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A tumultuous relationship between the Hodgenville Main Street/Renaissance organization and Mayor Terry Cruse came to a head Monday night when the mayor dissolved the volunteer group.
Kentucky Main Street began in 1979 as a way to channel state grants and volunteerism into improving downtowns. During the last five years, Hodgenville Main Street has received grants to renovate a restaurant and improve storefronts in the downtown.
Cruse read a prepared statement to City Council and members of Main Street in attendance.
About three years ago, Cruse broke a 3-3 vote of city council to keep Main Street viable.
“At that time I, instead of making that decision on my own as I have the authority to do, handed the decision over to the council. When it came down to a vote it was tied three for and three against. I, at that time, voted to keep the program in hopes of it benefiting the city through Main Street grants and with the promise by Main Street to become more self-sufficient in the future.
However, here we are three years later and the only grant that we have acquired is a four-year $8,000 grant to expand the historic district and we are not any closer to becoming more self-sufficient.”
The city has been contributing $1,250 monthly to Main Street. Last month, Cruse cut off the payments until Main Street’s recertification contract is signed with the state.
Monday, he gave “official notice” to Main Street President Kenny Rambo of non-renewal of contract. Through a letter served by Acting Police Chief Steve Johnson, he instructed Rambo to “begin the process of dissolving the (Main Street) corporation and making any and all restitutions, obligations or indebtedness as required by law. Furthermore, at the end of said dispositions, if there be any assets remaining, those assets shall be conveyed back to the City of Hodgenville.”
Cruse said he had spoken to Frankfort officials who indicated that state funding was available for “necessity” items only. He feels the City of Hodgenville should focus on funding necessities such as infrastructure rather than supporting only one of several volunteer groups.
The Council remained silent after Cruse read the letter.
One of the points of contention between the mayor and Main Street is the ownership of a downtown restaurant – most recently known as Abe’s Country Cooking. Abe’s closed its doors last month.
Cruse said the restaurant, which was purchased for renovation purposes five years ago by Main Street, should have been sold to a new owner in its first year “allowing Main Street to go on to another project.”
At last month’s city council meeting, Rambo said the restaurant was not a “bad project” but a “victim of bad timing” due to the poor economy.
Monday, he said Main Street was planning to use a realtor to sell the business.
Prior to Cruse announcing his decision, Rambo presented a financial summary of the restaurant showing that it is a “self-sustaining project.”
Questions and disappointment
Former City Council member and one-time mayoral candidate Rita T. Williams questioned Cruse about the ordinance that was enacted to fund Main Street. (The 2004 ordinance imposed a 9 percent municipal tax on insurance premiums to fund street repairs and maintenance, fire department and Kentucky Renaissance City Project.)
Cruse said he would provide her a copy of it.
Williams expressed her deep disappointment at the disbandment of Main Street to the Council and Cruse.
“There are people in this community – myself included – who have given years of service to this city besides thousands of dollars – beside volunteer hours – and I think it’s very sad when you all can undo in one meeting what it took us 30 years to bring the city back to,” Williams said. “I’m very sorry and very sad and many of us will not be making any contribution any more to any of the organizations because I feel like you all have set aside and decided you’re going to do it your way and it doesn’t make any difference about the rest of us.”
Williams said she has been a volunteer for 30 years with several community groups including Main Street, The Lincoln Museum and the school system and doesn’t “recall any of (city council members) serving on any of the boards.”
“It’s a sad day, Mayor, when you let down the people who have made this city so great,” she said, adding that volunteers have worked hard to beautify the city.
“You have no idea what you’re doing to people when you pull Main Street,” she said.
Cruse responded that most residents are concerned about sewer and water issues rather than volunteer efforts.
“Everybody in Hodgenville does not care for Main Street,” Cruse replied, “A lot of them don’t even know what it is.”
“Apparently a majority of them like what I’m doing or I wouldn’t be here today.”
Main Street Director Celia McDonald said the state was “weeding out” groups that appeared to just “come on board for the money,” and she felt it would be better for the Hodgenville organization to “hang in there – that one of these days the money would be back.”
Rambo called the Mayor’s announcement “discouraging” in that one person was making the decision.
Main Street, as a proactive group, could tackle projects in the downtown through a buy-in between volunteers and the private sector, he said.
“Waiting for the economy to recover … will put us behind the communities around the state we compete with and it will put us behind in the quality of life standpoint for our residents,” Rambo said.