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Possible Study on Sports Complex Raises Questions, CPI Pay Passes First Reading

gave 300HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (2/8/12)—A possible two-part study on the county’s Sports Complex project under the direction of the Community Improvement Foundation (CIF), as well as the discussion of an automatic increase in county salaries to match the Consumer Price Index (CPI), caused quite a “stir” among members of the court during the first Fiscal Court meeting of February 2012 (Tuesday, February 7th).

While initially brought to the court’s attention by Magistrate Christopher Toney on behalf of the county’s “Recreations, Buildings, and Grounds Committee,” the first phase of the aforementioned study was further expounded upon by the CIF’s Executive Director, Shane Browning, during an informative presentation to the entire court.

In total, both Toney and Browning explained that the first phase of the study would require approximately $18,000 in funding from the county to complete and would be implemented alongside a “task force” composed of 3-5 people, including one Hopkins County Magistrate who would serve as the study’s “liaison” to the Fiscal Court. As far as the actual methods of completing the study, Browning noted that personal interviews with local citizens, mail-based surveys, and a variety of internet-based questionnaires (including email, website, and smart phone-based methods) will be used in acquiring data.

Browning offered a synopsis of the study’s two phases, saying that, “Phase 1 would be a feasibility study that would determine and gauge the level of support coming from the general public. It’s strictly the study. Depending upon the results of that, the court could have the opportunity to enter into Phase 2, which would be a public campaign.”

The second phase of the study, which would be contingent upon the results of the initial survey and/or study, would include a public fundraising campaign and the ensuing collection of monetary support.

Browning outlined the costs of the Phase 2 campaign, explaining that 3.5% of the overall funds raised would be required upon completion as payment. This cost would be dependent upon the final collection or projected goal of the campaign. While both Toney and Browning stated that the funds raised during the second phase would not cover all costs associated with the Sports Complex project, they would be added to preexisting support.

Though the initial phase would ultimately aim to locate supporters, Browning noted that there would be no concrete guarantee of specific donation amounts from supporters during the second phase.

While Magistrate Toney, Magistrate Shaun Roberts, and Browning sought the court’s support in moving forward with the public study, Hopkins County Judge-Executive Donald Carroll, as well as other members of the court, voiced concerns with the $18,000 project, saying that solid support studies had been completed on the Sports Complex in 2007 by the Hopkins County Tourism Commission and later in 2008 as part of the CIF’s NewCities Initiative. Judge-Executive Carroll added that “obvious” public support was previously evidenced through a variety of public meetings around the county, Don Bowles’ original donation of property for the complex, the purchasing of approximately 100 additional acres, public support from Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, athletics events honoring the project, and more.

“Is a feasibility study necessary? Or do you want to try and make this happen in one shot,” asked Carroll. “I hate to spend money again on a feasibility study that’s already been done. It may be old, but the information is there. I’m about going and collecting money. If you’re going to the do same thing that already exists, I don’t want it.”

Following Judge-Executive Carroll’s initial statement, Magistrate Roberts asked if other members of the court were aware of or had reviewed the former studies being alluded to. While few stated that they had, Roberts said explained that he had recently gone over them with the new project in mind.

In regards to the initial Tourism Commission-led feasibility study, Roberts explained that, “That feasibility study, in my understanding, does not gauge how much the public supports the Sports Complex project. It simply states an estimated cost and a cost of operation as well, so this [CIF study] would simply supplement that feasibility study; it would not be inconsistent or contrary.”

In echoing Magistrate Roberts, Browning mentioned that, “It would not duplicate any information. In fact, the information contained in the previous studies would be helpful in helping to share facts with the general public.”

Of the overall Sports Complex project itself and why a CIF study would be relative to our county, Magistrate Roberts stated that, “I think that the Sports Complex idea has been a victim of poor planning and a controversial location. We made a promise back in ’08 without a plan to keep it. We don’t have any plan on paper that shows how we’re going to fund it. As the Judge stated, we have heard from community leaders over the years…who we haven’t heard from, to a large level, which this thing could connect with, are the people of Hopkins County. I think it’s important that we hear from the people we serve and that we only go through with projects that they support. This feasibility study is $18,000, but I think it’s far better to invest $18,000 to gauge public support than it is to continue spending hundreds of thousands of dollars—or millions of dollars—on a project people don’t support in a way that they can’t afford.”

When asked by Magistrate Charlie Beshears if the initial phase of the proposed CIF study could be removed in order to begin the actual fundraising outlined in Phase 2, Browning said, “From our perspective, the answer would be, ‘No.’ That’s because—when you look at the research and you look at data in the fundraising world—if you want to raise money, the best you can do is ask for information.”

County Magistrate Bill Groves, an initial supporter of the Sports Complex project, voiced his concerns with the potential study as well, noting that approving the new potential motion and/or study could, in essence, undercut the original motions and intentions of the project itself.

“I originally made a decision based on what I thought was best for this county. That was back when we did this before. We voted on it, it was passed, and I thought we were ready to go on with it. We spent money on it and everybody says, ‘That’s been stripped out there,’ but, when you build a ball field, it isn’t any trouble to go in there and level it up when it has to be. You’re not going to have big old buildings sitting out there on top of it that you’re going to worry about,” said Magistrate Groves. “We’re going to keep it up and make it look nice. We’ve already been through this. We voted on it, passed it, and we’re going to put it out there. And now we’ve got to do it all again?”

In response, Magistrate Toney stated that, “I understand that the previous court voted and passed motions to build the Sports Complex at its current location, but, once again, the ultimate purpose of this survey is to find people willing to make a donation and to obtain the money to build it at the location the previous administration wanted. Secondly, there are a lot of new members on this court, and the last time I remembered, the people did not elect us to walk in lock-step because of what the previous administration did.”

Magistrate Larry Wilson, a former board member of the CIF and an original supporter of Madisonville’s Glema Mahr Center of the Arts’ initial development/construction, asked for further consideration of the matter before making a final decision.

“I am not opposed to what the Community Improvement Foundation wants to do, and I’m not opposed to Mr. Toney’s committee,” said Wilson. “I would like to see the 2007 report, I would like to further review the NewCities Initiative, and I also understand that there were some studies done regarding other counties and ongoing costs. Today, I am not prepared to vote to go ahead with this.”

As a result of conflicting opinions on the proposed CIF study, a vote on the potential motion was tabled until the next Fiscal Court meeting, which is scheduled for February 15th, 2012, at 4pm.

During the upcoming days, Magistrate Toney urged other members of the court to review the previous studies, stating that, “Those feasibility studies judge the costs of construction and the costs of annual maintenance. However, I don’t think we have feasibility study that judges the public’s opinion on this project.”

Other strong opinions were voiced on the topic, yet no agreement was reached and the study’s proposed motion remains tabled.

Another topic that garnered varied reactions was the discussion of a salary-based ordinance. Under the aforementioned county ordinance (Ordinance 2012-2), the salary of county employees, including magistrates, would automatically match the respective Consumer Price Index (CPI) or “cost of living” each year.

The first reading of the ordinance was approved with a final vote of 5-2, with the two opposing votes coming from Magistrate Roberts and Toney. The reading will require the approval of a second reading at a later date, as well as city council approval, before becoming official.

However, As Judge-Executive Carroll explained of the possible ordinance, it his idea and had came into his mind after receiving information from the Magistrates Association regarding other county employees’ salaries in relation to the above mentioned CPI averages. Additionally, Judge-Executive Carroll added that Hopkins County is now inclusive in terms of salary figures, meaning that an ensuing rise in yearly compensation to meet the standard “costs of living” or CPI will be seen across all county positions. This inclusiveness covers county-elected officials such as magistrates, said Carroll.

“If the money isn’t there, then it doesn’t have to be given,” said Judge-Executive Carroll, “but if the money is there, everybody should receive the cost of living. That’s all the employees. I want to treat everyone alike in regard to salary.”

After Magistrate Roberts asked what was "unfair" or "broken" with the current salary system, Magistrate Wilson responded, saying that, “Why must we vote each year on keeping things current? Consumer Price Index is not a raise; it’s to keep people current.”

As was later stated during the meeting, if county funding cannot match the costs of rising CPI in the future, a new resolution absolving the CPI matching will have to be voted in by members of the court.

Remaining consistent with former statements, Magistrate Roberts stated that, “The people of my district are not guaranteed annual pay raises and I can’t support a mandate on government growth.”

“If the cost of gasoline wasn’t $3.48 per gallon, I guess I would vote against this, but I drive all the roads within my district within several days, and I do this so many times a year,” said Magistrate Karol Welch. “It is amazing how much gas I go through. How much does that raise a Magistrate’s pay? Thirty dollars each pay period?”

Magistrate Beshears stated that the rise in pay grade in respect to CPI added approximately $38 to each Hopkins County magistrate’s monthly pay.

In other, less controversial news, the court also approved an education-based joint resolution between Hopkins, Webster, and Muhlenberg Counties that allows for the filing and distribution of a Kentucky Local Government Economic Development (LGDEF) project proposal/grant application that reaches up to $250,000. Under the Hopkins County Fiscal Court’s direction, the potential grant-based funding would be allocated to the Madisonville Community College (MCC) Workforce Training Initiative, which will allow for a much broader education and employment base in all three counties.

A Safety Ordinance update or amendment was made that will require county-wide updates to 9-1-1 emergency databases. Under the ordinance, addresses will be accurately recorded via the Hopkins County Geographic Information System (GIS) coordinator for emergency purposes. Therefore, residents will be required to accurately provide a current and highly visible address for their home following proper notice from the county. A complete copy of the public safety ordinance (Ordinance 2012-03) may be obtained via the Hopkins County Government Center, which can be reached by phone at (270) 821-8294.

In addition to proclaiming February as “Career and Technical Education,” which was officiated via a certificate given to Madisonville Community College President, Dr. Judy Rhoads, the court also presented Leo Wirthlin with a certificate of appreciation for 10 years of service at the Hopkins County Jail.

While a motion to increase support of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force was listed on the agenda, discussion of the topic was rescheduled for the following Fiscal Court meeting.

Luke Short
SurfKY News

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