Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 28, 2012

Half of Flatwoods council seats contested

Mike James
The Independent

FLATWOODS — Three of the six council seats in Flatwoods are contested this year in a race where the focus is on property taxes.

Flatwoods is divided into six wards for council representation, and incumbents Darrell “Sonny” Hewlett, Gaylard Keen and James E. “Jim” Fields are facing Ray Sloan, Richard E. Lewis and Ron Fields, respectively.

Their campaigns are coming to a head at a time when the council is enacting a .4 percent property tax increase, which is the largest hike a council can take without seeking voter approval. The final approval for the increase was expected to happen at Thursday’s meeting.

Incumbents Hewlett, 67, Keen, 70, and James Lewis, 71, said they favor the increase because it keeps the city in the black. Their challengers oppose it, one saying city spending is excessive, and the other two saying the city has enough money without it.

Keen and James Lewis both said the council has imposed modest increases over the years that have been just enough to keep the city out of debt and that Flatwoods’ rate remains lower than in neighboring cities. “When you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Keen said.

Hewlett said costs for everything from fuel to maintenance are going up and tax hikes offset the increases.

Richard Lewis, 26, however, said the council’s spending has been “massive” and could be cut. He said money spent on the city park, for example, could have been used better elsewhere and avoided an increase.

Sloan, 67, said city taxes shouldn’t be raised in difficult economic times and the city doesn’t need the additional revenue. Fields, 61, also said additional taxes are unjustified and the city has sufficient resources without it.

The city is nearing completion of a major water project that will serve outlying areas and incumbents pointed to that. Also, more businesses are poised to open in Flatwoods and subdivisions building is in the works, Keen said.

Once the water project is complete, the next council doesn’t appear likely to face major capital spending other than some police cruiser replacement and sewer infiltration remediation, Hewlett said.

The sewer issue is a perennial one in most cities, with aging lines prone to breaks and leakage. EPA regulations require repairs and refitting of the lines, which often is expensive, to stop the leaks.

Hewlett said he would like to see improvements in the city park adjacent to the municipal building. The city has recently bought property adjoining the park.

James Lewis said the next council should pursue the widening of Ky. 207 from the city to the Industrial Parkway. A grant-funded survey has already been completed. The widening would remedy sharp curves in town and create a three-lane road with passing lanes between Flatwoods and the parkway.

He also favors park improvements and encouraging business startups.

Richard Lewis said Flatwoods needs a “fresh voice” on the council and the three challengers would bring a new perspective and new vision to the city. “If people want the status quo of wasteful spending they should vote for Mr. Keen. But if they want a level head on the council to think before they act ... they should vote for the three running (against the incumbents.)”

Sloan said he is concerned about drainage problems from a trailer park that has been plaguing homes on the downhill side of the street. He said the current council has not been responsive to homeowner complaints. He also said when the city hired a new police chief it should have chosen one from within  the ranks rather than hiring from outside the city.

He said he would like to give senior citizens a reduction in their water bills. While he opposes tax hikes, he favors supplying the police and fire departments with whatever equipment they need.

Fields said the council needs to focus more on bringing jobs into the city. The council could find efficiencies by surveying city employees for ways jobs could be done better. “City workers have some good ideas,” he said.

Flatwoods could use more firefighters, he said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.