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Tax hike 'yes' votes required courage


Published: Sunday, February 8, 2009 12:01 AM CST
Editorial

Courageous leadership by elected officials is not seen enough at any level of government, but it was on display Tuesday at Owensboro City Hall in a rare joint meeting of the Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court.

After four hours of impassioned public debate, the City Commission and then Fiscal Court voted to raise the city and county's insurance premium taxes, respectively, to pay for the $79 million downtown Owensboro development project.

The city vote was 4-1. The county vote was 3-1. The approvals mean that the largest local public works projects this community has ever seen can move forward.


Sentiment both for and against the tax increase was strong. It was without doubt very unpopular in many quarters for reasons we completely understand. Over and over, residents pointed to the terrible economy as the reason not to raise taxes at this time, even though many basically support the revitalization of downtown Owensboro.

The argument has merit. It is persuasive. It caused us pause when we considered whether we would support the increase. People are hurting, and few expect the economy to rebound soon.

In the end, we concluded that the downtown master plan devised by Gateway Planning Group was not only dynamic, but worth the expenditure as a way to spur economic development, create jobs, attract tourism and give this community an amenity that will improve the overall quality of life while putting Owensboro back in the convention business it enjoyed for so long.

But casting a "yes" vote for the tax increase was risky. The seven who did so -- Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne and city commissioners Candance Castlen Brake, David Johnson and John Kazlauskas, Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire and county commissioners Mike Riney and Bruce Kunze -- may face the ire of voters in the next election. What is so encouraging is that each was willing to make the tough vote. They did what they thought was best for the community's long-term well-being. That is the essence of leadership.

City Commissioner David Johnson said it well: "I can tell you without a blink of an eye ... if I have to choose between Owensboro's future and re-election, I choose Owensboro's future."

So did County Commissioner Bruce Kunze, when he said, "Unless we are willing to take some risk, we cannot expect to move Daviess County forward."


Much of the credit for the outcome goes to the plan itself. The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. did this community a service by bringing in Gateway Planning Group, which went about meticulously garnering public input and eventually produced a plan that not only will work, but also stirs the imagination and creates excitement. That made it much easier to defend, get behind and support. It will, we truly believe, do wonders for downtown and by doing so, will do wonders for the entire community. Coupled with the riverfront development project already under way, the downtown master plan will refocus attention on a part of Owensboro that has always held great potential but for too long has been allowed to grow stale.


 
 

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