by Bill Mardis
“It’s a great time for Somerset,” proclaimed Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler. “If you hear we’re going broke, don’t believe it. The city had $20 million in the bank last week.”
Girdler, speaking Thursday to members of Somerset Kiwanis Club, assured the civic group that the city’s finances are in wonderful shape. He made the remarks obviously in reference to recent national publicity about the city of Detroit taking bankruptcy and news about other cities across the nation struggling financially.
The mayor also revealed that Somerset’s Energy Center will be advertised in January for construction bids. He said construction of the center should begin in March with completion expected in 2015. Go-ahead for the center has been slightly delayed by the recent shutdown of the federal government.
Estimated cost of the energy complex is $8,496,000. Somerset has been approved for an $8.5 million loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Program.
Main purpose of the center is to monitor the city’s vast natural gas pipeline network. The building’s four floors, including a basement, will house city hall offices and an emergency command center with police department space.
The 36,200 square-foot structure will center on what is now a city parking lot. The area will be expanded by demolition of the former Meece Hardware building on the west side of the parking lot; the former city utilities building on the west side of College Street north of the parking lot; and the current city utilities building on the east side of College Street just north of Somerset City Hall. The existing city hall facing East Mt. Vernon Street will be torn down to make way for a parking lot.
“New technology installed in the center will allow the city to increase revenue by more than $5 million a year and be a major player in the future energy system,” Girdler said. Somerset has leased the processing system for natural gas to a company that completed a $10 million addition in Leslie and Clay counties. This will secure Somerset’s role in providing processed natural gas to the eastern United States, he noted.
In relation to natural gas, Girdler said Pulaski County Area Technology Center has begun a certified degree training program, approved by the Kentucky Department of Education, for high school juniors and seniors with 22 students enrolled. Somerset Community College is cooperating with the city and offering an associate degree program, a follow-up to the high school courses. Girdler said four of these students will be given internships and jobs.
The mayor also told the Kiwanians that a $3 million sewerage system project is being advertised to replace sewer mains in midtown. Included is the sewer line that serves Valley Oak Commerce Complex on Ky. 461. A $2 million federal grant and $1 million from the city will finance the project.
Finally, Girdler said Economy Inn on Monticello Street has been purchased by the city and is in the process of being razed. The property is scheduled to be purchased by a health-care company.
He also told Kiwanians that Somerset City Council has approved an agreement with Ferguson to transfer its natural gas and sewerage systems to Somerset.
Ferguson residents will save more than $300 a year with a 25 percent reduction in gas rates, starting his month, and a reduction in sewage rates, Girdler said. A contract signing ceremony will be held in about two weeks, he added.
The mayor credited Kiwanian Gene Cheshire with first coming up with an idea to plant grass and shrubs in medians along six-lane U.S. 27 in the city limits. Cheshire owns a Dairy Queen along the busy route.
“It’s expensive. We’ve spent $150,000 this year and plan to spend another $150,000 next year to complete the project,” Girdler said.