Bonding, parks discussed in first county budget workshop

In an effort to collaborate with local industries and government agencies during a challenging economic climate, the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) has offered to help mitigate costs associated with a road expansion project in eastern Pulaski County.

The project — which includes installing a cloverleaf interchange at the intersection of Ky. 80 and 461, expanding Ky. 461 to four lanes from the intersection to Buck Creek, and building new entryways at Valley Oak Commerce Complex — is funded in part by a $25 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) federal transportation grant. With a total cost estimated at $69.3 million, the project also benefits from a $26.2 million state-federal apportionment, $12.8 million in state funds, a $5 million local match and other right-of-way donations.

Pulaski County Fiscal Court borrowed the $5 million local match, intending to share responsibility for the bond payments with the City of Somerset, SPEDA, and industries in the affected area. But now, given the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler said it is important for the economic development authority to shoulder the cost of the project for the first year to support its partners — a $360,000 commitment.

“We know public and private sectors are going to face fiscal constraints because of the pandemic and resulting economic shutdown,” Girdler said. “While SPEDA is already operating at record low levels, we feel it is our responsibility to step in and help our local industries and government agencies during this difficult time by making the full bond payment for a minimum of one year.”

Girdler said being able to make this commitment is due in large part to SPEDA’s ability to realize significant savings through proper fiscal management and oversight. After a thorough review of all records, expenses and assets inherited from its predecessor organization, SPEDA has been able to save more than $300,000 annually.

The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly affect local tax revenue, Girdler said, which he expects will also affect the level local government can financially support SPEDA. While SPEDA needs adequate funding to accomplish its goals, Girdler said, he has issued a proposal to Pulaski County Fiscal Court that would temporarily cut SPEDA’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We have accomplished so much in our first year as a new economic development authority while operating at record low levels,” Girdler said. “We will need more money to ensure economic development remains a priority in Somerset in Pulaski County. But we also know how important it is to collaborate during challenging times. We hope that this doesn’t last long, and we can return to normal funding levels to ensure economic development continues to move forward in our community.”

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