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No penance for $400K mistake

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It’s a downright shame that those on the Anderson County Board of Health who voted to approve the new health department building near Walmart can’t be held personally responsible for squandering $400,000 in taxpayer money.
Of course unlike the taxpayers who have no choice but to pay for their mistakes, they’re immune from such accountability.
That figure isn’t made up. It equals the $125,000 in cash the health board paid PBI Bank of Louisville for the vacant lot where the new building sits (the bank also got the old building in the deal), along with the $275,000 the fiscal court just approved to buy what was a publicly owned building back from the bank for use as a new sheriff’s office. (See story, A1).
Together, they equal $400,000 — an amount that could have done a tremendous amount of good had it been properly spent. Instead, that amount stands testament to a group of people who have effectively flipped the bird to taxpayers forced to fund their boondoggle.
It didn’t have to be that way. While the health board spent years overtaxing homeowners and stockpiling cash that even the state warned was excessive, reasonable people laid plans to eventually have a new health building built in the county park, near US 127 Bypass.
Blueprints were even created, but former judge-executive Anthony Stratton was defeated in the 2006 primary and his successor, Steve Cornish, apparently pretended those blueprints never existed.
Like all judge-executives, Cornish assumed his role on the health board and merrily voted in favor of the new building without ever offering to follow Stratton’s plan or even discuss the issue first with his own fiscal court.
Had he done so, that $400,000 might never have been wasted. Cornish could have offered a piece of land in the park in return for the old health building, keeping it in service to the public who actually paid for it.
That would have done several things, all of them positive. First, it would have given the sheriff’s office the new home it so desperately needs. Second, it would have saved the health board $125,000 in cash. Third, it wouldn’t have encumbered taxpayers with a 15-year loan to purchase the old health building they paid to have built just 20 years ago.
We asked Cornish about this not long after he voted for the new health building. His response still makes us scratch our heads.
Cornish said his concern was that building a new health department would have caused too much traffic congestion.
Really? When we asked the health director how many people actually visit the health department each day, he said 40. If that number is to be believed, and every single one of those people drove their own vehicles, during an eight-hour day that would have added a grand total of five cars to per hour to the park.
That’s hardly a traffic jam, Mr. Cornish, and had you any other reasonable explanations, you should have offered them at the time.
His response when asked why he didn’t bring this issue before the fiscal court? Health board meetings are open to the public and magistrates are welcome to attend.
Not that Cornish is the only one at fault. Blame is equally assigned for wasting $400,000 to every single member of that health board who voted for the building and a health director who continues to demonstrate his belief that profligate spending is his province, regardless the impact on the taxpayer or his own staff which, for the past two years, has dodged massive cuts thanks to a health board eager to continue over-funding the department despite massive red ink.
Cornish’s successor, John Wayne Conway, deserves praise for ushering in the deal for the new sheriff’s office, along with his fiscal court. He bought a building appraised just two years ago for $445,000 for $275,000, a good deal even with devalued property.
It’s just too bad Conway, who served as a magistrate when Cornish was in office, wasn’t given the same opportunity two years ago.