City survived 2020 in good shape, mayor says

“It is an understatement to say that 2020 has sucked,” Mayor Tom Watson told the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s virtual Rooster Booster Breakfast on Thursday.

“It felt like we’re building an airplane while we were flying it,” he said.

Watson, in his annual “State of the City” address, said, “I guarantee you that January and February are still going to be a challenge, but help is on the way.”

With vaccinations already started, he said, “we are beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Despite the challenges, Watson said, the city made it through 2020 in good shape.

The fund balance is up $10 million over the last four years and occupational tax receipts have increased more than 3% in each of the last three years, he said.

“This is the best indicator of how well the local economy is doing,” Watson said.

He said the city issued 1,046 licenses for new businesses in town in 2020.

Watson said the Kentucky 54 widening project is on track with $5.75 million in utility work scheduled for this year and $10 million for construction scheduled for next year.

The entire project is expected to cost $61.25 million.

Road projects in the city for the next five years will total $93.175 million, Watson said.

He said the city offered small business COVID-19 emergency relief grants, which provided $2,500 to eligible small businesses; a rental assistance program, which provided up to three months of rental assistance to eligible renters; and an $18 a month credit to all city commercial sanitation accounts.

Watson said 101 grants totaling $186,092 have been paid in rental assistance.

He said, “In an effort to provide assistance to restaurants and bars who were forced to operate at a reduced capacity, the city has waived license fees and permit fees to allow for an expansion of sidewalk seating.”

Watson said, “The city and county each pledged $150,000 on two separate occasions, for a combined total of $600,000 to the local COVID-19 fund. The fund, started by United Way and Green River Area Community Foundation, has provided for the basic needs of our citizens this year.”

He said the city completed renovations to Jack C. Fisher Park that included synthetic turf, a new irrigation system for infield and outfields, front parking and rear parking lots, batting cages, an entrance drive sign and a redesigned ticket entrance.

The new playground installation is almost complete and the maintenance building replacement is out for bid, Watson said.

The project is anticipated to cost $2.9 million when complete.

Watson said the Sportscenter parking lot was redesigned to include an additional 178 parking spots and angled parking was eliminated.

He said the city filled 2,088 potholes, paved an estimated 8.6 miles of city streets and the Sanitation Department collected more than 42,000 tons of solid waste, more than 900 tons of limbs and more than 1,600 tons of leaves in 2020.

Watson said the Owensboro Transit System received a grant for more than $1 million to purchase the city’s first fully electric bus.

He said the former Gabe’s Tower property is now for sale.

The iconic former hotel was razed last summer.

Watson said the Northwest Revitalization project, which recently began, will include programs such as homeowner exterior rehabilitation, rental rehabilitation, new home construction, down payment assistance, beautification projects and safety improvements.

The city expects to invest more than $3.8 million in federal funds there over the next five years, he said.

Watson said, “August is going to be the time we break out from COVID.”

He said the 2021 Owensboro Air Show on Aug. 13-15 with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will be “the most exciting air show we have ever had in Owensboro.”

And the first Owensboro Hydofair in more than 40 years will attract more than 50 hydroplane racing teams on Aug. 20-22.

Watson teased that “the Bluegrass Initiative is coming soon.”

He said that was in reference to consultant Andrew Davis’ recommendation that the community find a “flag” that it can rally around to promote the community.

Davis suggested that it be bluegrass music.

By Keith Lawrence Messenger-Inquirer