Boyle officials question effectiveness of EDP at public forum

Published 8:17 pm Friday, April 26, 2019

Boyle County residents in District 4 got the opportunity to talk with their magistrate, judge-executive and numerous county officials Thursday night, at the county government’s second “Pulse of the People” public forum. The crowd of about 40 who attended the two-hour event at First Christian Church spent most of the time asking about three subjects:

• the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership and whether it has been effective in bringing jobs to the area;

• the legality of and problems with the growing number of short-term rental properties such as airbnbs; and

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• the Boyle County Detention Center and the local criminal justice system.

Boyle County Magistrate Jason Cullen, right, addresses a question from a constituent, while Judge-Executive Howard Hunt listens. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.


From the beginning of the meeting, Judge-Executive Howard Hunt and Magistrate Jason Cullen said they aren’t too happy with how the EDP has performed or how members of the previous fiscal court handled economic development matters.

Hunt, who is a voting member of the EDP board, acknowledged some of the work the EDP does must remain confidential and some of the work it does involves preserving existing jobs, which is harder to hold up to the public as an accomplishment. But, he noted, Boyle County has been investing in the EDP for 10 years and during that time span, the total number of jobs in the county has ticked slightly down.

Some of the discussion around the EDP revolved around the loss last year of a potential business prospect, international distiller Diageo, which was considering Boyle County for a multi-million dollar investment but ultimately chose a site in neighboring Marion County. A 100-acre tract in Boyle’s industrial park that Diageo had been eyeing was withdrawn from consideration by the Boyle County Industrial Foundation board, which owns the land; other economic development leaders apparently didn’t find out about the decision until after the Diageo project was gone.

Cullen said he understands the importance of non-disclosure agreements for prospective businesses, but he thinks it would be appropriate if public officials could be made aware in as broad strokes as possible if they could be losing a prospective business.

“We’re not going to say, ‘We want every detail about this,’ but if it’s something you think will benefit the county and we need to step up a little bit, we’re willing to do that,” he said.

Strategic plan

One attendee asked what the officials thought about implementing the EDP’s long-term strategic economic development plan, developed in 2017 at a cost of more than $80,000.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have any real good answer on that,” Hunt said.

“It’s a tough answer because part of the implementation of that is increased funding to EDP,” said Cullen. “… We haven’t seen a good forward movement, a good return on investment.”

The EDP has asked for $150,000 from Boyle County for next fiscal year — more than twice what the county is providing this year. Cullen said in his mind there’s not only a question of whether the county should double its investment, there’s also a question of whether the county should even maintain its current level.

“I would really like to see some return on investments at some point,” he said.

Boyle County Magistrate Tom Ellis talks about the Economic Development Partnership during Thursday night’s public forum. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

An audience member questioned why Hunt doesn’t know more about the strategic plan. Hunt acknowledged he has read some of the plan, but not all of it.

Steve Knight, another EDP board member appointed by Junction City, said it’s not just newer board members like Hunt and himself who are trying to “get their mind around” the strategic plan, some more experienced board members are, too. There are parts of the plan that could be good to implement and other parts that need to be revisited or scrapped entirely now that it’s been two years since the plan was developed, he said.

Economic development stats

Magistrate Tom Ellis said he and Cullen have been “outspoken proponents of protecting your tax dollars” when it comes to the EDP, and as a result they were asked to attend a private meeting with Industrial Foundation Chair John Albright and EDP Chair Ben Nelson. Ellis said at that meeting, they questioned stats they had seen published in a newspaper column about regional economic development.

According to Kentucky Crossroads, an 11-county economic development group of which the EDP is a lead member, there have been more than 4,500 jobs created and more than $1.7 billion invested over the last five years in the region.

Ellis said the magistrates wanted to know how much of that economic activity had happened in Boyle County.

“We have not specifically heard those numbers back again,” he said.

“You’ve got to hold their feet to the fire,” an audience member said.

“This is not beat up EDP time — that’s not what we’re looking to do,” Cullen said. “But sometimes, unless you actually start asking the hard questions, people think they’re doing just fine. Once they realize that there are people looking over …”

Cullen said he would “love to have a flourishing EDP, because other than that it’s up to some magistrates and the judge-executive and the city to make things happen. So they’re a vital partner, but we have to make sure that they’re producing.”

“Everybody wants them to succeed; the problem is they haven’t been succeeding,” an audience member said. “… You guys have to be the bad guys and make it happen.”

“Or they could be the good guys,” another audience member said.

“It’s like parenting,” Cullen responded. “You know, you need to discipline when you can and love them the same way, too.”

EDP response

When asked after the meeting about Ellis’ comments, EDP President Jody Lassiter said he was “unaware of this request” and “no member of the (fiscal) court has requested any data from me.”

“We thoroughly document each year’s announced project activity and that cumulative data back to 2008 has been and is publicly posted on our website at the economic health index page,” he said. “… that cumulative data was indeed included in the fact compilation that (EDP Chair) Ben Nelson distributed at the last board meeting, which was received by Judge Hunt and Tom Ellis.”

In response to Ellis’ comments, Nelson provided The Advocate-Messenger with copies of emails sent to members of the fiscal court dated April 19, April 7 and March 13, in which Nelson offers to meet to discuss the EDP’s work and provides specific statistics on economic development projects the EDP has worked on since 2008.

“I wanted to reach out to the fiscal court after reading today’s Advocate article ‘Boyle magistrate, judge-exec want EDP ‘streamlined.’’ We would again offer to meet with you as individuals or as a group to more fully discuss the partnership’s ongoing work and address any concerns individual magistrates might have,” Nelson wrote on April 19 in an email whose recipients included Cullen, Ellis and Hunt.

On April 7, Nelson also provided fiscal court members with a year-by-year breakdown of new and expanded industry projects in Boyle County from 2008 through 2018. The same breakdown was provided to everyone in attendance at the EDP’s April 17 board meeting.

The breakdown lists the following information for the past five years:

• 2018 — capital investment: $46,037,210; jobs: 94; projects: Luca Mariano Distillery, Whiskey Service LLC, American Greetings, Wilderness Trail, Hobart, Dana Inc., Sellers Manufacturing Company, MCB, LLC (Gypsy Run Brewery) and USA Signs.

• 2017 — capital investment: $41,581,909; jobs: 204; projects: Adkev Inc., Denyo Manufacturing, Wilderness Trail Distillery, Meggitt and AMBRAbev.

• 2016 — capital investment: $8,647,160; jobs: 41; projects: Denyo Manufacturing, Intelligrated, Wilderness Trail Distillery, Total Cart Management USA, Burkmann Industries, Ferm Solutions, Sellers Manufacturing, Hobart and WestRock Company.

• 2015 — capital investment: $68,903,145; jobs: 402; projects: Meggitt, TransNav, Wilderness Trail Distillery, Pitman Creek Wholesale, National Office Furniture, Dana Holding Corporation, Wilderness Trace Solar, Bolts & Nuts Corporation, DecoArt Inc., Independent Healthcare Properties, MKP Management, Newcomb Oil Company and Murphy USA.

• 2014 — capital investment: $42,681,594; jobs: 192; projects: Corning Inc., Hobart, Sellers Manufacturing, Wilderness Trail Distillery, Intelligrated, Kentucky Solid Surface, Pro Ag Sales and Service, Ferm Solutions, Caldwell Stone Company, National Office Furniture, Denyo Manufacturing, and Addixxion Recovery of Kentucky/SelfRefind.

Buying land

On Thursday, it was brought up that one of the ways Marion County may have lured the Diageo project was by giving it the land to build on for free.

Cullen and Hunt said the county could do something like that — buy land for the purpose of giving it away to a prospective business — but it would have to use taxpayer money to do it.

“That’s a bridge we have to get across,” Hunt said.

The next proposed EDP budget, if funded fully by its partners, includes $100,000 for “asset development,” including $50,000 that would be spent to develop a private property — a Norfolk Southern-owned tract along the railroad, in between the Main Street/Perryville Road viaduct and the southern side of the Danville bypass. Another $25,000 would be for initial planning and design work to make an existing industrial site “pad-ready” — meaning it would be easy for a business to come in and immediately start building. And $25,000 would also be allocated for planning and design to expand the industrial park’s current footprint.

Government representatives on the EDP board say taxpayer money can’t be spent on privately owned property, so there are still questions as to how the money could be spent if it was allocated.

At Thursday’s public forum, Cullen said he thinks if Boyle could have landed a $130 million-plus project like Diageo by “kicking something in” like the land, it would be a justifiable move.

“That’s some of the extra investment EDP is asking for,” Cullen said. “(The EDP) would like to have more public money purchasing land so that we have that opportunity. And I don’t know if we want to go that route.”

“I’d rather give you $250,000 to buy land than I would to give it to EDP,” one audience member said.

Check back Tuesday for more from the public forum concerning the local courts and jail.