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EDITORIAL – Hopkins County Projects Gone Bad

ron edit 300HOPKINS COUNTY, Ky. (5/17/13) – ANALYSIS – Public trust of government is at “low tide” these days and as Cecil B. DeMille once said “The Public is Always Right”. The debacle in Washington D.C. aside, the public has been subjected to an alarming string of “good projects gone bad” here in Hopkins County. Sadly, it is unfortunate that some of these projects have gone from bad to even worse. When unforeseen problems arise and leadership does not take responsibility and hides or transfers blame it gets even worse.

The Career and Technical Center is an excellent example. For some unexplained reason, leadership in the Hopkins County School System and Kentucky Department of Education lost their notes that building a multi-million dollar school on unconsolidated fill (ground that had been surface mined) was a bad idea.

Perhaps the engineer that approved the site missed school the day they covered that in college. To their credit the Board of Education admitted their folly and sought to remedy the problem. However, viable and affordable alternatives were not considered. School officials remained fixed on the shining school on the hill and sought engineers that would keep that dream alive. It failed and millions of dollars have been lost. The abandoned building remains as a black eye.

The Veteran’s Memorial is an excellent example of how a good project went bad, got worse and was salvaged. The location of the memorial continues to puzzle many; but, the public has accepted the location. According to Mayor Jackson, original cost estimates underestimated the cost of labor for city workers and only included fuel estimates for city equipment (not a rental comparison). During construction, the stereotype of one worker working and fifteen watching became so bad that a local businessman paid private contractors to complete the job. Unlike the Career Center, the Veteran’s Memorial stands completed. It is a tribute to our veterans.

Now, it is the continuing saga of the Hopkins County Public Library. This is the story of a good project that got bad, then worse, and then worse still. The twists and turns of this story are too numerous to enumerate. Now it is cost overruns associated with the new location at the former Edwards IGA and Save-A-Lot building. There are always unforeseen problems when renovating an old building. Dr. Bill Smith has been severely criticized by former mayor, Will Cox, and city councilman, Mark Lee, for Smith’s performance and cost overruns of the library project.

Former Mayor Cox should be more understanding of Smith’s circumstance. Cost overruns of the city hall caused the renovation of the former bank building to exceed the Prevailing Wage threshold and prompted a Kentucky Department of Labor investigation and finding against the City of Madisonville. This was totally on Cox’s watch when the $200,000 estimate ballooned to over $600,000. Final tab for the city hall building is $1,621,000.

Next, the Sports Complex: This is another example of a good project, gone bad. It will take millions more to complete the complex. This (like the library) is an ongoing story. Many have questioned the location as well as the likelihood of the project being a net positive for the county. State Representative Ben Waide has had misgivings about the source of funding to build the facility and operate the facility thereafter. This story could get worse and then get permanently bad if the county has to use taxpayer dollars to keep the doors open year after year. Adding to public mistrust are statements by Judge Executive, Donnie Carroll, where he said on a radio talk show that the threat of eminent domain was never used in purchasing property for the Sports Complex; however, a letter to Larry and Janet Dame refutes those statements. Furthermore, the public was told for over two years that the Corps of Engineers permit was about to be issued. But, for now, six million taxpayer dollars should do the trick. That is in
addition to the $1.5 million already spent on the complex and another $1.5 million on a sewer line to the Sports Complex (and the empty Career and Technical School).

Lastly, the new Taj Mahal (also known as the new Justice Center). This multi-million dollar extravaganza has many scratching their heads about excesses of government. Local citizens have asked why that large of a building was necessary or practical. Questions have also been posed about building security and the large number of security guards when court is not in session or planned for the day. Of course everyone else was getting one, so Hopkins County did too. If we are going to pay for all the court houses across the state, we want one too.

Public officials can expect public outcry to increase until such time parties begin working together to solve problems and quit snipping at each other on Facebook. The City of Madisonville and Hopkins County Fiscal Court fund the library and the taxpayers fund the city and county. Let’s start getting it right.

In all these projects, public officials that lie and deceive the public should come clean, resign or be replaced.

Ron Sanders
SurfKY News

 

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