Henderson state Sen. Robby Mills said two local projects will be funded—in some manner—in the budget that the Kentucky General Assembly puts together in the next few months.
Mills said the first, the controversial convention center at Audubon State Park, has a 40% chance of being included as a line item in the budget.
The project’s most recent cost estimate is $ 15.2 million, as reported in the November issue of the Hendersonian. Both city and county government officials are on board with the project, which would call for the local governments to provide a $5 million match–$2.5 million from the city and $2.5 million from the county.
Mills said even though he believes the project’s chances of being included as a line item are less than 50%, he did say that he’s certain general money for state parks will be included in the budget. The convention center could be funded from that general pot of money if it’s not included in the budget as a line item, he said.
Mills said $50 million in funding through bonding measures was provided to state parks the past two years.
“Even if we don’t get a line item, state parks are going to continue to have a pot of money to do projects,” Mills said.
The Hendersonian has reported several times on the local proposal. Additionally, this paper has published letters to the editor that criticize the plan.
Completed by Skinner Design Associates, the convention center plan includes a 12,579 square-foot, two-level building that would be in the same spot of the old bathhouse on the Recreational Lake, according to an article in the November print edition of this newspaper. It would also include an 8,321 square foot banquet hall and five meeting rooms, totaling 4,258 square feet. Officials have said that the building could hold 400 to 500 people.
Critics have written letters to the editor complaining that a new building would foul the park’s scenic beauty and cause trees to be cut down, among other complaints.
The second local project, a reconstruction of Watson Lane, is a done deal, with a start date in the summer, according to Mills. Finalizing the funding details of the project will occur during the session, he said.
The work will occur on Watson Lane from the stop sign at Sunset Lane through the U.S. 41 stoplight and on to the stop sign at Green River Road, Mills said.
It will include street widening and the addition of sidewalks and gutters, he said.
Perhaps the most needed piece of the plan is work at the 41 stoplight. It entails building four lanes at the east and west side of the stoplight on Watson Lane, he said. This includes one lane coming into Watson Lane and three lanes going out—a left turning lane, a straight lane and a right turning lane, Mills said, adding that the project should help to clear up the congestion that often occurs at the intersection.
The project also includes a turning lane into what could one day be a back entrance/exit into Audubon State Park, Mills said.
The focus for the current General Assembly session, the 60-day “long session” which started Tuesday, is to pass the state’s budget. Legislators will work almost every day throughout January and February and most of March, before they break late March and early April for Gov. Andy Beshear to review and possibly veto bills. Legislators re-convene April 12 and end the session on April 15, days on which the Republican supermajority will most likely override the Democratic governor’s vetoes.
A piece of statewide legislation certainly to cause a ruckus regards school choice. Mills said the Republican caucus has enough votes to put a school choice constitutional amendment on the general election ballot and he’s certain some form of school choice will be voted on come November.
“I think that will be the hot button issue of the session,” he said.
Critics say school choice, including voucher programs, detract from public school funding and, in turn, quality. Mills said that the competition that could arise from school choice laws would “help improve quality in public schools.”
In other general assembly preview bits:
- Mills said he will work to get funding to build a new police training center in Madisonville. He estimated the cost to be $40 million to $60 million. That comes after the Beshear administration gave a $100 million estimate, he said. Because the price tag is so high, Mills said the funding could occur over two budget cycles. Mills said funding would provide 10 to 15 jobs. There is currently a backlog of would-be officers waiting to get into the police training center in Richmond. Another training facility would allow officers to start training and then into policing jobs more quickly, he said.
- In 2022 legislation, a bill that was passed that lowered the income tax by 0.5% each year so long as certain conditions were met. On Jan. 1, income tax fell from 4.5% to 4% because criteria for the decrease were met in 2022. It was revealed that criteria were not met the last fiscal year for another decrease to start January 2025. Mills said Republicans will attempt to find other methods to reduce income tax during the current session.
- The local state senator will continue work on an annexation legislation that would ensure county governments that lose property to city governments don’t lose revenue because of the annexation.
Dixon targets public assistance transition and annexation bills
Henderson state Rep. Jonathan Dixon responded to a request for an interview from the Hendersonian via email. He was out of the country on the day of the request and could not speak on the phone but did respond via email.
He said he’s been working over the last few years “to help individuals receiving public assistance transition into the workforce.”
“I plan to continue that effort,” he said.
Dixon, like Mills, will also work on annexation laws.
“This past year I was asked to chair the annexation task force during the interim, working with cities and counties on ways to improve the annexation process in Kentucky,” he said. “There are some suggestions that have surfaced from that task force that will hopefully address some issues at hand.”
Finally, Dixon addressed his decision to not run for re-election. He first took office in 2021. His term will be complete at the end of 2024.
“It was a difficult decision not running for reelection,” he said. “While it has been an honor and privilege to serve our community in Frankfort, I feel it is time for a change. As I step back from this role, I do so with gratitude in my heart for the support I have been shown throughout my time in office. While I may not be seeking reelection, I am eager to continue contributing to the betterment of our community in different capacities.”
Dixon is the owner of the company, Fence Pros. He is also the co-founder of Summerfest and the Henderson Wiffle Ball Classic, two fundraising efforts in which revenue from the events is donated to local nonprofits.