As another fiscal year comes to an end, another round of budget cuts to the city's and county’s chief economic development organization seems likely.
The Franklin County Fiscal Court on Thursday heard the first reading of a budget that would cut funding for the Kentucky Capital Development Corp. from $100,000 to $85,000. This comes one year after magistrates voted to cut the budget from $115,000 — so annual funding for KCDC will have dropped a total of $30,000, or 26%, in two years if the budget is adopted.
Magistrates say that they cut the funding, much like last year, over concerns about the performance of KCDC.
KCDC CEO/President Terri Bradshaw said that no elected official, or member of the KCDC board, has expressed displeasure to her regarding any of her day-to-day work.
Bradshaw noted in particular how she emails elected officials monthly reports about what work she has in progress. Those receive no responses from elected officials, she said.
“I've never gotten a single remark from the city or county elected official or my board members saying that they didn't like what we're doing,” Bradshaw said. “Actually, I've never gotten any response to those at all from a board or commission member that I recall, so for them to bring up in a conversation about how they don't think I do my job in a public meeting when they have never mentioned their concerns to me, or to my knowledge my board members, is concerning.”
But members of the fiscal court have expressed concerns in open meetings.
This year and last, magistrates have questioned the number of jobs generated by KCDC’s work. Magistrate Michael Mueller also criticized the agency's salesmanship job.
He made the initial suggestion of cutting KCDC’s budget, with Magistrates J.W. Blackburn, Sherry Sebastian and Scotty Tracy concurring.
Unlike last year, Booth supported keeping KCDC’s county funding the same next fiscal year as opposed to cutting it. Judge-Executive Wells and Magistrate Lambert Moore also opposed further cuts.
Tracy said he is unhappy with KCDC’s performance.
“As far as productivity, I can honestly say that yes, I'm not happy,” Tracy said. “I don't think Franklin County's going in a direction.”
Tracy said that he liked the idea of coming together with the city commission to talk about KCDC, and that he found it “interesting” that the city hired a strategic initiatives consultant, Penny Peavler, "to come in and work for them and try to hustle growth, jobs and other projects, considering they are putting out money to fund KCDC.”
Sebastian also mentioned a letter that magistrates had received — 11 pages long with footnotes, she said — critical of KCDC as cause for concern. The State Journal has a pending open records request for the correspondence.
KCDC and four magistrates — Tracy, Booth, Mueller and Blackburn — disagreed when advocates for industrial growth clashed with those who support preservation over the proposed rezoning of farmland on Duncan Road. Bradshaw was a strong supporter of the property’s rezoning for the purposes of industrial development while the fiscal court voted 4-3 to override the recommendation of the Frankfort-Franklin County Planning Commission and keep it zoned for agricultural use.
Bradshaw said that an alternative direction for KCDC has yet to be articulated to her. She said that over the past two fiscal years, the court has not recently said much about KCDC’s performance — that is, before budget season.
“If our strategic plan is not the direction they want to go, if the direction that my monthly reports are not the way we want to go, then I need to know that rather than have this out in a public meeting,” Bradshaw said. “They need to tell me that, and then they need to say which way they want to go. If they don't want manufacturing jobs, if they don't want health care jobs, then what do they want?”
In referencing health care, Bradshaw pointed to a couple of projects — Proclivity Senior Living’s proposed 100,000-square-foot facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and a youth residential treatment facility that she calls the Cornerstone Project. Bradshaw said that the two projects would bring in 75 and 70 jobs, respectively.
In Bradshaw’s monthly updates to elected officials, she often notes that Franklin County did not have the available or appropriate land to offer to interested developers. Because of that, and because of magistrate comments regarding industrial growth during the Duncan Road saga, Bradshaw said she’s shifted her focus.
“I'm not really sure how much more I can sell,” Bradshaw said. “I don't have any property available. I have very few industrial buildings available, and no means to develop any of those. So we’ve had to switch our focus a bit more to things outside industry.”
The fiscal court also voted to continue to not funding Downtown Frankfort Inc. (DFI), an economic and marketing organization, for the second straight fiscal year. It had asked for $15,000.
DFI Board President Rene True criticized the court’s decision.
“The $15,000 was going to be used to develop a new marketing plan to drive more business downtown and market our events, which get a lot of people to downtown,” True said. “By saying ‘no’ to DFI, the Fiscal Court is saying ‘no’ to downtown businesses.”
Bradshaw said that with her organization’s budget cut from the county, she can keep the organization afloat but will have to rethink several things.
“We don't really have any discretionary money in our budget as it is,” Bradshaw said. “We have very little in a marketing line item, which we will have to eliminate completely. The rest of it is salaries and utilities, and we don’t have much room for change there.”
Bradshaw currently makes under $100,000. She said that a previous KCDC President/CEO made more than she does now in 2002, and that an equivalent position in the less-populated Marion County was advertised with a salary of about $140,000.
Mueller said that he had spoken with “a couple city commissioners and the mayor” about a joint meeting with the city regarding KCDC and any other organizations that both entitles fund.
Wells agreed that more communication is needed but appeared to favor a meeting between fiscal court and the KCDC board first.
“At the very least, KCDC’s board and Terri need to talk with the fiscal court,” Wells said. “There needs to be some reckoning here because we can’t send mixed messages to try and attract people into Franklin County.”