Watson lists city’s accomplishments during 2021
If there was a a recurring note between Mayor Tom Watson and Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly during their presentations Thursday at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Rooster Booster Breakfast at the Owensboro Convention Center, it was a note of irritation with commenters on social media, who say local governments do nothing.
In a response of sorts, Watson listed the city’s numerous activities and accomplishments in 2021 during his “State of the City” address.
Watson credited the city’s business community for the city’s achievements.
“If you don’t do well, we are not going to do well,” Watson said. “When we talk about our finances, we are talking about the finances you provided us with. The good that happened, happened because of you.”
The city’s coffers are in good shape, and occupational tax revenue increased last year by more than $800,000, Watson said. Watson said the increase in occupational tax revenue is an indication “of how well our local economy has done.”
Watson said city government’s main responsibility is public safety, and that the city has worked to strengthen the Owensboro Police Department.
The city hired 21 new officers last year, which almost offset the 19 officers who retired or resigned, Watson said. Also, City Hall is improving facilities for OPD by constructing a new classroom and training building at the OPD firing range, Watson said.
Watson said he has future hopes for the OPD training facility.
“Somewhere along the way, we will create our own police academy” and do training locally, rather than sending new officers to the state police academy in Richmond, Watson said.
Watson praised OPD for having crime clearance rates above the national average.
“We have character-driven law enforcement,” Watson said.
Also on law enforcement, both Watson and Mattingly noted the county being designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area as one of the city and county’s main accomplishments. Mattingly said the county became a HIDTA community “under the leadership of Mayor Watson.”
“We are one of only six counties in the U.S to get HIDTA designation” last year, Watson said.
Being a HIDTA community means law enforcement will receive federal resources, such as overtime funding for drug investigations.
At the Owensboro Fire Department, the city invested in an expansion of Fire Station 2 on East Parrish Avenue. Watson said the project, which is underway, will expand the station by 1,000 square feet, providing more space for the firefighters assigned there to respond to the city’s east side.
“That’s where we are growing,” Watson said.
A major initiative downtown, the planned construction of the 121-room Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel and an apartment complex across Second Street from the Owensboro Convention Center, is the result of a partnership between city officials and Gulfstream Development.
“That’s about $100 million in investment in downtown,” Watson said.
Later, Watson said, “it’s public-private partnerships, and we should be extremely grateful for the partnership created through Gulfstream, and I applaud them.”
Watson also mentioned the city’s work to bring Big Rivers Electric Corporation’s headquarters to downtown, which included the city selling Big Rivers the land and providing economic incentives. Officials broke ground at the West Second Street site Tuesday.
“They’re going to be happy here, and we’re happy to have their 100-plus employees as well,” Watson said.
Watson talked about services city workers provided, in terms of potholes filled, streets paved and trash collected. The city’s effort to upgrade housing in the northwest Neighborhood Revitalization Area has resulted in more than $1.5 million in investments, Watson said.
“This validates that we have not forgotten the northwest area,” Watson said. “We are working diligently to improve our community, although some people say we are not.”
Addressing the pandemic, Watson urged the crowd to “get all of your shots, if you feel comfortable.” With the community experiencing a rise in the number of new COVID cases, Watson said residents will have to learn to live with the virus.
“We are still not back to normal,” Watson said. “Maybe this is the new normal.”
But the city, Watson said, “is able to respond to whatever comes our way,” and he stressed the need for people to be unified in the coming year.
“We can’t be consumed by petty differences,” Watson said.
Watson urged the crowd, “hug somebody you love today, and let’s have a hell of a year.”
By Jim Mayse Messenger-Inquirer