Panel eyes The State of County
“If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
Maya Angelou accurately represented Wednesday’s Warren County Commissioners meeting as the commissioners stopped to examine the State of the County heading into 2021.
The unique element of looking at 2021 is that it comes on the heels of 2020 — a year that certainly few, if any, saw coming as it did.
Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said the COVID-19 pandemic was “pretty much our focus for more than six months.”
But county government still had to function.
And the most visible manifestation of its reach last year? Managing a presidential election.
It “went shockingly well for Warren County,” Kafferlin said, in an election that “probably (was) the highest turnout we’ve ever seen for a presidential election.”
The county, he said, processed about 1,200 ballots by mail in 2016. That rose to 6,682 in 2020.
“(We) had to staff up to handle that. The elections team did a marvelous job … managing a very contentious election.”
He went through each department, highlighting accomplishments for the year — IT pivoting to all the work needed to enable work from home, the county’s new emergency radio system went fully online, declining population at the jail and implementation of virtual visit capabilities and a body scanner among a host of others.
Looking to 2021, Kafferlin said the initiatives and goals in the commissioner’s office are “more or less deferred from 2020.”
“COVID definitely showed a spotlight (on a) significant lack of rural broadband,” he said. “The hospitality grant is going to be a project to manage.”
“We’ll continue to monitor the pandemic and respond accordingly,” he continued, including advocating for more vaccine in the county.”
Reassessment will also be on the radar of the board.
“(We) need some sort of consensus,” Kafferlin said, on if it needs done and whether it’s worth the cost.
“(It) is going to be an aggressive year,” Commissioner Tricia Durbin added.
She called 2020 “quite a year” — her first on the board of commissioners — and said she “enjoyed working with everyone at the county.”
“I think the county is now in a good place, all things considered obviously,” Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said.
He said the focus for the commissioners would be to “try to move everything forward as a group.”
Kafferlin includes some time in the State of the County message each year reviewing the role of county government and well as looking at statistical trends impacting the future of the county.
He expressed concern about the lack of a response from many to the census and the funding impact that could cause.
Some of the statistics he discussed is that median household income is about 80 percent of the state and national averages while the median age in the county is seven years more than those same averages.
The county’s unemployment rates are — if you remove the pandemic — typically among the lowest in the region.
Kafferlin said that rate is now a “problem” as coupled with a declining population it is “one of the biggest reasons employers are looking outside the county to expand.”
He said it’s his hope that the State of the County message becomes a “long-standing tradition” but is also hopeful that this is his last one as he would be advocating for Durbin to become chairman next year.