He grew up the poor boy from Second Street. Seven people in a four room house. An outdoor bathroom shared among them all. Walk a hundred yards and you’re out in the country. To make money, Lusby delivered newspapers for seven years, from sixth grade to his senior year.
Those were the earliest years for Scott County Judge Executive George Lusby. He remembers those times as being rich and full – two things that had nothing to do with money.
“For a family that didn’t have cash, we did everything,” Lusby recalls. “But nothing that cost a lot of money.”
The Richest Years
Lusby says he basically grew up with two mothers – his real mother and his grandmother. And, while he enjoyed their strong presence and his Granny’s homemade biscuits with butter and sugar on them, it was the times with his father that informed his experience of true wealth.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, but I always felt like I was the richest kid in town because of the relationship we had,” he says of his father, Bryan, who was a contract house painter in Georgetown. “He never went anywhere that I didn’t go with him, from the time I was five or six years old. We liked to hunt or fish. He’d take me with him long before I could carry a gun.”
The Lusby duo took in baseball games at the fields in town, hunted rabbits out Lemons Mill Road, and fished their favorite holes in every bend of Elkhorn Creek. In the winters, when house painting was put on hold because of the weather, Bryan stripped tobacco. Young George tagged along. With every swing of the bat, or cast of the line, or every warming session by the stripping room stove, the elder Lusby made a deposit into his son’s life.
“Without question, he was my favorite person to be around,” Lusby says. “There was a lesson he taught me over and over again. He taught me to love my children. Those were the types of things that made life wonderful.”
And those are the types of things he has tried to pass on to his own children – four girls and one boy -and to his community. Lusby’s rich contributions to both family and friends are generous because he draws from deep reserves, gathered over decades of experience.
Gathering the wealth
Lusby attended Georgetown’s city school, Garth. He graduated in 1954 and went to EKU for a year. After that, he transferred to Georgetown College and graduated two and a half years later.
“I was smart enough to take the right courses,” he says and laughs. “I had a combination major of Sociology and Economics, and then a major in physical education.”
Lusby remembers what a different time it was to be in higher education back in the fifties. Tuition and a room at Eastern cost him about $100.
“A hundred dollars was hard to come by, but if you had a good job, you made a dollar an hour. I worked in the pool room on weekends and made 50 cents an hour, but it went a long way,” he says. He bought two meal tickets a week and found he could eat lunch and dinner for a week on just ten dollars. “Now, you didn’t eat breakfast, you slept in.”
In addition to taking a heavy load of classes, Lusby also officiated any game he could find to officiate. He already knew the rules of baseball and football from playing the games himself, and helped to pay for his way through college by working as a referee. He got paid $2 a game and could officiate three little league games in a single weekend to bring in a total of $6. When he got into college, officiating paid a lot more.
Throughout the course of his life, Lusby refereed for 52 years. He retired ten years ago, and was inducted into the Dawhares/KHSAA 2006 Hall of Fame for his contribution to the officiating world.
After he graduated from Georgetown College in 1958, Lusby went on to work for 30 years in several Kentucky school systems in the roles of teacher, truant officer, high school basketball coach and principal. During that time, he also served his community for 26 years on the Georgetown City Council. Lusby says it was a funny story that began his government career.
“I had been in the school system and this guy came down to the office and he wanted my signature. See, you had to have two signatures to run for city council,” Lusby explains. “He said I should run for city council. That way, I could sign his papers and he could sign mine. That’s how I got into politics. I forgot I was even running. I didn’t campaign or anything and I won the election. From then on, when I got into it, I really liked it.”
It was while he was on the city council, and serving as vice mayor, that the announcement came from Frankfort that would change his life. The announcement was a different kind of asset. The announcement was that Toyota was coming to the Bluegrass.
From his early days, Lusby knew what a dollar was worth. It meant he and his father could stop at Fitch’s Drug Store and get a tuna salad sandwich and a milkshake after a ball game. If they didn’t have a dollar, they would just keep on walking back home.
If a county doesn’t have a dollar, however, that county begins to deteriorate. In the mid- to late 80s, Lusby says that was just the condition of Scott County. At least five manufacturing companies had drawn down business in the area over a five-year period. Two of the five were outsourced to foreign lands, the other three just shut down. The town felt the economic crunch.
When it rained at the elementary schools, administrators set buckets in the hallways to catch the drips. Churches were in need of repair because folks left town with the disappearance of jobs. No people meant no parishioners. Lusby says the county had the biggest trailer park at the high school because there was no money to fund school buildings.
In 1985, the county saw a glimmer of hope they didn’t even know was coming.
“I can remember it was so secret that no one in government knew until they saw the announcement on the television,” Lusby says. “We could talk for hours about the difference it made. I don’t think there was an issue with anyone about what Toyota was going to do economically to Scott County. We were tickled to death.”
Martha Layne Collins announced the Toyota venture in 1985. The first cars rolled off the line in 1988. Economic prosperity rolled along with it.
So did change, and all the problems that go with change.
Lusby says that instead of feeling as if they had opened Pandora’s box, the city and county governments approached the growth with their eyes wide open. They looked to the Northern states for solutions to problems before those problems even reared their heads. Planning and Zoning, a joint venture between city and county governments, made sure there were protections and ordinances in place before an explosion of uncontrolled growth. It was a way to protect the new and growing assets. Two of those protections included the purchase of development rights and what the county calls cluster developments.
With the purchase of development rights, Lusby explains that a farm might be worth $2,000 an acre for agriculture, but worth $10,000 an acre if it is developed property.
The county, in conjunction with federal funds, pays the amount that makes up the difference that a landowner would receive if the property was developed. This means that the county pays the land owner $8,000 an acre to not develop the land. That land can never be developed, but the landowner doesn’t really miss out on the opportunity because the county has already paid fair market value for those development rights.
Another protection in Scott County is what Lusby calls cluster developments.
“You can build on five acres of land, so if you have a hundred acres, you can build 20 houses on a hundred acres with five acres per lot. If you cluster the houses, you build the same amount of houses on 20 acres as you would on a hundred acres if you use one-acre tracts,” Lusby says.
“You preserve 80 percent for farmland. You increase density, but you preserve greenspace.”
While both of these protections might be controversial, Lusby says the way Planning and Zoning works has saved the agricultural portion of Scott County.
“Everything is controversial, but if you want to preserve the greenspace and make the community like we like it, like I like, you have to have a comprehensive plan that tells you the rules you go by,” Lusby explains. “If you don’t have [a comprehensive plan], anyone can build anything anywhere and you’re stuck. You can’t unscramble eggs.”
In addition to protecting the environment and the economic growth of the county, Lusby has also learned how to use the county’s assets as a blessing for the future.
Blessings of inheritance
Most folks learn as they go. The same is true for county governments, and Scott County is no exception. But what does a county do with a large influx of payroll and net profits tax income? They don’t spend it all in one night.
Scott County has grown from about 23,000 people to well over 50,000 people since right before Lusby was elected to county judge executive in 1990. Over the last 25 years, Lusby has worked to make sure that city and county offices and personnel work together to make Scott County one of what he calls the best places on earth.
“It’s not politics here, it’s government. We get along. We don’t all agree, but it’s not over political issues. We’re blessed,” he says. “You try to look ahead. There are things we have done here, because of the money with Toyota.”
Some of those things include replacing 50 wooden bridges in the county with new bridges that have no weight restrictions, and the construction of a pipeline from the Kentucky River in Frankfort to Georgetown.
“One year, the Royal Springs went completely dry. We had a backup line to Elkhorn Creek. They put a big oak board across the dam out there so they could get that much more water,” Lusby says. “Now, if the Kentucky River doesn’t go dry, we’ll have water.”
The city and county also partner on ambulance services, parks and recreation, planning and zoning and electrical and building inspection.
“We split the cost of services. It’s very unique,” he says. “These are the essential services. We work together. That’s just what we do.”
And, according to Lusby, it’s essential to the future of both the city and county that they continue to work together.
“If someone came in and asked me for advice, I would tell them that the advice is free and that’s probably what it’s worth. The thing I’m proud of, when I took office, we owed four million on a bond issue where they built the jail and justice building. Today, after all the stuff that we’ve done, we don’t owe a nickel and we have a year’s worth of reserve money put away. We did things as we could afford them,” he says. “I love it. You look out and see issues that need to be addressed. I love to be a part of that.”
After 25 years as county judge executive, Lusby believes he has given everything he can to invest in a county that would have made his dad proud. At the end of each day, that’s a knowledge that makes George Lusby the richest man around.
— Kristy Robinson Horine