On Monday evening, the Corbin City Commission officially voted to abolish the position of Downtown Manager. Downtown Manager Aaron Sturgill was let go from the position a few weeks ago.
The Downtown Manager’s position over the last several years when Andy Salmons was at the helm was one that helped foster the revitalization of downtown Corbin, which has been a model for other small cities.
While it is sad to see the elimination of a position, which has done a lot of good, the Corbin City Commission made the right decision in my opinion.
Here is why.
First, let’s just be frank about COVID-19 for a minute.
It is not going away any time soon, and will be impacting us for some time to come.
While certainly not all, a lot of what the Downtown Manager does relates to organizing and putting on events, such as Moonbow Nights and the City Yard Sale. Most of these events won’t be resumed any time soon thanks largely to COVID-19.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the very best case scenario happens and a COVID-19 vaccine is fully developed, approved for use and ready to go into production by New Year’s Eve 2020, which is the end of the year.
The vaccine, which every country in the world will be wanting, still has to be mass produced at that point, distributed and administered on a worldwide scale, which I optimistically would guess will take probably about three months to do in this country and this assumes that we don’t have supply chain interruptions.
Under this most optimistic projection, the soonest any remotely large scale public events would return locally is probably April 1, 2021. This means that we would largely be paying a Downtown Manager to sit around for at least the next six months with not a lot to do.
The other COVID-19 reality is that the budget for local, state and federal governments are going to continue to take big financial hits that I am not sure have been fully realized by the general public.
Federal spending cuts will filter down to the state, and state funding cuts will in turn filter down to the local level. In other words, local governments are going to have less money to spend.
Cuts must be made, and some of those cuts are going to hurt. For instance, the City of Williamsburg delayed a $6 million plan to expand the Kentucky Splash waterpark and campground for at least one year.
While the Corbin Downtown program has done many good things over the past several years, much of what it does isn’t essential, or at least not right now.
The budget for the Corbin Downtown Manager’s office was $169,000 annually, which included a salary of about $32,000 for the Downtown Manager.
This is a significant chunk of funding.
Then there is the matter of Corbin having a strong tourism department, which has a significant amount of overlap with the Downtown program.
From a financial standpoint, it makes sense for the city to contribute a few more dollars to the tourism program to take over some of the responsibilities of the Downtown program in the interim. Tourism should be able to handle it since this department will also be having fewer events for the next nine months or so.
There is no doubt that previous Downtown Manager Andy Salmons accomplished a lot of great things for the city through the Downtown program. Sturgill seems like a nice guy, who has done a pretty good job. This is no knock on him.
Economic times are going to get tighter though, and elimination of the Downtown program in the short term is going to be one of the easier financial choices that I fear the Corbin City Commission, and agencies like it, will be forced to make in coming months.
One year from now, Corbin may want to reconsider establishing the Downtown Manager position again.