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Top 10 stories of the year

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By The Staff

1. Hurricane Ike hits Oldham

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By the time remnants of hurricanes make their way to Kentucky, most carry little more than some heavy rain and moderate winds. Hurricane Ike didn’t know that. On the afternoon of Sept. 14, he blew through with high winds that knocked down myriad trees and countless small limbs. LG&E reported about 301,000 customers were without power in their service area, the largest amount ever. Many residents were without power for a week or more, and Oldham County schools were unable to return for a full week.

Only one resident was injured in the storm, as a tree fell on Kim Tingle’s car in Pewee Valley. Mayor Bob Rogers and resident Glenn Rowland worked to stabilize her while sawing away the tree before emergency crews could survive. Tingle was released from the hospital with minimal injuries but a lot of aches.

Residents coped by helping each other clean up, and many reported a time of bonding with neighbors as they got together to play games or enjoy meals of the food they had to cook before it perished.

Oldham County Dispatch, out of power, had to run on a generator, and routed 911 calls through Kentucky State Police. Oldham County Emergency Management Director Kevin Nuss chose not to use the emergency notification system, saying that many people were without phone service.

The Oldham County Road Department spent weeks traveling throughout the county chipping debris.

2. Economic Crisis

Oldham County felt the effects of the nationwide recession this year. After decades of seam-busting growth, the number of people moving into Oldham County was at a 20 year low. This affected everything from the scores of builders and realtors in the county to the schools, who ended up hiring more teachers than they needed. The year ends with the school district bracing to find out just how much the state will cut their funding, due to a budget shortfall at the state level.

Gas reached $4 a gallon this summer, punishing the long commuting residents of the county, before dropping precipitously in the winter.

The Oldham-La Grange Development Authority officials claim part of the reason a major retail tenant backed out of Eden Park was because of the sagging economy.

Foreclosures, while not at the rate of Detroit or Phoenix, reached an all-time high in Oldham County this year. Even pets felt the brunt of the economy, as the Oldham County Animal Shelter reported receiving pets from families who had gone through foreclosure. 

3. Countywide Construction

Tens of millions of public dollars went into construction in Oldham County during 2008. To show for it is the new Locust Grove Elementary School, an almost finished new Crestwood Elementary School, and sizable additions to Oldham County and North Oldham High Schools. A new main branch of the Oldham County Public Library is slated to replace their old cramped digs in January.

With the construction came plenty of headaches, from students and teachers dealing with the noise and mess, to deadlines that keep getting pushed back.

After assurances that schools would start on time, North Oldham High School’s start had to be pushed back three days because it just wasn’t ready. The move-in date for Crestwood Elementary has also been moved back to Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend instead of Christmas break. North Oldham High School will also not be able to host the much-anticipated basketball games against Oldham County High School in January in their new gym. It won’t be ready in time.

School board officials attribute the delays to wet weather during the construction process, and in the case of the gym, some unanticipated construction in order to comply with code.

 

4. County Redistricting

Parents were notified in January that about 1,000 students were going to go to a different elementary school than last year because of the need to relieve overcrowding and balance enrollment with the creation of Locust Grove Elementary. That caused many parents to show up at the school board meeting to voice their concerns. Most of the concerns stemmed around students leaving their friends and traveling to a school farther away from where they live.

The Oldham County Board of Education listened to some of the concerns, and seven subdivisions stayed with their old schools, reducing the number of shifted students to about 900.

5. La Grange Ethics Controversy

A resident’s claims of a suspected conflict of interest involving David Garber, La Grange’s city engineer, caused the first-ever meeting of the La Grange Ethics Commission and sparked all kinds of questions.

When Jack Lockery called La Grange City Hall earlier this year to find out why work had stopped on  the Summit Parks development near his home, he was directed to Garber for questions. Garber, who owns Garber-Chilton Engineers and Land Surveyors Inc. – a private firm in La Grange – was working as an engineer on the development. Lockery argued that Garber’s involvement with Summit Parks was a conflict of interest when combined with his work as city engineer. 

 La Grange Mayor Elsie Carter said Garber was not a city employee, because he did not receive benefits, insurance or retirement, and the city’s ethics commission ruled he was not in violation of the ethics code.

The commission, however, had not met in at least 10 years. Mary Ann Smith said she joined at least 10 years ago, though the city’s code of ethics stated members’ terms should be no longer than four years. The ethics commission’s first meeting was held to hear Lockery’s complaint. At that time, Smith was not even sure she belonged to the commission and was told separate answers by different people, and no one knew who else was on the commission. When the issue was brought before the city council, the council members expressed concern that they were unaware of why the commission met, nor did they know the names of the other commissioners or their terms.

The council voted in September to let Garber continue to work as the city engineer.

6. Storm Water Management

For the past five years, a Storm Water Action Committee worked to prepare a program to help keep Oldham County waters cleaner. 

The program comes from an unfunded federal mandate that’s part of the Clean Water Act. It focuses on water quality, after storm water washes off pavement, rooftops and other areas, bringing with it chemicals and other pollutants into streams and rivers. The county is co-permittees on the program with the cities of Goshen, River Bluff, Orchard Grass and Crestwood. Pewee Valley was originally included but decided recently to manage their own storm water runoff without the county’s help. The county received a notice of violation from the Division of Water in August after an audit of the program showed the county was not in compliance, though they had made some progress. 

County officials set up a board earlier this year to manage the program, which covers areas from public education to construction site runoff. Several different rates for the program have been discussed throughout the year – a fee will be charged annually to homeowners and businesses. 

At a recent fiscal court meeting, the board proposed a rate of $3.91 per month for the first year  to be charged annually. In addition to meeting program requirements, the fee will also cover grant matching, blueway support, any emergency cleanup necessary and an area called unprogrammed compliance – which means any new expense added to the program during the year. The court will have a second reading of the rate ordinance at their meeting Jan. 6, which has been moved to begin at 5 p.m.

7. Airport Board Survey

Members of the Oldham County Airport Board continued discussions on a proposed general aviation airport for the county and determined a need for public information on the issue. 

In August, the board began looking at firms that could conduct a telephone or mailer survey to gauge public opinion on the proposed airport and set up a survey committee consisting of two board members and two members of No Oldham Airport. Board members decided the survey would supplement a study that would look at the economic impact of an airport, what effect it would have on property values and the ongoing cost of having an airport in the county.

The survey committee decided to do a combination mailer and telephone survey and hired Kansas-based company ETC Institute to conduct the survey. 

Through the combination of a mailer and a phone call, about 1,200 of the about 18,000 households in the county will be surveyed sometime this month. 

8. OCSD Faces $16 Million Debt

The Oldham County Sewer District put forth their 2009 budget earlier this year and after county treasurer Stan Clark reviewed it, he realized in it’s current state – with needed improvements and only a 10 percent increase – the district would run out of money by August 2009.

OCSD was a $16 million in debt going into the summer of this year and only had $2 million in revenue to expect for the next year. Clark said there would have to be at least a 50 percent rate increase to increase cash flow – to make the budget they proposed work. He said OCSD would have to double their current rate to start to generate money to be able to fix problems and deal with operational issues.

The Oldham County Fiscal Court met in executive session in early June to discuss the issue and came up with a resolution to fix some of the problems, while keeping the rate increase around 25 percent – about $7 more per month for the average customer. The resolution said that OCSD must increase their rates, and would receive the increase from the court if they cut expenses by about $400,000. The third stipulation was debt restructuring. 

The court also discussed outsourcing the operations and maintenance of the district, while the board would remain the legal entity. Crestwood, who entered into a joint sewer agency with OCSD also had the right to withdraw, which they decided to do recently.

By November, the district received approval to raise rates by 25 percent, restructured their debt and outsourced their operations and management to Veolia Water.

9. Brentwood is Back

For the fourth time, the Brentwood subdivision came before the Oldham County Planning Commission this year.

The subdivision – 345 homes proposed by Oldham Farms Development on 247.8 acres at Clore Lane and Spring Hill Trace – was denied earlier this year after a motion to approve failed with a vote of 5-7. The plan was the smallest of the four submitted; of the three previous plans denied, two were proposed with 399 units and another was proposed with 446.

The developers offered five roadway connections and a 12-acre donation to the Oldham County Board of Education, as well as an agreement to widen a portion of Clore Lane and contribute more than $300,000 for other improvements in the area. Residents in the area cited traffic concerns and the impact the development would have on Clore Lane and Spring Hill Trace. 

In July, the developers filed a lawsuit against the commission asking a circuit court judge to overturn the commission’s ruling.

Oldham Farms Development alleged commissioners shouldn’t have voted against the development because it met all necessary regulations and they did not have a valid basis to deny the proposal. The commission then met in closed session and decided to enter into an agreed order with the developer, settling the suit, reversing their decision and allowing construction to begin.

10. Anonymous Donations

In the past year, the Oldham County Fiscal Court and the City of La Grange each received a $100,000 donation given with a condition of anonymity. 

The donation the county received was accompanied by a note that said “Support Oldham County” and was deposited into the county’s general fund. Only a few in the judge’s office knew who the donation was from and weren’t saying. La Grange Mayor Elsie Carter also remained tight-lipped about the donor’s identity.

In October, Magistrate Scott Davis launched a battle to make the donor’s name public, filing suits against Carter and Judge-Executive Duane Murner in Oldham Circuit Court. Davis claimed he requested the name of the donor as well as a copy of the check and bank deposit ticket from the city of La Grange and was denied. Because the two governments are “public entities,” Davis said, the court and the public had the right to know the name of the donor and what the money was donated for.

Dewey Wotring, an Oldham County resident also filed suit against Murner asking for the donor’s name after an open records request he submitted was denied.

Murner and Carter recently sent a press release revealing George Rawlings, owner of The Rawlings Group, as the anonymous donor. Rawlings, who moved his company and his family from Louisville to Oldham County more than a year ago, said he wanted to give something back to a community that helped and welcomed him during the past year.