Parks, quality of life top mayor's priority list

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2012 Grant Countain of the Year

By Bryan Marshall

Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner may only be in the second year of his first term, but the list of accomplishments and projects is lengthy.
From helping orchestrate a multi-million dollar tourist attraction to the county seat to upgrading the city’s parks system, Skinner has been busy.
And that doesn’t even account for especially for the two local businesses he owns and operates — Skinner Furniture and Skinner’s Self-Storage.
“Personally, I’m loving what I do,” Skinner said. “I really enjoy the job and the challenges.”
“I’m averaging a little over 40 hours a week for a part-time position,” he said. “I was familiar with the amount of meetings, but just the amount of stuff that I needed to be here for and wanted to be a part of was a little bit of a shock, especially since we didn’t replace the city administrator. I was able to take on more duties, which I wanted, because I really think it streamlines the city.”
Since Skinner moved from city council member to mayor after the 2010 election, he has made parks and making Williamstown healthier a major initiative.
In 2011, Williamstown was one of only four Kentucky cities designated with Playful City USA status, recognizing the city’s priority to get children active and healthy.
Under the program, the city was able to improve Webb Park with a new playground structure through a grant and community donations.
The city also has partnered with the local health department and Fitness For Life Around Grant County to improve facilities around JB Miller Park, including an expanded walking trail and the addition of picnic tables.
“It’s just been a huge success,” Skinner said about the park improvements. “Kids are out there all the time using it. We just recently got a Playful City designation for 2012. The first one was for 2011. We applied for the grant again and if we get it, that will really set Webb Park off as far as the playground area.”
Skinner also helped organize a new recreational event to attract residents to Williamstown Lake.
Paddle Williamstown, which will be held Aug. 25 this year, had 150 canoes and kayaks register last year.
“We wanted to introduce people to Williamstown Lake who hadn’t been there in a long time or never been there,” Skinner said. “We wanted to provide a safe environment for them to canoe and kayak.”
The biggest attention-grabber of Skinner’s time in office has been the planned Ark Encounter project, a proposed religious-themed tourist development off Ky. 36 that could bring 900 part-time and full-time jobs, along with a much-needed economic boost.
Although ground has yet to be broken on the project because of funding issues, Skinner said he is confident of its future in Williamstown.
“It’s coming,” he said. “The economy’s slowing it down with financing. Their goal is to break ground in late fall, October. I believe they’ll reach that.”
“I think the impact will be immediate just because the work they’ll put in with contractors and the amount of jobs to build the ark and everything associated with it,” Skinner said. “They do say they want to use local contractors. I think it will be a shot in the arm for our economy just as soon as they start construction.”
Another project on the horizon is a joint venture between the city and Williamstown Independent Schools to build an indoor aquatic center on the school’s property.
The city and school board are waiting on architectural design plans.
Skinner said a ground breaking likely would not occur until late 2013 or early 2014.
“It’s a quality of life issue for us,” he said. “The more features you have in your city, the better chances you attract better businesses and higher paid positions. We just think it’s one of the things that would be good to offer our citizens.”
With a variety of plans in the works, Skinner said his biggest will be the construction of the city’s new water plant.
The plant is in the early stages of design and city council has already purchased the land.
“We realize we’ve got to build a new one because of capacity,” Skinner said. “Our existing plant couldn’t meet the standards that they set (for 2014.) So, we have to build a new plant. That will be the biggest challenge I have in my term, the funding of the project. It’s a $16 million project. We can’t do it without grant money of at least $8 million. We can’t put that on the citizens right after our waste water increases.”
For his hard work and dedication, Skinner was recently honored at the annual Grant County Chamber of Commerce banquet.
Although he knew his wife, Williamstown Superintendent Sally Skinner, was going to be recognized for Excellence in Education, Skinner was surprised to learn he was named 2012 Grant Countian of the Year.
“To me, it was one of the highest honors I’ll get,” he said. “I’m sure of that. That’s selected by your peers and that’s very special. I was humbled by it.”