Branham recounts time in county government

A dozen years ago, Henry Branham was preparing to start his first term as county judge-executive. Clark County was starting to rebuild from devastating financial problems which left the county with about $12,000 on hand, at one point in 2004.

“I was county treasurer during the time of the big shortfall,” he said. “When I came in as judge, we around the start of that. We were challenged with cash flow and just a shortfall. I was under no illusions. I knew it was there.”

As Branham prepares to leave office after three consecutive terms and hand it over to incoming judge-executive Chris Pace, he said getting the county back on solid financial footing was one of the biggest things to overcome during his time in office.

“It was something I had started (working on) in 2004 and i wanted to see it through,” Branham said. “As far as cash on hand, in October 2004 … we had $12,000. That was the worst I’d ever seen it. We had to borrow money and it had to be paid back that fiscal year.”

The plan, started by then-judge-Executive Johnny Myers, included staff cuts, freezes on employees and eliminating vacation for employees as a way to reduce overtime, he said. Elective expenses were eliminated. An insurance premium tax was implemented to generate revenue.

In 2008, during Branham’s first term as judge, the national economy went into a recession, which was felt locally.

By 2010, the recovery was starting to gain some traction locally, he said. The second entrance to the industrial park was added, he said, and Amazon decided to build in Winchester.

“That was our first big recruit after 2008,” he said. “That was a lengthy process. There are little improvement every year. We started peaking in the last few years with business recruiting.”

Looking back on his time as judge-executive, county treasurer and magistrate, Branham said he was most proud of the relationship which exists between city and county governments.

“We were cordial, but not always willing to cooperate,” he said.

When Branham and Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner were elected in 2006,

“When we got together and started talking after we got elected, we said wouldn’t it be good if we could cooperate,” he said. We saw boards throwing up these walls too. We came up the idea to cooperate on everything we could. We purposely agreed we would show up in as many public places as we could.

“At first, people would look as us and be surprised. Then we noticed some of our committees starting talking about these things.”

The real test, and eventual game-changer, was completing the natatorium project at College Park Gym for Winchester-Clark County Parks and Recreation, he said.

“That was tough,” Branham said. “There was a thought around the area that Parks and Rec was for city folk.”

The project became a joint one with the city obtaining the loan and the county agreeing to cover part of the payments.

“That was a big deal,” he said. “I think to the fiscal court at the time, (they) saw the city was starting to include county government. There were other things we were able to collaborate on. I t gave us a thought of, ‘This was successful. What else can we do?’”

There have been many, he said, including the transit service in the county with Kentucky River Foothills and a revenue sharing agreement which the city offered in the wake of the county school district closing the rural elementary schools several years ago.

Branham also worked with the fiscal court through significant transitions. Voters decided that beginning in 2010 the fiscal court would transition from seven magistrates to one of three commissioners. Four years later, the voters decided to undo it and return to a court of six magistrates.

“We were trying to pull us up by our bootstraps and were forced with the mandated change,” he said. “Luckily we had two commissioners who were magistrates and were familiar with the budget. That seemed to work pretty well.”

There were unforeseen effects as well, in addition to the necessary adjustments of county government, and stepping up to the challenges.

“You wouldn’t think it would affect the county, but it did affect the county,” he said. “I think especially during the time of three commissioners, we had more direct interaction with the public. (With seven magistrates), they had four more people they could interact with and could bring concerns to the fiscal court.”

After three terms in office, Branham said the only unfinished business is the continual process of recruiting business and industry.

“I will work somewhere,” Branham said. I still want to be involved in the community. If there is an opportunity to serve in committees or boards, I will take that opportunity. For five years, I’ve been a member of the family resource center (board) at Shearer Elementary.

“I love my community and I want to help out where I can. There may be an opportunity in politics, maybe not an elected position for myself. I’m interested in elections, and electing people is how we affect public policy.”

During his time as county judge-executive, Branham said seeing the end result makes up for the long nights.

“I’ve heard it coined, ‘The days were long but the years were short,’” he said. “The days were dealing with the difficulties and the years have been the accomplishments.”