Two key funding promises worth $425,000, made by state leaders during an open house last March at a 5,000-seat arena in south Corbin, have gone unfulfilled – one an apparent victim of the slow workings of government, the other the victim harsh budgetary considerations.
Two days before the first event was ever held at the David L. Williams Southeast Kentucky Agriculture and Exposition Center in Corbin, local officials and others were delighted to learn additional money would be forthcoming to help offset local money spent on the project. During an open house for the facility, attended by over 3,000 people, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear pledged $125,000 to the city to pay for theatrical curtains that would close off portions of the arena during certain shows. Jointly, Beshear and State Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville), for whom the building is named, promised another $300,000 had been secured through the state legislature to pay for the construction of a road leading to the facility.
As of press time Tuesday, Corbin city officials confirmed that neither of those two promises has yet been kept.
The larger of the two amounts, $300,000 for the road, appears destined to be in the city coffers soon, though, delayed only by a good length of government red tape.
Good to their word, Williams and Beshear did indeed secure money for the road which, according to Corbin City Manger Bill Ed Cannon, cost about $2.9 million to construct. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet gave the city $1 million before construction of the road began in 2009. The city picked up the remainder of the tab.
According to Mark Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in Frankfort, funding for the road, labeled as "Whitley Project 11-8520" is contained in the state’s highway plan – a volatile, ever-changing six-year prospectus that can be altered at the whim of legislators who budget money for projects on a biennial basis. In 2009, the legislature authorized the Cabinet to sell $400 million worth of "road bonds" to help augment money available for road projects. The General Assembly had approved projects to the tune of $3 billion more than available revenue, pointing to failure to pass a gasoline tax in 2000 as part of the reason.
About $125 million of the $400 million garnered from the sale of the bonds has been obligated to projects, including the $300,000 promised to the city of Corbin.
John Dobson, a public information officer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 11 Officer in Manchester, said Tuesday that it is his understanding the bonds have been sold and the money is available.
Originally slated to help pay for the road, Dobson said the description of the project was vague enough that it will allow reimbursement to the city for most of the $400,000 it spent last year to fix a mud slide underneath the road.
"As I understand it, we did receive the paperwork from the city so I expect everything to go through. That $300,000 is pretty much a go," said Dobson Tuesday. "This is kind of a unique situation … Most of the time we are expending money for improvements that will be done. This is something that has already happened."
Though only about a month shy of the one-year anniversary of the facility, Cannon said he was not overly concerned about the money for the road.
"I’m not in panic mode yet," Cannon said. "It’s a lot of money, but in the 10 years I’ve been down here, we’ve never been lied to yet."
But there was some concern. Local leaders did travel to Frankfort two weeks ago to address the issue with legislators. Corbin
Mayor Willard McBurney said he hopes the money is provided to the city soon.
"I know everybody has their plate out right now and we just have to be patient."
Dobson said he wasn’t sure when the money would be given to the city.
On more tenuous ground seems to be a promise by Beshear to give the city $125,000 for the theatrical curtains.
Kerrie Richardson, a spokesperson for Gov. Beshear, said this week that funding for the curtains is not a sure thing, but is being considered.
"The Governor is aware of the request for the curtain and it is under consideration with a bunch of other requests. It is on our radar," she said.
Richardson blamed the "awful budget outlook" as a possible reason the money promised to the city could be delayed or even scuttled.
"There are a lot of needs."
The money would come, ostensibly, from a special discretionary fund the Governor has at his disposal. Ultimately, Richardson said, Beshear himself would decide how that money is spent.
Beshear was unavailable for comment before press time Tuesday.
To Cannon, news regarding the curtains is unfortunate.
"He committed that $125,000 right in front of about 3,000 people," Cannon said. "I just hope it wasn’t talk. I took it to heart as did everybody else."
In a statement Tuesday, Williams said the responsibility to fund the curtains belongs to the governor.
"The governor promised to secure the funds and I’m sure the governor will live up to his commitment," Williams said.