MURRAY — Repeatedly emphasizing the theme of working together, Murray Mayor Bob Rogers and Calloway County Judge-Executive delivered the annual city-county update to Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday morning.
The State of the Community Address has been a tradition for the chamber’s Business@Breakfast for more than 15 years. To further point to a collaborative spirit, Imes and Rogers went back and forth with sections of their presentations rather than give back-to-back speeches.
“I read in the paper last week that the Paducah and McCracken County judge and mayor shared a podium when they addressed their chamber,” Rogers said. “So we’re going to do it again, and we hope that every city and county in Kentucky will start doing the same thing and work together. This our pledge; this is what we’re trying to do.”
Rogers then joked, “We may need to back off a little bit. It got to the point we spent so much time together that someone asked Murray State to put the ‘Kiss Cam’ (at basketball games) on us.”
Both men thanked their staff members for working together on their joint PowerPoint presentation, making requested changes up until late Monday night. Imes began by talking about important building renovations undertaken in 2019, including a new HVAC system in the Calloway County Judicial Building and replacing the roof at the Calloway County Jail, which he said cost more than $100,000 each. The jail also needed a new water system, which Imes said had cost around $32,000.
Imes also mentioned some cost-saving measures the county had undertaken. He said the county had previously spent around $32,000 annually to keep the road department uniforms cleaned. He said the county is now reimbursing employees about $400 a year to buy their own clothes and clean them, saving taxpayers approximately $20,000 a year.
Imes said the county is currently preparing to launch the Calloway Road Improvement Safety Plan (CRISP). He said it would help the county better prioritize the maintenance of its 720 miles of road and 1,440 miles of ditching.
“That will be our operating mechanism for at least the next three years,” Imes said. “That will be significant, so that we’re not just running all over the place. This will set up priority roads that we can begin to work on as we try to upgrade our county road system.”
Imes also mentioned the new 911 service fee, which replaces the previous landline fee, some joint transportation projects with the City of Murray (641 South four-laning, Bailey Road and Fourth Street resurfacing) and the Calloway County Public Library Board of Trustees moving toward eventual expansion of the library building. He said the city and county also saved $165,000 by joining together on a 911 grant application, which is awarding $135,000 for new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) equipment for the Murray Police Department and Calloway County Sheriff’s Office dispatch centers.
Rogers said that when he took office at the beginning of last year, he wanted to do something about the complaints he often heard during his campaign that no one at City Hall listens to the public. He said his wife, Gayle, headed up a group of volunteers for the Community Liaison Program, which takes complaints and concerns, both in person and through the telephone hotline (761-CITY).
Rogers encouraged members of the public wanting to give their thoughts on certain projects and policies to attend the relevant committee meetings, which are typically held prior to the regular council meetings. Those committees – usually consisting of about six council members – discuss the issues before making recommendations to the full council. He said there are currently eight standing committees and two ad hoc committees (the Downtown Revitalization and Beautification committees).
“If citizens wants to have input into the topic being discussed, then they need to attend these committee meetings because that’s where they’re discussed,” Rogers said. “Our council meetings are business meetings, not town hall meetings. We’re there to conduct the business, and so the discussions and the questions and answers that lead to the recommendations are made in the committees.”
Rogers said he is also attempting to fulfill his campaign promises of making City Hall more business-friendly through several means, including the actions taken last year to change the sign ordinance and simplifying the business license application process. Rogers also mentioned there is currently a 50/50 match available from the city as an incentive for people wanting improve their downtown buildings or to locate downtown.
“I don’t know if the money will be there to do that next year or not, but it’s there this year,” he said.
Rogers said there are 11,755 active city utilities accounts billed and 40,000 total services. He said eight natural gas expansion projects were completed in 2019 and 46,000 feet in new gas lines were installed, with one expansion project currently in progress. He said the Bee Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant project is 95% complete. He added that the City of Murray currently manages two out of five water systems in Calloway County, and is currently in process of taking over another, Water District #2 along KY 121 South, at the county’s request.
Imes said challenges for 2020 include County Employees Retirement System (CERS) pension funding and unfunded mandates for the jail. He said overcrowding at the jail leads to the county overspending about $700,000 a year, and he said he now regrets that he didn’t realize what a huge problem this is when he was a state legislator because counties are very limited in how they can increase revenue to combat problems like this. He said other challenges include deferred maintenance for county buildings, funding improvement for roads that are falling apart and the need to eventually replace the county animal shelter.
Rogers said pension funding is also one the city’s top challenges in the year ahead, as well as utility infrastructure upgrades, continued paving needs, repairing existing sidewalks and funding new ones and attracting additional business and industry to bring more jobs into Murray. He also said the city would be contracting with the state to mow along U.S. 641 this summer instead of leaving it to the state this year.
“I thought the state did a really poor job (last year) of mowing 641 coming into town from the north,” Rogers said. “I was just really embarrassed every time I’d drive into town at the weeds and the bushes and the Johnson grass, so we’re going to contract with the state to mow it ourselves this year. We’re in the process of doing that; they won’t pay us but a couple of times, but at least we can mow it any time we want to – right, Ron?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Street and Solid Waste Manager Ron Allbritten.
Imes closed by further elaborating on his and Rogers’ philosophy of working toward the common good.
“We don’t try to compete with each other; we don’t necessarily even try to compete with other counties in our region,” Imes said. “We have all got to work together. Not just the City of Murray and the county of Calloway and the City of Hazel; we have got to work together as a community of western Kentucky. I think we’ve got to speak with one voice.”
For this reason, Imes encouraged chamber members and business leaders to sign up for the Calloway to the Capitol bus trip to Frankfort on Thursday, Feb. 13. The event is for business and community leaders and is a regional partnership with the Murray, Mayfield, Hopkinsville and Paducah communities. Attendees will meet with key cabinet members, members of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office to advocate for the Murray-Calloway County area and the community’s specific legislative priorities, a chamber email said.