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Washington County’s longest tenured magistrate will be looking to defend his seat in this month’s primary election, while the challenger is hoping to bring a change of pace to fiscal court.
Billy Riney, Jr. stepped in as District 5 magistrate in 1985 and on the verge of 30 years in office, the Washington County native said there has been a lot accomplished in the county over those three decades.
Riney pointed to countywide accessibility to water, the revival of a defunct grant for the senior citizens building and the implementation of Advanced-911 services as some of the more significant achievements that he helped spearhead. Riney also said upgrading emergency services from basic to advanced life support was one of the better investments the county has made.
“The paramedics have really been a good service for the people of Washington County,” he said. “It cost us a lot of money, but what’s money when somebody is laying there and needs help? That’s just the way I look at that.”
At the same time, Riney said he knows the annual budget is the “main thing” on the county’s plate each year and that keeping the county in good financial position has been a focal point. Running a dairy farm since 1978 and owning various rental properties in the area, he said his professional career and his position in county government have worked hand in hand through the years.
“We’ve got a budget at the dairy just like we do at the court,” he said. “You’ve got to manage people and manage money and make everything balance out.”
Riney’s challenger, Bettye Brookfield, has never held public office, but has sat in various leadership positions during her 18-year career at St. Catharine College. Her motivation to seek the seat of magistrate came from Emerge Kentucky, a democratic women’s group that encouraged her to run.
“I was asked to do this and I thought there might be a reason for that,” Brookfield said, “so maybe I can serve in some way and I’m glad to do it if I can.”
Brookfield, the lone female candidate among 10 vying for six spots on fiscal court, said she hasn’t been looking to make her campaign about gender, but that she does feel she can offer fresh ideas to county government.
“I’m a team player and I believe I would be an asset,” she said. “I bring just a little different viewpoint and I’m very aware of what’s going on politically. I’m a child of the ‘60s and I’ve been an activist my entire life.
“I do have enthusiasm and energy and a genuine, open love for where I am and what I do and that’s contagious,” Brookfield added. “That’s part of leadership, just maybe in a little different way.”
Both candidates shared their views on what they’d like the future of Washington County to hold, and for Riney, adding jobs and expanding on the local water supply remain at the top of the list.
“The most important things for me right now is creating jobs for the young people so they can stay here at home and keeping our tax base to maintain the level of service that we have for people today,” he said. “Also, I think we need to be expanding on water. Willisburg Lake got really low during the drought of 2012. We need to be looking at ways to have more water available for the county.”
Riney said he would also like to see the recycling center relocate to the county-owned Bonnie Plant property in the future, as it would save the county $48,000 in rent each year. The roughly 17-acre area could possibly serve other purposes as well.
“We could maybe put the ambulance service and rescue squad there to make it a lot more accessible and more economical for the people of Washington County,” Riney said. “A lot of the cost at the old armory could be a lot less at a new facility.”
Brookfield said keeping an eye on Washington County’s agriculture will become increasingly important with a changing climate, and that preserving the community’s historical and rural roots will be the most significant thing to keep in mind as local businesses grow. She has also been heavily involved with the City of Springfield’s attempt to receive an arts and cultural designation from the Kentucky Arts Council. Brookfield said Washington County is full of resources that can be taken advantage of.
“There are many things here that have sort of been the best kept secret ever,” Brookfield said. “We’re right in the middle of the bourbon and wine trails, so if we could create some small boutiques and shops and things like that in town, I believe we will draw people to Springfield and Washington County and they’ll come back and bring friends.
“We really need to think about economic growth right now,” she added. “We have a beautiful downtown and it could be even better.”
Billy Riney, Jr. was raised in Washington County and is married to Jerri White of Springfield. The couple has two sons.
Bettye Brookfield, originally from Nelson County, has lived in Washington County for 18 years and has two sons, one daughter and three grandchildren.