March 14, 2013
On Monday, the Prestonsburg City Council engaged in a tale of two meetings.
Shortly after convening, the council showed great zeal in moving forward with a plan to explore obtaining a loan for the purpose of buying the old Prestonsburg Elementary property at a cost of $1 million for a new community wellness center. Toward the end of the night, after looking over its finances as presented in the annual audit, it probably would have been a hard sell to get a majority of the council to agree to cough up a nickel for a piece of gum.
In short, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Prestonsburg does indeed have some issues with which to contend when it comes to finances, but the city is hardly on the verge of needing to hold a fire sale. At the same time, while the center is an important endeavor for the community, that should not preclude a full and deliberate exploration of what impact constructing and operating the facility will have.
One of the top priorities the city needs to focus on is ensuring that all businesses are complying with the occupational tax. While estimates of the number of tax cheats were probably inflated during the meeting, simple fairness dictates that all reasonable steps be taken to ensure everyone who does business within city limits plays by the same rules. The key concept here, however, is “reasonable.” It would make very little financial sense for the city to spend thousands of dollars in pursuit of a few hundred dollars of lost revenue.
At the same time, while we would argue that the health of local residents, particularly children, makes the community center one of the most important projects the city could tackle, there is no need to rush through deliberations over the best, most cost-effective way to proceed. The old saw that haste makes waste is never more true than in the throes of a publicly-funded capital construction project.
The bipolar nature of Monday’s meeting was a tad off the mark in both directions. The sky is not falling, but neither is it raining riches. City leaders would do taxpayers a lot more good if they simply pause, take a deep breath, and resolve to forego the politics of hyperbole.
— The Floyd County Times