By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
There were several things that incumbent mayor of Olive Hill Jerry Callihan and his challenger, Justin Dixon, agreed upon Thursday night. They both agreed that the city needed to expand. They agreed that they needed more volunteers and community involvement. They agreed that downtown needs revitalization. What they didn’t always agree on, though, was how to get there.
Callihan, as the incumbent, was given the first opportunity to introduce himself. He opened by noting his connection to the city where he was born and raised, had raised his own children, and they were now raising his grandchildren. “Our adult children are all raised, but I’ve got four grandchildren, and I depend on this town to be kept the way it is,” he said.
“Town’s booming,” he continued. “It’s growing, or I think it is. We’re just trying to do the best we can do with what we’ve got, and we don’t have much money.” Dixon, who has served on city council for the better part of a decade, is the longest currently serving member of city council, he said. And, he said, he’s worked well with Callihan during his tenure as a councilman and as mayor. But, he said, after that amount of time on council he was ready for his shot at mayor, and believed he could help improve the city, especially their budget woes.
“The reason that I’m running for mayor is because we have had a problem with the budget; it seems like more and more lately here,” Dixon said. “And it really is concerning to me.”
The first question focused on expansion of city limits, which both candidates said was crucial to growth, with Callihan, as first to respond, stating he felt the city needed to get natural gas to both exits and continue annexation of business properties there – like the city has done with corridor annexation out to the John Clark Oil station at the US 60 exit and Dollar General near the Rt 2 exit. “People got mad because we’ve done a corridor annexation – there is city limits to each exit – but it’s just a… line to John Clark and the new Dollar General at Smoky Valley. But I would love to have the money to put natural gas and sewer to each exit.” Dixon agreed with Callihan but said the problem with expansion was more than just the logistics of expanding gas, water, and sewage. “The problem with expansion is you have people fighting,” he said.
He said the city needed to do a better job of explaining the benefits of coming into the city.
“Because it’s going to take down their insurance,” he said. “You can’t (always) explain it to them, and it’s really frustrating. But at the same time, Jerry’s right. You have to expand (utilities) to both exits and grow inward.” There are some moves to improve downtown, which he said he supported. “But you have to go from the exits and work your way in. That’s the only way we’re going to grow. We have two exits. Morehead has one. Grayson has one. And we’re not utilizing either one.”
Dixon and Callihan also discussed the promotion of tourism and visitors to downtown, through groups like Trail Town. Dixon noted that he had recently gotten involved with the group and their enthusiasm and volunteer spirit had won over some of his skepticism.
“I was skeptical. I was so skeptical on it until I went up there, and I’m not afraid to admit it,” Dixon said of the Trail Town lake improvement project. “But going up there, and what they’re doing around the lake is going to bring a lot of people in. I really believe that. But I think it’s just the community together. Everybody together. And that’s the only way.”
Callihan noted that he too was a longtime supporter of Trail Town. “I actually use those trails. I’ve rode those trails,” Callihan said. He said the city did need to work with volunteers and others, which could be challenging because, “sometimes that’s a conflict in town, because everybody doesn’t like to work together. But I’m all for tourism. Anything that will bring a buck into Olive Hill, I’m for as long as it’s legal.”
They also discussed plans for saving, renovating or bringing down derelict buildings downtown, with Callihan noting that two buildings – the old Tyler’s Pizza location and the former library building – are already scheduled for demolition.
Both candidates also discussed flood control, with Callihan discussing work done to keep the creek clean, which he said would expand when the pipe over Tygart Creek to the sewage treatment facility was moved underground with grant funds.
Dixon followed up on Callihan’s discussion of keeping the creek clear through to Devil’s Backbone, where it tends to back up, noting that he agreed with Callihan’s assessment and supported the work, having voted with council to fund the purchase of equipment to keep the creek cleaned out.
Dixon and Callihan did clash over water loss, and how the city has handled the need to repair their outdates lines, with Callihan criticizing previous actions to build a new water tower when the pipes taking water there were leaking. He said the new water plant being constructed at the reservoir was “like a foundation” that future improvements and repairs that would mitigate water loss could be built upon.
But Dixon said none of that changed the fact that the city was losing a significant amount of water now.
“In 2017 our water loss was at 62 percent,” Dixon said. “2018 it went up to 72 percent. 2019 it was down to 71 percent. And us as council voted to spend $850,000 for a downtown water project. Because that’s where we were told it was at.
So that took it down from 71 percent to 69 percent, two percent on $850,000. And then the same year, in 2021, 69 percent. Now, as of this year, the water that we produce and the water that we have sold, we have lost 74 percent. And those are the numbers. Anybody can go to city hall and go to the water plant and get them.”
Callihan, however, countered that those numbers are based on chemicals used, not an actual flow measurement. The numbers could be higher or lower. But, he said, when they install new flow meters as part of the water improvement project, the city would know more clearly how much water was lost, and from where.
Both agreed that whoever was elected needed to work well with council, something both have said they’ve done. They both also said that the possibility of Olive Hill getting a full time mayor, who didn’t have to work another job, was unlikely unless the voters chose to fund it and both encouraged everyone to get out and vote, no matter who they voted for.
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