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Appealing to Voters

COAL GROVE — A decision to increase the village’s water rates this past summer underscored an hour-long discussion on Coal Grove’s economic future as five candidates for village council took the time to introduce themselves to voters Tuesday night.

Hosted by the Dawson-Bryant High School Junior Advisory Program, their “Meet the Candidates Night” allowed the five hopefuls the opportunity to pitch their thoughts, criticisms and ideas to about 100 potential voters in the Dawson-Bryant High School cafetorium.

Attending the discussion were current incumbents Chris Brammer and Aaron Stewart along with hopefuls Juelda Collins, Kyle McKnight and former councilman Phillip Roush.

Candidates Bob Self and Glen Markins, who are also on the Nov. 3 ballot for village council, did not attend the forum. Moderator Sam Hall did not give a reason for their absence.

The seven are seeking four open seats. Each seat carries a four-year term.

All questions asked were selected and screened by the Dawson-Bryant High School faculty and had been given to the candidates prior to the forum.

No questions were taken from the audience during the discussion.

Hopefuls were given three minutes for their opening statement and one minute to respond to questions. They were also given one minute for a closing statement.

Candidates spent the first 10 minutes introducing themselves along with their backgrounds and experience for the position. Many took the time to answer why they wanted to be a part of council.

“I always wanted to run for council and now I believe I have the time to run,” said Juelda Collins, when talking about her daughter’s recent graduation for college. Collins is a long-time insurance agent.

“I want to work for the village residents,” said Phillip Roush, who had served on council for more than 13 years and is an assistant manager at Pittsburgh Paints in Ashland, Ky. “I know the areas of the city and all areas of council.”

Following introductions, the candidates did not waste anytime discussing their opinions on their village’s finances and water rate increase.

At issue is an Aug. 4 vote by council to raise the city’s water rates. Proponents of the increase say the raise was necessary in order to put the water fund in back into the black to secure nearly $400,000 in federal stimulus monies the village applied for and subsequently received.

That money will be primarily used to restore a contaminated 250 gallon-per-minute well that was capped years ago along with installing water shutoffs throughout the village.

Opponents of the increase said it was done as the village continually has had to move monies from their general fund to cover the shortfall of the water fund — a shortfall they say is created by the mismanagement of health insurance coverage for the village’s water department employees.

“This is hurting our senior citizens and people on fixed incomes in the village,” Kyle McKnight said when explaining the resulting decrease of village services that comes from moving monies from the general fund to the water fund.

McKnight serves as a teacher and head football coach at Notre Dame High School in Portsmouth.

Other topics of interest discussed by candidates ranged from improving communications within the village, establishing a recreation committee, securing federal grant monies to offset shortages in the village’s budget, purchasing limits and nepotism.

“We need strong, firm, laid-out guidelines for hiring the best people we can,” explained incumbent Aaron Stewart when discussing the village’s current hiring policies and procedures.

Stewart currently serves as a federal grant director at Shawnee State University.

Another topic brought to the forefront was the current status of residential blight throughout Coal Grove.

“There are too many eyesores throughout the village,” incumbent Chris Brammer said. “We need stronger ordinances towards property upkeep and rental properties.”

Brammer is a personal fitness and GED instructor at the U.S. Penitentiary in Inez, Ky.

Council’s “Meet the Candidates” session preceded a question-and-answer forum with Dawson-Bryant Board of Education candidates.

Election Day is Nov. 3.