WMKY

Rowan County: 2020 in Review

Jan 3, 2021

Rowan County Arts Center (formerly Rowan County Courthouse), Morehead, Kentucky.
Credit Pinterest

(Editor’s Note: The following editorial is provided by Harry Clark, Rowan County Judge-Executive.)

At the end of last year, I told you that we would undoubtedly face new challenges as a county in 2020 – and that has certainly held true. Like most everybody else, I would never have imagined I’d live through a pandemic like this in my lifetime. It’s been a hard year, but we’ve really pulled through by pulling together just like we always have, so I’d like to take this opportunity to look back on what has happened and what we as Rowan Countians have accomplished in the face of adversity.

Though we’ve fought hard and done our best, and many good things have come our way, this community has been no stranger to tragedy these past ten months. We’ve lost friends, family, and neighbors too soon before their time. Some of them we’ve lost from COVID-19 and others in different ways. Regardless of how they’ve left us, it is always tragic. The hurt and emptiness created in their wake remain the same. For the loss of our friends and neighbors, we all mourn as a community.

Some of our small hometown businesses have closed their doors through no fault of their own, and many will not return. It is devastating to lose something you’ve been building your whole life, and the uncertainty they must feel is shared. We hope these folks find their feet once again, and we will do all we can to help them wherever we can. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel though, and not all of the news is bad as some new businesses have come to Rowan County this year in spite of the difficulties they’ve faced.

It's been a year of a great many hardships, but also many blessings that shouldn’t be so soon forgotten. We’ve spent the better part of a year in isolation with our families, but as a result, we probably know them better now than ever before. We’ve been met with trials at every turn, but we’ve learned who we can count on when things get rough and who will stand with us through our troubles. Our teachers and schoolchildren have overcome the insurmountable obstacle of moving our whole educational system online, and the regular, everyday things we’ve taken for granted our whole lives now carry with them a newfound appreciation.

The majority of our “extra-curriculars” have ground to a screeching halt, but many people have used that spare time to help others, like the Hyatt sisters, who sewed and distributed 4,000 masks to folks who did not have any. People like Chrissy Perkins and her group have committed themselves to remove a million pieces of trash from our county so that our beautiful community may be properly appreciated for all it has to offer. Back at the beginning of all this when we had hardly any PPE for our healthcare workers and first responders, people came out of the woodwork to bring us what they had because they knew others needed it. Brooklyn Belle Market on Cranston worked hard to feed hundreds of people at no cost on Thanksgiving and Christmas, asking for nothing in return. We have good people all across this county who dug their heels in and did their best to help others in their time of great need, and that’s something to be proud of.

Emergency Management Director Jim Hampton and Deputy Director Jarred Moore have played an absolutely enormous role this year in coordinating Rowan County’s efforts in the battle against COVID-19. They’ve worked with state and regional public health entities to establish a regional PPE distribution site in the event of a major surge. Rowan County should sleep safe at night knowing that we have bright individuals like these two looking out for their interests. They should also be proud. Other agencies look to Rowan County Emergency Management as setting the standard for the COVID-19 response in Kentucky.

They’ve coordinated closely with St. Claire HealthCare and other local healthcare providers to ensure that we were all reading from the same sheet of music. Without the heroic contributions of St. Claire’s frontline medical staff in their care for sick individuals and their commitment to keeping local testing available to anyone who wants it, I would shudder to think where we would be today. The same can be said for the Gateway District and Rowan County Health Departments, whose intensive contact tracing efforts have kept us appraised of our county’s public health status during these difficult 10 months. These organizations will continue to play a big role into the future as we work to eradicate COVID-19 in Rowan County. Back at the beginning of this, we didn’t think it would be possible to have a vaccine ready for potentially 18 months, but thankfully we ended the year by vaccinating 200 first responders and non-hospital healthcare workers, with more vaccines on the way.

Back in March, one of our biggest fears was that the virus would make its way into the Detention Center and run roughshod like it has in so many other facilities. I am proud to say that under the diligent watch of County Jailer Wes Coldiron and his exemplary staff, there have been 0 reported inmate cases to date. This is a feat in and of itself and I’d really like to thank them for all they have done this year to create a safe environment. Your efforts are commendable and appreciated.

In county government things have been moving right along. We’ve had to adjust the way that we do business, but we have never stopped for a minute. We’ve been able to remain open since March and have been readily accessible for any needs folks might have. I’ll give you a brief rundown on some of the major happenings around the county this year. Some you may have heard about and others not, but we hope that you will be pleased with the progress that is being made.

Construction on a new Ambulance Service Facility has been underway within the newly acquired County Services Building, hopefully to be completed in the Spring. The old Ambulance Service on Divide Hill did not have the space or facilities we needed to provide our hard-working emergency medical services employees, as it was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. This move will greatly benefit our community’s access to emergency care and save the taxpayers untold millions by utilizing existing resources in our county. We’ve also remounted two ambulances this year onto new chassis to ensure reliable service can be delivered when it is needed most. They’ve done an excellent job this year under the leadership of Emergency Medical Services Director Danny Blevins and his staff, making nearly 5,000 runs throughout the county. I’d also like to thank all of our first responders throughout the county who are always ready and waiting to help a friend or stranger in their time of great need.

Over $800,000 dollars of blacktop has been laid in Rowan County this year by our dedicated county Road Department employees under the supervision of Road Foreman Steve Kelsey. I really have to brag on this group, because they truly are the best around. Last week when the snow came down on Christmas Eve, instead of being warm at home with family, our guys were in their trucks plowing the roads to keep you all safe. Never complaining and never shirking responsibility, they are some of the most truly committed people I have ever had the pleasure to know.

The Tri-County Animal Shelter has continued to see to the welfare of animals in Rowan County, never once missing a beat. Animal Control Officer Nick Brown and his dedicated staff have really stepped up to the task of doing whatever needs to be done and going that extra mile to do the job right. This year they took in 1179 dogs, cats, and livestock animals. They were able to reunite almost 100 pets with their families and adopt out 334 animals right there at the shelter. We’ll also have to give a big “hats off” to STAR (Saving the Animals of Rowan) and CMFF (Cats' Meow Feline Fosters) as well, whose mission to find good homes for the animals of Rowan was met by adopting out over 500 dogs and 300 cats respectively. We thank all of these folks who truly care for the animals in our community and want to see them lead good lives.

The Fiscal Court employees have made a lot of changes this year as well. With the help of our Information Technology Coordinator Steve Richmond, we’ve totally retrofitted the network and phone systems in the Courthouse and throughout the county. We expect to save over $20,000 annually into the future with the cost savings that have been achieved. Our budget has been for the most part on track considering the wildcard we were presented this year, and it’s in no small part thanks to County Treasurer Michele Jessee, who will be celebrating her 27th year at the county next week. She and her staff, Payroll Officer Becky Kissick and Finance Officer Maryann Stevens, are always willing to help us achieve any goal that we’re shooting for, and we really couldn’t make it without them.

We have all become accustomed to the daily updates on the happenings in Rowan County on our Facebook page. And for that we need to thank Executive Secretary Dylan Lambert for all the work he puts into this and so many other projects that help serve our citizens. His daily dashboard update is reviewed and used by many for day-to-day decisions. Dylan has been a tremendous asset in ensuring transparency and assisting in the upgrades of new technology, his duties continue well into the evening on most days. Thank you, Dylan Lambert!

There are a great many pieces being moved in the grand scheme of things across the county. This year has brought with it the completion of a 20-Year Strategic Plan to guide our community into the future, the creation of a joint City-County tourism commission, and the completion of the decennial Census. A new development district has been established, AppHarvest is harvesting their first crop, and the Commonwealth Cooperage is on the way. We’re conducting a broadband study to bring modern internet speeds to our rural areas and have incorporated the management of the recycling center under the Fiscal Court to achieve a unified front for environmental services. We held a few community decorating contests that people really seemed to enjoy in the stead of some of the in-person events we missed out on. Progress and good things have not stopped in Rowan County.

I will again thank the people of Rowan County for their cooperation and support during this crazy year. Everything that we do is to serve you. We hope that we meet your expectations, and we strive to exceed them every day. Just like always, our doors are always open. I think that to chalk 2020 up as a total loss would be doing a real disservice to the resiliency and hard work of the people of Rowan County. I am very proud to be your County Judge, and in 2021 we will continue to move Rowan County forward.

Harry Clark

Rowan County Judge-Executive