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Address of the Cities Chamber Breakfast

Hancock County Judge/Executive Johnny (Chic) Roberts

The first Hancock County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast for 2024 was an Address of the Cities to provide the opportunity for the mayors of Hawesville and Lewisport, as well as the County Judge-Executive to provide a speech on their plans for the new year.

The Breakfast was held at the HC Career Center on Tuesday morning, January 9th. Judge-Executive Johnny “Chic” Roberts spoke first saying, “Our manufacturing here in the county is really strong right now. Our 3 big companies are doing very well. We’re so blessed to have them. We continue to meet with Green River Distilling to discuss internal revenue bonds that allows them to continue the growth they’ve started in Lewisport, which I think is important for us. We love our traditional, legacy manufacturing plants but we also like the diversity that some of those types of facilities bring.

Our Industrial Park in Lewisport – we are currently talking with someone about purchasing some ground there. As it continues to grow, it continues to shrink for the county so at some point we’ll probably need to look at some industrial ground for the county to own.”

Digital Radio Communications

“One of our main projects with our covid money project to ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money was the radio communications project that we have partnered with the cities and schools with,” he said. “That should be completed in probably a month. That allows the county to upgrade from analog to a digital system. We want to make sure that if you’re calling 911, wherever you are in the county, it’s clear and communication is uninterrupted by breaks, etc. It was a $3.2M project for us, the cities and the schools. I appreciate their partnership with that.”

Broadband Internet

“We’ve had broadband (internet) for a little while,” Roberts said, “with the cities, with Comcast, TDS and AT&T but our focus was for everyone to have the chance to have broadband in the county. We do finally have some people that are connected to the Conexon Connect/Kenergy fiber service. It can’t get here quick enough. When they start a substation, they’re doing the looping for that. Some of the folks in the south part of the county have already been hooked up and they like the service. I don’t know exactly what areas are going to be covered next. Hopefully, within the next 18 months as it accelerates, the project will be completed and everybody will have an opportunity to have that service.”

Dukes Fire Dept.

“We’ve started the Dukes Fire Department project and, hopefully, in 2 or 3 months we’ll complete that as well,” he said. “Like so many other projects, it seems like it’s been delayed. Hands turn slowly at the state and it’s been really slow. And, covid – when you’re working through these grants, you have to be really careful about how you’re spending your money with this inflation.”

Occupational Tax

“Our occupational tax is down a little bit right now and has been for about 6 months. Employment is still pretty steady. I think some of the workforce participation may be down some here so it’s made it a little difference in our occupational tax. We’re down about $50,000 or $60,000 a month, and have been since about June/July (2023),” Roberts added.

Parks

“We take good care of our parks,” he said. “We focus on all of our parks in all of our areas. We’ve completed a concession stand upgrade at South Hancock, which was badly needed. We continue to make some improvements at Vastwood. We partner with the Little League Boosters to put the new fence up all around the field.

With the beach house, we’ve approached 50 years on a lot of these areas – they just need attention. We continue to make improvements. We’ve added some walking trails at Vastwood. They did it 3 weeks after we had just talked about it. The Parks crew does a great job for us.

We received the final plans yesterday from the architect for the splash pad at Vastwood. All of this depends on the financial, when we get a bid we can see where they are. We slowed down a lot this spring through summer because they said they were seeing big price increases with some of the equipment in this splash pad. Some of the prices have fallen on some of the equipment so hopefully this month and maybe next week we’ll get this out to bid and see where that is.

We partnered with Kenergy on the lights around Vastwood. We had lights halfway around the walking trail but we went ahead and finished those and replaced the other ones for those who walk after dark or very early in the morning. They did a really nice job with that.”

Upgrades

“We also continue with equipment upgrades for our road department and our emergency services. We have to be real intentional because we’ve seen costs dramatically increase,” he said. “We were buying ambulances a few years ago that were about $170K, and the one we got in last was right at about $285K. We have 2 tractors on order now. For 2 tractors with mowers it is close to $400K. We’re still making those upgrades. We’ve replaced almost all of the equipment at Vastwood and finalized that.”

Infrastructure

“Infrastructure, as far as the county and the state – we continue to try to increase our blacktop money here. It costs the county about $80K a mile to resurface. So in the last 4 or 5 years,” he said, “we’ve doubled the blacktop budget and we’re going to try to increase that again, hopefully, by 15 or 20 percent because that’s what most tax payers see with their money. Some of our roads are getting in really bad shape. You try to get 20 years out of a road but we just have so much traffic that it’s hard to do that.”

Hwy 60 Widening

Roberts said the project of widening Hwy 60 will continue this spring. “From Vastwood all the way down to 1957 is where this project ends,” he said. “We’re talking to them now about finishing that from 1957 into Lewisport. We have the truck traffic to justify that for sure and we need that finished all the way into Lewisport. When we first talked about this project that was the plan, to go into Lewisport but due to some things at the state level we stopped. I want to get that finished and resurface the road all the way through.”

Bridge Approach

“The bridge approach is still on the agenda,” he said. “It scored second highest in points with GRADD as far as road points. That needs to happen. I know there’s concern with some folks about some businesses downtown but we need to get the trucks out of the city and down off of Town Hill. We’re really working with the state and pushing them on those 2 projects – to widen 60 and finish the bridge approach.

We’re so blessed to live in this community. We have so many different partners. If we work together, there’s almost nothing we can’t do. But if we don’t work together, there’s not a whole lot that we’re going to get done. We’re the size community where we work closely with the cities and the different entities – the schools, the Chamber, etc. I’m thankful for that.”

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