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3 Republican judge-executive candidates square-off in televised debate

The Republican candidates for judge executive, from left: Don Thrasher, Bil Gentry and Tim Hutchins.

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Wednesday, April 20, 2022 — The three Republican candidates for Nelson County judge executive squared off Tuesday evening in a three-way debate from the PLG TV-13 studios in downtown Bardstown.

Republicans Don Thrasher, Bill Gentry and Tim Hutchins spent a hour answering questions and highlighting the unique qualities each man brings to the position.

All three candidates framed their answer using terms much the same as they have used in local newspaper and radio interviews.

OPENING STATEMENTS. Don Thrasher’s opening statement focused on his desire to lower the taxed on citizens and reduce the regulatory burden.

“With your help, we the people could have a new beginning in Nelson County,” he concluded.

Bill Gentry spoke of his previous service on the Bardstown City Council and his long career in radio, eventually allowing him to rise to the level of a senior vice president at Clear Channel, managing budgets from $20 million up to nearly $400 million.

Gentry admitted he has a lot to learn about the role of judge executive, but pointed to the fact that in his career he always hit the ground running and quickly got up to speed.

Tim Hutchins reminded viewers of his 17-year history of service on Nelson Fiscal Court representing the 4th District. He’s also managed his business and started and operated a constrution business.

“We have a lot to be proud of but we’ve got to move forward,” Hutchins said. “I want efficient, conservative government that works for the public rather than against them.”

TAX BURDEN – THRASHER: When asked about lowering taxes and how to replace the revenue, Thrasher said as judge he would use his power to appoint library board members to insure members understood the need to cut taxes.

He also said he would use his power to put individuals on various boards and the planning commission who agreed with his desire to reduce and streamline regulations.

TAX BURDEN – GENTRY: Gentry said he felt the county taxes were in line with other counties in the region, adding “There’s no doubt that expenses could be trimmed,” he said.

TAX BURDEN – HUTCHINS: Hutchins highlighted his work in the past to keep taxes low as a magistrate. Sometimes people don’t realize that the largest part of their property tax bill is school tax.

Expenses can be trimmed, but he warned against promsing to cut taxes. Cutting funding for county services like EMS will mean a reduced level of service that residents may not want to see.

“It’s easy to say you’re going to cut taxes, but I tell you, its not that easy.”

DISAGREE? The candidates were invited to disclose areas where they disagreed with the operation or policies of the current county government.

DISAGREE – THRASHER: Would like to see the county fund more deputy positions for the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office. Would support moving animal control to the sheriff’s office and saving the $200,000 now used to fund animal control.

DISAGREE – GENTRY: Gentry said he hears lots of complaints about planning and zoning and that it isn’t very business-friendly.

“We could develeop a more pro-businss attidude, a more collaborative attitude, and work to resolve these issues.”

DISAGREE – HUTCHINS: Opposed to moving animal control to the sheriff’s office. Hutchins said he disagrees with the county’s code enforcement office, which he said goes too far in enforcement, and makes it hard for anyone to do anything on their own property.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING. The candidates were asked what measures they would support to help create more housing, particularly affordable housing, in Nelson County.

HOUSING – THRASHER. Building new housing developments are limited by the lack of sewers in the rural areas of the county.

“We have a housing problem, and its a question of access to sewers. This is something we have to look at as a county.”

HOUSING – GENTRY. He would push for completion of the western bypass to connect Boston Road and KY 245 and beyond. The western bypass will create a path for the development of additional housing areas and retail space.

HOUSING – HUTCHINS. The regulations that developers must follow are complicated and slow developers in the county.

“We need to let supply and demand take over and get the regulations out of the way,” he said. “I don’t want Nelson County government to get involved whatsoever.”

FRACTURED GOP. With the local, state and national GOP split into at least two factions, will you support whoever wins the primary when they head into the November General Election?

FRACTURED – THRASHER. He said he will support the judge executive candidate who wins the primary. Every primary represents a civil war of sorts inside a political party. After the primary, the factions come together to support candidates in the General Election.

FRACTURED – HUTCHINS. Hutchins said he would support “99.9 percent” of the winners unless they are what he termed “radicalized,” or give he a reason sufficient for him to withdraw his support. He was critical of Thrasher for being critical of elected Republicans in the past. When pressed for an answer, he said he would support either of the other two candidates if they win the primary.

GENTRY’S PARTY SWITCH. Gentry quickly corrected a question by Dennis George that stated Gentry had been recruited in 2021 to be a judge executive candidate by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

“The Democratic party did not court me,” he told George. “I did call their leadership once” to talk about it.

Gentry explained his switch from Democrat to Republican as the result of becoming more conservative over the yeears. He said he knew if he ever decided to be involved in politics, he would do so as a Republican. He vowed to support the GOP primary winner.

INDOOR AQUATIC CENTER. All three candidates expressed the desire to see an indoor sports facility built to serve the residents of the county. However, each had differing ideas as to how to pay for the facility and its ongoing operation.

CENTER – THRASHER. Thrasher said the county should provide incentives to give private business the same advantages the county government has given the bourbon industry to encourage the creation of a center. The county needs to focus on recreation and more youth activities. He suggested placing the creation of the sports complex on a ballot and let residents weigh in.

CENTER – GENTRY. Gentry said the center is a good idea, but the catch is to determine where the funding will come to pay for it. He recognized that a project like this could wind up prompting taxes to increase.

CENTER – HUTCHINS. Hutchins said building a sports complex wasn’t the real issue; the problem was paying to operate the facility. He pointed to the aquatic center in Lebanon as a facility that requires local government subsidies to stay open.

Funding its operation shouldn’t impact local taxpayers, he said. Whatever the debt incurred, someone is responsible to pay it. He is not in favor of any move that will increase taxes. He called on schools and local corporations to come together to raise funds for its construction and operation.

EMS AND JAIL RISINIG EXPENSES. The candiates were asked how they would deal with the rising costs of operating the jail and the EMS service.

EXPENSES – THRASHER. Nelson County EMS has significant issues with reimbursement. The county needs to find out why they don’t get reimbursed for the service the provide.

EXPENSES – GENTRY. The jail and EMS are both subsidized by county government. There was discussion several years ago about building a new jail, but its a question of where the money comes from to pay for it.

The most responsible thing to do is to develop a plan to update and possibly expand the existing jail.

EXPENSES – HUTCHINS. EMS is a service the county wants to keep at its current level of service. There’s a cost to taxpayers for that, its just part of it. The county is required to have jail, and ours needs improvements. He was in favor of allowing the members of the next fiscal court to weigh in with their ideas on the jail.

HOW TO BETTER FUND EMS. The candidates were invited to weigh in on their ideas for the county-owned EMS service to reduce the county’s financial support.

EMS – THRASHER. The big issue with EMS is reimbursement for services. He suggested lobbying Washington legislators to provide better funding for Medicare and Medicaid to pay for EMS service.

EMS – GENTRY. Gentry said one solution may be to combine EMS with the fire department. It might be a way to go to reduce costs, he said.

EMS – HUTCHINS. He said both candidates had good ideas, and noted there was no law that requires county government to operate an EMS service. But if residents want to maintain the current level of service, paying for it is simply part of the cost of doing business.

BULKY ITEM PICKUP. In recent years, the fiscal court has discussed the rising cost of providing the annual countywide bulky item pickup each Spring. Would you suggest any changes moving forward?

PICKUP – HUTCHINS. The landfill is in good financial shape and bulky item pickup is a needed and popular service the needs to continue.

PICKUP – GENTRY. He supported continuing the pickup, noting that if it was discontinued, where would all those items go?

“We don’t want it in our rivers or ravines,” he said. The county could pehaps give residents the changed to haul their own items and bring them to the landfill free of charge.

PICKUP – THRASHER. The county needs to have a town hall meeting to discuss bulky item pickup to find out what residents are willing to do or pay to keep the pickup. Or would residents prefer the option to have free access to haul their own items to the landfill?

“It’s not my job to determine what hte people want.,” he said. A town hall meeting will give county government insight as to what the people actually want.

CLOSING STATEMENTS. Hutchins emphasized his 17 years of service as a magistrate, and that he would lobby not only for funding a western bypass, but for upgrades that are needed on county roads across the county.

Gentry pointed to his background in broadcasting, which gave him extensive experience with large budgets, dealing with employees, managing a business, and negotiating contracts.

“My background experience has given me some unique training” and he has the experience to hit the ground running.

Thrasher restated his desire for lower taxes for county residents and reduced red tape and county regulations.

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