Last week’s paper gave a prelude to me “telling” you about the consequences of what would happen if you no longer had a local newspaper. As fate would have it, our local government has once again offered up a more provocative “showing” of those consequences than a “telling” by me.
For much of last week’s almost two hour long Fiscal Court meeting, the mundane ruled the night. Though essential, regular business such as “the Solid Waste Director wants to retire next April so lets hire an interim Director to learn under him before he leaves” type business ruled the night. Well, that was until an add-on in the closing minutes of the meeting by Judge/executive Leslie Stith.
Stith gave the court an update on the city of Brandenburg’s new wastewater treatment plant that is being built. He pointed out that the money being received from the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from Nucor was not covering the county’s obligation by the prior administration to pay for their half of the wastewater treatment plant. In fact, the Meade County Fiscal Court is subsidizing that shortfall to the tune of $120,000 a year.
Magistrate and former banker Gary Chapman struggled to understand how this could be. County Treasurer Tammy Graham attempted to explain that Nucor pays the county $325,000 through the PILOT agreement each year. The Meade County School District gets $75,000 of that money. Another $93,000 goes towards the insurance premium tax for the bond. Graham said that only leaves $157,000 to go towards the sewer treatment plant, meaning the county is having to subsidize $120,000 to get the $277,000 owed to the city for the treatment plant each year.
Chapman, still not satisfied, said, “I guess I don’t understand how did that happen?”
Stith replied, “It was a resolution passed by the court before me.”
Chapman said, “No, I mean how did we come up short?”
Graham replied, “I don’t know how we could have known in 2019 when we did this how much the wastewater treatment plant was going to cost then.”
Chapman said, “But $100,000 a year for 20 years…”
Stith cut in saying, “is $2.4 million.”
Stith then added that the city has done four change orders to the project, raising the price tag an additional $275,000. It appears the county will have to also pay half of this also, according to the inter-local agreement that was unanimously passed by the former Judge/executive Gerry Lynn and the magistrates.
This further upset Magistrate Chapman, leading him to ask, “So the ordinance says we will pay half of an unknown number?”
County Attorney Jessica Roberts answered, “The inter-local agreement agrees for us to pay half.”
To which, Chapman rhetorically questioned, “Of a number we don’t know?”
Yes, Magistrate Chapman, as crazy as it may now sound to you, you and your fellow magistrates unanimously voted to allow former Judge Lynn, Industrial Authority Chairman David Pace and Brandenburg Mayor Ronnie Joyner to form this inter-local agreement to the dismay of all of us who watched you do it. Oh, if you had only questioned this all so vigorously two years ago before it was too late. Once again, you have proved why I have a picture on my wall depicting you as Judge Lynn’s bobble head.
Two years ago, we were writing about industrial revenue bonds and payment in lieu of taxes being a corporate welfare program. We were writing about how ridiculous the PILOT payment Meade County agreed to was. We were questioning why our leaders weren’t fighting for more, as countless other Fiscal Courts have in other communities in regard to PILOT agreements. We were questioning why county tax dollars were being used to help pay for Brandenburg a new sewer plant when they already had one before our leaders gave it away to Nucor. And now here we sit, two years later, watching the same magistrates that bobble headed the inter-local agreement finally catch up with our reporting and ask things like, “So the ordinance says we will pay half of an unknown number?”
Maybe now our detractors will understand that this paper was never against Nucor. We were against the leaders of this county failing its constituents because they were star struck by a big shiny steel mill on the horizon. We were against our former Judge and his magistrates violating the law. We were against our County Attorney preventing them from violating it. We were against Lynn and Pace giving everything away with nothing in return. Sure, they all told us to shut up, quit asking questions and be thankful for the 5-billion-dollar investment Nucor was making in Meade County. Sadly, many are now starting to see what we have been trying to point out — Nucor made a $5 billion investment in Nucor. Meade County just served itself up as the most complacent candidate for Nucor’s leaders to ensure maximum profit for their board of directors and stockholders. If only our leaders had fought as hard to ensure Meade Countians were equally taken care of. Instead, we get broken laws, huge debts thanks to Nucor and a magistrate wondering how the city of Brandenburg got a blank check that he himself signed and sent two years ago. Don’t worry, though, I’m sure its all going to pay off someday.