In July 9 IssueBy Linda Stephens, Columnist
Favorite thing… Independence Day, July 4th. I hope you and your family had a wonderful fourth of July. I spent some good time with my mother, a sister and several cousins at a family reunion near Bowling Green . We laughed, talked, looked at pictures, and ate a bunch of catfish cooked by Cousin James. As I get older, spending time with my family gets more meaningful. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
White Elephants. This week I’m writing about some things I consider “white elephants”.
A white elephant can be “a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of”. Or a white elephant can be “a rare, expensive possession that is a financial burden to maintain.”
In a way, it’s useless for me to take up space and comment on these items because most of them are already done deals. They’re completed and we’re stuck with them. But they’re outstanding examples, in my opinion, of tax dollars spent, frivolously. And I’ve been wanting to write about them, so might as well get on with it. Some readers will probably say, “She doesn’t have anything to write about this week.” So be it. Keep in mind, I haven’t been privilege to any inside information and was not on any committees relating to these items. This is strictly my views of what I see as wastefulness and exaggeration of a need, if there was one to begin with. In some of these cases, a jacket may have been needed but a fur coat was purchased, and on credit!
Where to start? Let’s begin with the Russell County Natatorium/Auditorium. I remember hearing folks talk about the “need” for a swimming pool where our kids could practice indoors and not have to drive to Somerset to use the pool at the Y. Well, that didn’t sound too bad to me. 1) I pictured a modest building with a swimming pool inside. Never did it enter my mind, we’d end up with a huge building the size of the Natatorium. Yes, it’s a beautiful building and it has big bills to be paid. By whom? The Russell County School system. I’ve “heard” the utilities run anywhere from $80,000- 120,000 per year. Hmmmm, two to three teachers’ salaries. This white elephant is expensive to maintain and will be difficult to get rid of, if that day ever comes. Why did we “need” a building this size in Russell County ?
Then, we have another white elephant, just about completed, sitting on the square in Jamestown …the Russell County Justice Center . It, too, is a beautiful building with about 44, 500 square feet. Supposed to cost around $11.62 million to build. Will probably cost more, as most buildings do. Now, our Justice Center is smaller than Taylor County ’s 53,000 square feet, as Taylor County has more population than we do.
But tell me, why does a county of 17, 500 people “need” a building of that size to conduct it’s judicial business? That’s about 3 square feet per Russell County resident. We may have “needed” some more space for our various offices in the courthouse. Surely, there could have been a more reasonable solution than the huge justice center we are getting. Who’s going to pay those bills? Will the state of Kentucky pay them? Or will Russell County be responsible? Either way, it’s tax dollars that will be spent.
New buildings can be an asset to a community, IF the community can afford them. If you can’t afford a fur coat, don’t get one. Buy a jacket, instead. One you can pay for. I clearly remember when the Russell County Extension Service moved into a new office facility in August 1989. We were thrilled! But we also made plans with our board for the increased expenditures we knew were coming…water, electricity, and maintenance. We knew our bills would be more and planned accordingly. We stayed within our income in order to pay these larger amounts.
Two more “white elephants” are road projects. One is the exchange or exit at Somerset , coming off the Lake Cumberland Parkway . Did you ever see such a wide loop de loop to exit the parkway, drive over to highway 80 or continue on the bypass around Somerset to Burnside?
It must be because of the large population in Pulaski County … slightly over 60,000 people. Tell me how a bypass around Somerset is good for businesses on 27? Looks like the new road moves traffic away from them, not toward them. Who’s idea was this? Why did Somerset “need” this huge exchange? This project is another example of a “need” being exaggerated and too much money spent. This road is not rare but it is an expensive possession, adding to the large financial debt of Kentuckians that keeps getting bigger and bigger.
One more white elephant road project is just to the west of us in Barren County . Glasgow, population 14, 272 is getting it’s third exit! Now there’s a sign already posted near the future exit about the Kentucky Cultural Center . I looked it up and it’s the Barren County Historical Society doing business as the Kentucky Cultural Center . So in a county with 41, 566 people, the local historical society will have an exit to their cultural center. Please, don’t get me wrong, I love these places. I wish Russell County had a cultural center, if we could afford one. But to spend tax dollars creating a third exit for a place the size of Glasgow Kentucky seems extravagant to me, especially when neither the county, state or United States governments have the money to pay for it.
Well, that’s all I’m saying about white elephants.
It’s easy to see why our governments at all levels are struggling financially. Money, in the form of tax dollars, being spent that is not there. Foolish spending.
In closing, "Love begins at home and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in that action." Spoken by Mother Teresa.
Till next week.