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Meeting to kick off comprehensive plan update

Warren County residents will have an opportunity to provide input into possible changes to a document intended as a guide for the county’s growth.

Developed a decade ago by the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County, the Focus 2030 Comprehensive Plan is due for an update, and the planning commission is scheduling a series of meetings to get input on what changes are needed.

The yearlong process of updating the comprehensive plan will begin with Wednesday’s public forum at 5:30 p.m. in the Capitol Arts Center on East Main Avenue.

Ben Peterson, the planning commission’s executive director, described the meeting as an “introductory” session designed to give elected officials and county residents an overview of the comprehensive plan and begin soliciting input.

“This is an opportunity to inform the public about what the comprehensive plan contains,” Peterson said. “It’s a development guide for the community.

“It’s basically a 20-year plan for how the community is to grow and develop. We’ll get input on what the plan says and see if changes are needed.”

Wednesday’s meeting will be the first of what Peterson expects to be 10 meetings over the next 12 months to be held as part of the process of making state-mandated updates to the comprehensive plan.

Peterson and his staff will put together a website that includes materials to be reviewed before each meeting.

The materials for the introductory meeting include two videos that are available for viewing before the meeting at the warrenpc.org/ compplanupdate website.

The first video is an introduction to the process, timeline and online resources available. The second video includes an overview of the vision and guiding principles, an introduction to the goals, objectives and action items and an evaluation of the implementation action plan.

Peterson said elected officials from Warren County and the cities of Bowling Green, Oakland, Plum Springs, Smiths Grove and Woodburn are expected to attend and participate in the discussion.

Future meetings will focus on individual sections of the comprehensive plan such as transportation, zoning ordinances and housing, Peterson said.

“We’ll review each section of the plan and get public input,” Peterson said. “We realize that there will be a lot of different opinions, but we want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to express their ideas.”

Residents can express their views in-person at the meetings or through a link provided on the webpage for each session.

Peterson said an update to the comprehensive plan is timely in light of the rapid growth the county has experienced in recent years.

Warren County’s population grew from 113,781 in 2010 to 134,554 in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

That 18.2% increase means Warren County’s growth rate is the second-fastest in the state behind Scott County. While the comprehensive plan is only one factor contributing to the county’s growth, Peterson said the plan is growth-focused.

“It’s certainly not written to stop growth but to manage growth,” he said.

Peterson said he doesn’t expect any major changes to the comprehensive plan to come out of the public meetings, but he said they could result in changes to certain elements such as the Future Land Use Map, which serves as a visual guide for future land use and planning.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

State lawmakers weigh school spending increases

It’s now easier than ever for Kentucky K-12 students to attend school outside the district where they live due in large part to the school choice law enacted this year.

That law – House Bill 563 – makes it easier for students’ state per-pupil funding to follow them to their out-of-district school.

However, one key sticking point remains: What should be done with the portion raised by local school boards through various tax rates and paid for by local residents to educate kids in their communities? Should it stay with the district or go with the student?

It was one of the tricky questions that lawmakers tackled Monday in Frankfort. During the meeting of the General Assembly’s School Funding Task Force, lawmakers reviewed school funding recommendations that they could take up during the legislative session that is scheduled to open in January.

“Local funds, I strongly believe, need to stay with the local district,” said Davonna Page, who serves on the Russellville Independent Schools board and is president of the Kentucky School Boards Association.

“They are raised by the local district. They’re paid by the local residents to educate the students in that district. I feel very strongly that that’s where they need to stay,” Page told the task force.

Last week at the Kentucky Education Summit, Republican leaders in Kentucky’s House and Senate signaled their tentative optimism about the prospect of spending increases for public education in 2022, made possible by a record-breaking state fiscal surplus, WFPL in Louisville reported.

Permanent state funding for full-day kindergarten and fully covering districts’ school transportation costs topped the list Monday of recommendations presented to lawmakers.

It’s been a perennial ask for districts for years. Only time will tell if lawmakers can find the money for those priorities next year.

The recommendations also call for state lawmakers to consider moving from basing state per-pupil funding on average daily attendance to average daily membership. It could be done in such a way that schools would still be incentivized to get students to show up for school while also minimizing wild swings in school funding year-to-year.

Lawmakers have also been asked to create plans to fully fund implementation of a 2019 school safety bill passed in response to a fatal school shooting in Marshall County that killed two 15-year-old students.

Expanding school-based family resource and youth services centers, financial impact reports examining how state mandates affect schools and having the Legislative Research Commission study the cost of “an adequate public education” in Kentucky round out other recommendations.

Monday’s meeting of the School Funding Task Force also included a report from Kentucky Department of Education officials about the potential consequences of allowing local tax revenue to flow out of and into neighboring school districts with out-of-district students.

Robin Kinney, an associate education commissioner with the department, said the agency has studied four possible options for allowing local funds to follow students out of their district, concluding that “the safest and easiest to accomplish” approach would be to prohibit those funds from following students.

It’s likely the only option, Kinney said, that would avoid legal challenges from school districts.

During the meeting, Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Robbie Fletcher discussed the potential consequences of a so-called “open borders” policy for school districts, which he said could cause schools to close in some districts and open in others.

He cited one of his district’s schools – a 5-star school under the state’s school assessment system – as a potential casualty, considering that some students who live closer to neighboring schools would choose to go there instead.

“Unfortunately, the students that can’t afford to drive elsewhere have to stay,” he said, potentially leaving them stranded with fewer resources after the school’s per-pupil funding is adjusted accordingly.

Just because a school has fewer students to educate doesn’t mean its fixed costs, such as keeping the lights on, go down, district leaders have pointed out.

“There’s more to the picture than just funding,” Fletcher said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Barren County didn't follow own procurement policy

Barren County failed to comply with its own procurement policy concerning renovations scheduled to be made at the county-owned courthouse in Glasgow.

Chapter 34.25 in the Barren County Code of Ordinances states: “The Judge/Executive shall place an appropriate advertisement in the newspaper of the largest general circulation within the county, and shall open all bids publicly at the time and place stated in the advertisement.”

Jeff Jobe, publisher of the Barren County Progress, reported Nov. 3 that no public bidding and no public bid details were advertised nor discussed in open fiscal court meetings and no advertisement for building maintenance at the courthouse was placed.

Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale told the Daily News the failure to advertise bids was due to meeting demands of the state Administrative Office of the Courts which is paying for the renovations.

“AOC was working with us on remodeling the current courthouse, and they said once we get quotes (for the renovation) we would meet,” Hale said. “We were doing what we were asked to do. AOC wanted us to get the quotes quickly.

“We didn’t even make an attempt to do that,” Hale said of opening bids publicly. “It wasn’t overlooked. We just didn’t do it. Our newspaper only comes out once a week, and some of these things have to be done quicker than that. We just didn’t do it because AOC kept saying for us to get the quotes in.”

Jobe reached out to the AOC through the Kentucky Press Association, and the AOC said a county should follow its own procurement policies.

“The AOC pays counties quarterly ‘operating costs’ payments, which are payments advancing costs for utilities, janitorial expenses, insurance, maintenance, repair and upkeep of the facilities,” the AOC’s statement said. “ ... because the AOC reimburses counties for the Judicial Branch’s proportionate share of the costs of nonrecurring projects based on the percentage of the facility that is occupied by the Kentucky Court of Justice, counties are required to obtain quotes and submit them for approval of the AOC before undertaking the project.

“Although the AOC approves the cost of the project in advance, AOC approval does not indicate that a county complied with its own procurement policies. If it is required by its own policies to solicit bids rather than simply obtain quotes, then the county should solicit bids and provide the bids to the AOC for approval of costs prior to accepting a bid.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Hale said. “If we had to do it over, we would’ve done bids. So we take ownership in it.”

Hale said another factor playing into the decision was recent public opposition in the community toward the future construction of a new judicial center.

“We have a small group, mainly spearheaded by a former judge executive who doesn’t want a new judicial center,” Hale said. “All the sudden, we started having a lot of opposition to it, but we are still getting a new judiciary center.”

He said he saw the opportunity to quickly begin renovations at the current courthouse as a way to ease the public’s concerns.

Hale said further clarification on the issue will be provided by County Attorney Kathryn Thomas at the regularly scheduled Barren Fiscal Court meeting Nov. 16.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

Test results pending on evidence in BG murder case

The attorney for a Bowling Green man charged with murder in a deadly shooting said he is awaiting results of forensic testing on evidence submitted in the case.

Christian Castillo, 28, is charged with murder in the death of Diego Pedro, 29, of Bowling Green, who was shot Feb. 9 at West 15th Avenue and Butler Way.

Police believe Castillo shot Pedro after a two-vehicle collision at that intersection involving both men.

At a pretrial conference Monday in Warren Circuit Court, Castillo’s attorney, Neal Tucker, said ballistics evidence and DNA evidence have been sent to labs for analysis and remains pending.

Warren County Common-wealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron confirmed this and said he planned to contact the lead detective on the case for an update on the status of the items.

Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson set another pretrial conference for Jan. 24. No trial date has been set in the case.

Castillo was arrested Feb. 11, the Bowling Green Police Department said.

Police were called to West 15th Avenue and Butler Way on Feb. 9, where Pedro was found in his vehicle with a gunshot wound to his face.

He died the next day at a Nashville hospital.

Detectives found evidence that Pedro’s vehicle had been involved in a collision at the scene, with debris at the crash site and paint chips on Pedro’s vehicle giving police possible clues about the other vehicle involved.

At a preliminary hearing in February in Warren District Court, BGPD Detective Melissa Wartak testified that the physical evidence directed police toward looking for a dark blue SUV, specifically a 2007-2014 model Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe or Avalanche.

Surveillance video footage from the area provided additional details about the suspect’s vehicle, police said.

Two days after the shooting, the BGPD was contacted by an employee at Abel Court Apartments on Old Barren River Road, who reported that a resident there applied for a guest parking permit for a dark blue 2007 Chevrolet Suburban.

Police found the Suburban had front-end damage consistent with previous descriptions and detained Castillo after he was found sitting in it.

Questioned by police, Castillo denied any involvement in a collision or shooting.

Detectives also questioned Casillo’s girlfriend, Monica Rivas, who said she was driving the vehicle when the crash occurred and that Castillo, her passenger, fired a shot into the windshield of Pedro’s vehicle, Wartak testified in February.

Rivas is charged with tampering with physical evidence based on an allegation that she attempted to hide the weapon used in the homicide.

She has pleaded not guilty and is due to return to court Jan. 10 for a pretrial conference.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.