By Jeff Jobe
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke these words:
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”. He also said, “Change doesn’t roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but come through continuous struggle.”
It has always been understood that change never comes without opposition. Nevertheless, change must come.
Glasgow needs change. For the entire tenure of Mayor Harold Armstrong, he has been fighting a group of individuals who have controlled most aspects of our city.
This group, although friendly people, just don’t care what anything costs, because they manage to get themselves plugged into the over-all plan, and will get enough business to offset any costs thrown their way.
Just like those who push for every expansion projects that comes down the pike, there are also those who are eternal skeptics, and blame everything bad on our elected officials.
I’m sure while reading this you’ve had a person or two that comes to mind. If you think I am part of either camp, you are not being thorough in your Jeff Jobe analysis.
Allow me offer some insight.
Over the past few years, I have fought for openness. I believe if tax dollars are being used we have a right to know how they are being spent. I’ve lost friends over this, but in my heart I know I am doing what I’m called to do.
I also believe that we need leaders with the ability to analyze a project on their own, and as a leader, make decisions about what is best for our community.
Let us be honest. The majority of our leaders do not do the work or put in the time themselves. So, I seek out truth, and I lay that truth- comfortable or uncomfortable- at their feet, along with thousands of their voting neighbors.
The Barren County Progress was alone in disclosing the actual costs, payments and down right ridiculous plan to spend $6.5M on a water park near the bypass in Glasgow.
I even had one of the most outspoken supporters of the water park project tell me this week, “Thank God we didn’t do that, because we know we have lost Sitel and LSC Communications.” (This was in a conversation I had with them regarding the estimated $450k loss of payroll taxes.)
Now, let’s look back at another big project. This project was one we completely supported. Scott Young, Director of the Glasgow Water Department, and his city appointed board purchased the once empty bank building they now occupy. It had quickly become another vacant building, with grass growing high, an aging facade and hedges in need of a trim.
Prior to the purchase, I sat down with Young and found that he had all the answers. He said, “Any manager would want to know these things before taking on such a project.”
Unlike the water park crew, Young has done his research. He knew his payment, had plenty of money in reserve in the event something went wrong, and assured me it was not at all about growing government, but instead about better serving their customers. He even showed me how low our water rates are compared to the rest of Kentucky, and promised no increases were anticipated at that time.
Now there is another big project being proposed.
The Downtown Park project. I stayed quiet for a long time, because many of the outspoken supporters for the project in the early stages were the same ones who wanted the water park project to take root. Being quiet and listening helped me to see if it was just another money-grab attempt, or a sincere effort to help Glasgow.
In an effort to show unity and community support, we even invited the chairman, Wes Simpson to speak at one of our Glasgow Downtown Business Association meetings. We also released a statement saying we would support this project as long as our mayor and council felt it was affordable.
Because this project has community partnerships, is located downtown, could be a permanent home for the farmers market, and because our city already has a Plaza board working with entertainers, all I needed to know was this: Can the city afford it, and would the money be watched closely?
The chairman, Wes Simpson attempted to portray the project as a money maker, and I feel he actually thinks it is possible.
Yet, in my 30-years of covering news, no government agency, aside from utilities, had made money. Within minutes of the example of the Beaver Dam Amphitheater being mentioned; I had proof that this project was losing money, even with a restaurant tax netting them $250K annually.
Simpson gave a suggestion about where the council might find the money inside the budget. That shows determination on his part, but determination alone cannot accomplish the end goal. It exposed him and opens a debate he doesn’t need, nor is he prepared to handle.
We elect city officials to set and manage budgets. If approved as initially presented, this project is expected to carry $2M in debt. Broken down over 10 years with no interest, this would be about $16,666.00 a month; or $200K annually.
Just last week we had three very outspoken city council members, Patrick Gaunce, Charity Lowery and Marna Kirkpatrick, advocating and pushing for the project. However, when I asked questions about Beaver Dam’s profitability as a similar example, or how we were going to offset the loss of $450k in annual payroll taxes, they seemed to get quiet. Clearly, they hadn’t researched either important aspect of our city investing in anything.
I met with Lowery and chatted in messenger with Kirkpatrick. I honestly believe they want to do something to help our community, and I understand the sentiment. I also feel this project could be a good one. If managed with transparency and with care, I think it could be the project that pulls us together.
However, after hearing from the finance committee I am comfortable saying we cannot afford this project as it was originally proposed, because the city of Glasgow is going into the budget year of 2021 with a shortfall of $750,000. Will they cut services, lay-off city employees or raise our taxes? Keep reading; I will be the man who tells you.
But wait, what?
Simpson did something I haven’t seen before. He was flexible, and said, “All we want at this point is to see if this is something we want or not”. He also said that with grants, and more contributions we could lessen the costs for the city.
I spoke with Mayor Armstrong after the meeting, and he too agrees the project has a tremendous amount of merit, but it cannot fly as initially presented. He said, “We all need to take our time, work together to find as much funding as we can and move cautiously so that this doesn’t become another burden on the citizens and taxpayers.”
I believe if Simpson will take the lessons learned over the past few weeks, and move forward with a flexible agenda, and be truly inclusive, that someday soon our community could be breaking ground on a beautiful Downtown Park.
Jeff Jobe is founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing, Inc. His commentary reflects his personal views and does not reflect the views of personal or professional associations and affiliations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his previously published commentary at sckentucky.com