagreements among fiscal court members.“[Committees] allow magistrates to become involved in the finer points of their committees,” Murner said.The committees include building maintenance/construction; emergency services; environmental/animal control; finance; growth management task force; human resources/charitable contributions/insurance; jail; parks, fair board, tourism; roads and traffic; sewer, water, solid waste and storm water; and technology/GIS.

7. Teen's death prompts debate about I-71A Nov. 23 accident that killed 17-year-old Oldham County student Megan Lucas has residents and officials talking about safety measures that could protect drivers from an increasing deer population in the federal highway’s median.Officials from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet say they began receiving calls from Oldham County drivers after Lucas’ friend’s car struck a deer, causing the vehicle to collide with a semi-truck.As of Nov. 30, there had been 32 crashes in Oldham County this year involving deer.According to Kentucky State Police, deer caused 2,928 wrecks in 2006, including 52 in Oldham County. Andrea Clifford, a public information officer for the state transportation cabinet, said state engineers could research the possibility of building a fence along I-71 or removing the natural habitat inside the median. Any construction along the highway would be reviewed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to consider environmental consequences, she said. Transportation officials could post additional signs to warn motorists of deer if research shows a high concentration of deer in a specific section of the highway, Clifford said. If members of Oldham County Fiscal Court present a proposal to improve safety on I-71, Clifford said state officials would look into implementation. Otherwise, officials from the transportation cabinet are not considering any changes to the interstate in response to the Nov. 23 crash.

8. Officer resigns, pleads guilty to drug chargeA former Oldham County Police officer who worked with the department’s drug-sniffing dog will complete community service and pay a fine for cultivating marijuana in July. Gerald “Jerry” Colston pleaded guilty to possession of less than eight ounces of marijuana on Nov. 21. He was sentenced to pay a $250 fine and complete 150 hours of community service. Colston, 38, was arrested Sept. 4 after a Kentucky State Police investigation revealed the narcotics officer was growing marijuana in his home on Rose Island Road in July. He resigned from OCPD Aug. 31. Colston was originally charged with cultivating less than five plants of marijuana. That charge was amended.Colston was hired by OCPD in August 1999.

9. National chains set up shop in OldhamSeveral national chains opened stores in Oldham County this year, marking a small boom of retail business in the community.The area with the most growth is the Ky. 329 bypass in Crestwood, where a McDonald’s opened in late fall and the county’s first Starbucks opened off Interstate-71 at exit 14.La Grange saw the addition of an Applebee’s in late 2006, as well as Walgreens in the new Millennium Square development where Days Inn was once located. A second Walgreens location is planned in Crestwood.

10 Ironman brings tourists, athletes to OldhamAbout 3,000 visitors armed with whistles, cowbells and water bottles invaded downtown La Grange on Aug. 26 to support the competitors in the Ford Iron Man Louisville.Triathletes cycled through downtown La Grange twice in the “La Grange Loop” portion of the triathlon. The race included a 2.4 mile swim in the Ohio River, a 112-mile bike course and a 26-mile run that ended at Fourth Street Live in Louisville. La Grange businesses opened shop on Sunday for the event, and many travelers from all over the country stopped to have lunch downtown. Discover Downtown La Grange also provided portable restrooms, face painting, a rock climbing wall, a sign-making station and inflatable bouncing house. Some visitors, including Gloriael Charles of Pikeville, were upset that the streets weren’t shut down for the competition. Two cyclists were in car accidents during the cycling portion of the race. Oldham Countian Andy Rumsey, was one of 50 to qualify for the World Championship in Hawaii on Oct. 13.

Agree or disagree with The Oldham Era’s Top 10 news stories for 2007? E-mail us about this story at editor@oldhamera.com or submit a letter to the editor for publication on the Viewpoint page.