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Weisiger fountain plan sounds like a joke

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

We don’t think there’s any way to justify the City of Danville spending $100,000 or more upgrading the Weisiger Park fountain at this point in time. It’s such a ridiculous proposal that it sounds like it must be a joke.

But it’s not a joke. The city commission hasn’t decided whether to actually upgrade the fountain yet, but they were talking about it as if it’s a serious possibility, even a likely outcome, during this week’s commission meeting.

The city spent in the vicinity of $600,000 and many hours of city employees’ labor overhauling Weisiger Park a couple years ago. The result is a pretty patio space with a useful stage, limited shade and a pair of water features that have been met with mostly negative reviews.

What’s done is done and rehashing what could have been at Weisiger is falling into a sunk-cost fallacy trap. The issue today is that no one likes the Weisiger Park fountain. We’ll admit we’ve made fun of it as much as anyone else.

Extra time and money has already been spent to fix up the lackluster display, but even now it still looks more like streams of water from a drinking fountain than a park fountain.

So, what value would Danville taxpayers place on not having a wimpy fountain they don’t like? We could believe $5,000 easily — that’s pocket change for a city the size of Danville and represents only about 31 cents from every resident. We could also believe $10,000, maybe $20,000. But above that, it starts to sound increasingly absurd. If “$100,000 or more” turns out to be “more,” the new fountain could wind up being more than a fifth again the cost of the original renovation.

The discussion should never have reached the $100,000 range. At $50,000, leaders should have already been shutting it down or asking about other alternatives, such as removing the fountain entirely, leaving a reflecting pool or even just a very low-cost flower bed.

Here’s a question leaders must answer satisfactorily for their constituents before they proceed any further: So what?

So what if Danville has an underwhelming fountain in Weisiger Park? What are the actual negative impacts, if any, from leaving it how it is?

There are a lot of underwhelming things in Danville that $100,000 could fix or help with. If the city’s going to fix the fountain, it should be able to show positive impacts from doing so that are bigger than the impacts of fixing the other things.

Downtown safety is one thing the commission is already hoping to address with lighting upgrades and a Main Street streetscape between Second and Fourth streets. $100,000 could eat a good-sized chunk of those costs, and the positive impacts would be obvious.

How about this: Danville is taking over management of parks in July, and Constitution Square Park is most certainly a park. It’s also downtown in a high-traffic area and one of the most important historical locations in all of Boyle County.

The Boyle County Fiscal Court, which owns the park, is struggling to come up with the best way to maintain it. What if Danville increased its parks budget by $100,000 for one year and fixed up Constitution Square? That could have much larger benefits for the public’s pride in downtown than fixing the fountain, and the tourism and economic development benefits could be enormous.

Danville could even use that initial $100,000 outlay as a jumping off point to reach some kind of ongoing agreement with Boyle County to share profits from event rentals or office-space leases, in exchange for maintaining the park at a level that would attract events and/or tenants. That could generate additional revenue in the long term for the city and county.

What about providing funding to fight food insecurity? Or paying to improve visibility of public transportation options? Or further expanding the area’s growing trails network?

What about starting a fund to help pay water and sewer bills for low-income customers of Danville’s utility systems who can demonstrate financial need? That could help shore up the budgets of community agencies currently spending a lot of their money helping people with bills that have greatly increased in the past few years. And it could help Danville politically with its Junction City and Perryville customers, who so far refuse to believe the cost increases were necessary.

Or, Danville can spend $100,000 on a bigger fountain so no one makes fun of Weisiger Park anymore. Whoop-de-do.