By Mayor Alan Keck
How you do anything is how you do everything.
No matter the role, I have always strived to dream more, learn more and do more. All with others in mind.
I am no different as mayor. I believe when we invest in the people who invest in us — not just those who work for the City of Somerset but also those who choose this special city as their home — we win every time. Investing in people doesn’t just mean finding the financial resources to support them, though that is a crucial step in the process. It means showing up to listen, considering ideas that are different from our own, making decisions daily that propel us forward and being willing to step aside to let progress happen.
Ultimately this is how we light up Somerset. We must invest in ideas and resources that will ensure our people have what they need to live today, thrive tomorrow, and be proud of their community.
Despite the trying times in which we find ourselves, we continue to find ways to accomplish what we set out to when I started this journey more than a year ago. And we remain steadfast in our positive outlook for this community, no matter what challenge awaits.
In the coming year, our investment in our people starts by refinancing the Somerset Energy Center. With the council’s approval June 22, we shortened the length of our debt commitment for the Somerset Energy Center from 40 years to 25, saving taxpayers $2.4 million.
We’ve maintained a healthy rainy day fund while putting ourselves in a better position for the future, saving close to $1 million in salaries and benefits and continuing to invest in our city workforce — people who are doing the work every day and will keep doing the work long after this slate of elected leaders has moved on.
After nearly two decades of neglect, we repaired the first half of our ailing EMS building. Our first responders are now sleeping in a safe, comfortable facility with adequate showers and restrooms, and our new budget will allow us to move forward next year to improve administrative offices.
From our cash reserve we purchased the sanitation building, providing yet another new facility for those employees who drive and ride on the back of garbage trucks day in and day out no matter whether it’s raining, sleeting, snowing or there’s a global pandemic. We are showing up for them like they show up for us every single day.
City council members joined me last year in giving raises to our police officers to get them closer to the state average. We’re still not there but have our eye on that benchmark. We invested in police cars and equipment and are doing so again in this budget. These are simple yet important ways we can say thank you to our men and women in uniform for their dedication and sacrifice.
We continue to provide raises for our entire city workforce. In the budget approved June 22, we included cost of living adjustments for our employees yet again. While many cities across Kentucky were forced to lay off employees, enforce extended furloughs, cut benefits or give no raises at all, this budget includes a raise for our entire staff. We also absorbed increases in health insurance premiums for all council members, employees and any individual person on a policy, as well as a great deal of increased costs for those on family, with spouse or with children plans.
We do not plan to raise utility rates in this budget, striving to provide what financial stability we can to our residents in an unstable economic climate. Under the previous administration, two water rate increases were passed along with no discussion or public awareness. This is not how I operate. While a sewer adjustment will likely be needed in the future, any discussion or action related to utility rates will be presented with complete public transparency and disclosure.
This budget also includes funding for water and sewer infrastructure improvements that quite frankly have been ignored for too long. I am committed to enhancing quality of life and safety for our residents. Mitigating these problems will go a long way in doing so.
And then there are the investments we’ve made in entertainment and art, food and fellowship. We filled our downtown streets with thousands of people in celebration of these and can’t wait to bring them back as our economy reopens. Our New Year’s Eve Bash, Streets & Eats Festival with Busker Music Contest, Foodstock and Moonlight Festival were huge successes, and have proven invaluable in building community support and pride. These events have also served as a catalyst for bold business investment in our downtown, generating new revenue that affords the ability to continue hosting them. We look forward to adding our Derby Festival to the lineup in 2021.
We’ve invested in murals on buildings — and basketball courts — that needed new life, creating a vibrant downtown that’s drawing attention statewide. We’ve found ways to innovate, launching our #seemyset LIVE series as a way to support local businesses, artists and musicians who are doing their best to survive the economic shutdown. And we are keeping our residents’ well-being a top priority by launching our Healthy Somerset initiative — offering ideas, resources and challenges to help them stay well mentally, physically and spiritually.
Finally, opening the Lake Cumberland Farmers Market has been nothing short of a home run. With this project, we’ve provided an opportunity for growers and producers to sell locally sourced, fresh food at a reasonable price to our community while reviving an atmosphere of retail and fellowship downtown that has been sorely missed. Our community will reap the rewards from this investment for years to come.
These are things we can all be proud of. They’re things I’m incredibly proud of. Though nothing in 2020 has been conventional, I have full confidence that we can look at this financial plan knowing we’re going to continue to thrive and invest not only in our employees but the entire community, to the best of our ability.
The work we’ve done in this short amount of time, and are dedicated to continuing, is unprecedented. I will not wait for permission to lead. I will continue to go boldly and unapologetically, building a Somerset for all generations and charging forward with a vision that will reignite our city’s economy.
How you do anything is how you do everything. I do it all with the people of Somerset in mind.