During his annual State of the City speech, Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson highlighted the positive outcomes from the last year and the hopefulness of what’s in store for 2021. He discussed the COVID-19 relief programs for citizens and businesses in need, the City’s solid financial standing despite the pandemic, and the growing economy and successful public/private partnerships.
Watson’s message was streamed virtually during Thursday’s Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster event.
Watson — who recently won his re-election bid in a crowded field of quality candidates — started his State of the City by noting the City of Owensboro increased its general fund balance by $10 million over the last four years, netting a 113% increase.
Watson also focused on a number of projects that either began or had been completed in 2020. These included widening KY 54, the multimillion-dollar renovation and rebranding project at Jack C. Fisher Park, new pickleball courts at York Park, and the five-year Northwest Revitalization Project that is set to begin this summer.
Noting that many cities across the country had taken huge economic hits during the pandemic, Watson commended Owensboro for remaining economically sound during a historically difficult year.
Knowing the people of Owensboro were struggling, the City created relief programs for small businesses and rental assistance. Watson said that $600,000 had been contributed by the City to help its citizens.
With restaurants and bars undergoing mandated closures throughout the year, the City also waived license fees so that restaurants and bars could expand their seating onto sidewalks.
And while the City did its part to help its citizens, the citizens also did their part to help their City, he noted.
“It’s amazing what comes from the pandemic,” Watson said. “You really get to find out the heart of our community.”
Once the pandemic slows down, Watson said the City will hold a party at the Owensboro Convention Center for those who went out of their way to help others during this difficult time.
Despite the pandemic causing a number of issues for local government employees, Watson commended Owensboro’s Public Works department for their ongoing dedication and efficiency. Their department received acknowledgement all the way from Lexington for its ability to keep things running smoothly.
“They were able to fill 2,088 potholes and paved an estimated 8.6 miles of City streets,” Watson said. “Our sanitation department collected over 42,000 tons of solid waste, over 900 tons of limbs and over 1,600 tons of leaves in 2020.”
Watson also highlighted major projects the City undertook this year, such as the demolition of Gabe’s Tower, the expansion and redesign of the Owensboro Sportscenter parking lot.
He also noted the future benefits of the Project Badge initiative led by Owensboro Community & Technical College.
“All Owensboro Police Department recruits will be able to earn their associate’s degree during law enforcement training,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”
Another major project Watson helped guide to completion was the relighting of the Glover Cary bridge, which took 18,000 hours and 500 lights to complete.
Another big accomplishment was that the City of Owensboro was the only one of 389 metropolitan areas in the United States to have an unemployment rate lower in June 2020 than June 2019.
Watson is also helping lead the charge to make Owensboro a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) — a designation that would help the City to combat the ongoing meth crisis.
“All I was trying to do was see if I could find some more federal funding to assist [law enforcement] in their work to try and rid methamphetamines from our community,” he said.
While Watson acknowledged that the 2020 year had been rough — comparing the difficulties of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic to “building an airplane as we were flying it” — Watson promised better times ahead as he and the City work toward not just recovering, but continuing economic growth.
“Your City will continue to be fiscally conservative and try to assess the needs of our community,” he said. “We must always continue to seek progress. You should always repair the roof while the sun is shining. Don’t wait for it to rain. We must not only think big, but we must also do big.”