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Paducah, McCracken Co. leaders talk 2021 accomplishments

Derek Operle
Paducah Mayor George Bray speaks to the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce

The heads of McCracken County and Paducah’s local governments came together before the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday to address the state of their community heading into the new year.

Judge-Executive Craig Clymer and Mayor George Bray each spoke at length about the accomplishments of their local governmental agencies in 2021 and their outlook on 2022 at the Paducah-McCracken County Convention & Expo Center.

Bray, elected in the fall of 2020, led with some praise of his staff before highlighting some of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of his first full year in office.

One of the things Bray was most proud of was the way the city has helped the community deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s Customer Experience Department aided in the coordination of vaccine appointments for over 4,100 area residents.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the way our city stepped up in a time of need,” the mayor said. “We had people calling everywhere looking for somewhere to get a vaccine. I felt like we were a ray of light for a lot of people.”

The mayor also touted the city’s stewardship of bond funds throughout the year. Starting 2021 with $19.8 million in available bond funds, the Paducah City Commission worked to approve two different uses: $12.5 million towards a sports complex collaboration with McCracken County and $2.9 million for a modernized airport terminal at Barkley Regional Airport.

The city is still exploring uses for that additional $4.4 million in funds. Bray indicated some potential uses could include the upcoming redesign of the Robert Cherry Civic Center or an upgraded E911 system, which the city would be joining with McCracken County on.

Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act supplemented the commission’s ability to pursue one of Bray’s campaign issues: stormwater infrastructure for the city. The commission put $4 million towards that cause in July 2021. A remaining $2.4 million in ARPA funds is still being considered for other uses.

Other highlights for Bray included the city’s downtown and Southside development missions.

The city’s downtown has seen a variety of investments and changes over the past year, including the establishment of a TIF district and an Entertainment Destination Center within its bounds. He said these could lead to future economic growth by encouraging economic investment and tourism, respectively. Also, the City Block project – which will see the building of several mixed use structures for a hotel, retail and restaurant space in the center of downtown – came more into focus.

Paducah’s Southside area – which accounts for nearly a third of the city’s overall acreage – has been historically neglected when it comes to economic development initiatives and beautification projects. Bray’s administration hopes to change that with a long-term focus on several projects in that part of the city that could generate impactful economic change. The commission organized multiple town halls and neighborhood cleanup projects on the Southside throughout 2021.

Bray also spoke about the development potential of Paducah’s Triple Rail Megasite and an influx of cryptocurrency businesses in the city over the past year.

Looking forward, Bray is excited for a potential expansion of the city’s curbside recycling program, potential new trails in the city’s park system and the creation of an app for requesting various city services. The mayor expects the city commission to set more formal priorities for the year in the coming weeks.

“We had a very successful 2021 in the city of Paducah but we’ve got a lot of work left to do,” Bray said.

Derek Operle
McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer speaks to the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce

Clymer’s address started with a question: “What difference does the state of the county make to you?”

The judge-executive then went through a list of 10 things that Clymer feels make the state of the county important: restored finances; strengthened law enforcement; economic development; emergency communication; merged water districts; modern airport terminal; Carson Park improvements; collaborations with the city; solar farms; and race relations.

The judge-executive praised his staff and fellow elected officers in the county. Over the course of Clymer’s administration, McCracken County has been able to increase its reserve funding after reaching an all-time low in its fund balance early on due to repeated deficit spending by prior administrations. This slow increase in funds – generated by new revenue streams and proportionally adjusted property taxes – has allowed the county to restore some services that had been cut due to lack of funding in recent years.

Some of that funding also went to increase pay in the sheriff’s office. This is money that Clymer, a former law enforcement officer, feels makes a big difference. The judge-executive said that increasing retention allows the sheriff to keep more experienced, qualified officers in the community and that helps keep the community safer.

Economic development has also been a priority for Clymer’s administration. The fiscal court’s mission to create a tournament-worthy sports complex progressed substantially. Property to build the complex was acquired in late 2019 after a donation and McCracken’s Sports Tourism Commission did significant work in advancing the complex’s construction and management processes in 2020.

“It’ll be just spectacular,” said Clymer. “It’ll be the crown jewel of the county as well as the entire region.”

The city is partnering with the county fully on this complex project. The 105-acre facility is on track to be open in the summer of 2023.

Other economic development progress in 2020, Clymer said, included the creation of the joint Industrial Development Authority. He also discussed a future land use plan for the county and mentioned Sprocket as a leader in the county’s digital economy.

All of these things, Clymer said, are making the county a more exciting destination for new and emerging businesses. The judge-executive indicated that the county is currently a finalist for a number of economic projects.

“We do stand in the top ratings for several large projects. I’m confident that we’re going to land one or more. There’s a large number of jobs and extremely attractive wages,” he said. “Any one of these projects is going to energize and transform our community into a regional powerhouse. Good-paying family sustaining jobs. Jobs that’ll attract our children and keep our children and their children for decades to come here in our community.”

The judge-executive also finished his racial unity water tower project this year. Clymer commissioned a mural artist to paint a local water tower with a message of racial unity directly facing a large Confederate flag that flies near Interstate 24.

Other items on Clymer’s list of 2021 accomplishments included the county development of a zoning plan for solar farms, increased recreational and cultural use of Carson Park and the merging of Paducah Water with the West McCracken Water District. This allowed for a reduced water cost for many county customers with no increase to city customers.

“I think each one of these, frankly, is a strong move forward for McCracken County and for your own lives,” Clymer added. “All 10 of them together, accomplished largely during the COVID pandemic, is, in my opinion, quite exceptional.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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