VISIONARY: noun. A person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.
And so it went at the Monday night meeting of the Calhoun City Council, when the word VISIONARY was used to describe the...vision...of bringing the great, historical caboose in downtown Calhoun to life after it sat there for so many years, with its only use as a backdrop for photo opportunities.
First of all, according to Southern Railway, which the caboose was made for, it was built in 1969, or is 48 years old. If that qualifies this caboose to be historical, then I’m all out of sorts because I’m not too far behind. (*Editor's Note: I realize that some people might consider the caboose historical due to the fact they are no longer used, but I am considering historical as a caboose that has a long history and is old. Real old.)
The caboose renovation was the brainchild of Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo, when last summer, she announced to the community via the ever popular Facebook, on her official councilwoman page, that the caboose was being turned into an ice cream shop. We minions at the Calhoun Times marked our calendars, excited at the prospect of being able to walk across the street and broaden our...cabooses...with ice cream from the “historic caboose.”
Fast forward one year, and the City, for lack of a better term, is in a mess. At the last budget meeting held on Monday, May 8, the powers that be on the Council were scrambling to figure out how to overcome a budget shortfall in the amount of $457,000.
Councilman David Hammond, who brags openly about his love for statistics, was concerned due to the City’s 10 percent healthcare insurance increase, which was 75 percent or so of the shortfall. For someone who loves statistics that much, I would have thought that he would have been aware of the news over the last few years concerning the annual skyrocketing of...healthcare costs. As I sit here writing this column, I’m looking at a report in Fortune magazine from last June titled “Here’s why you’ll likely pay more for your employer-sponsored health insurance.” Stated in the article was that healthcare costs were expected to grow 6.5 percent through 2017. I could go on indefinitely on the articles laying on my desk, but I don’t have enough room, so Google it if interested. I’m just trying to figure out, if this Council is so visionary, how they missed the train -no pun intended- on the rise in health insurance costs.
So, they sink more than $36,000 into a caboose for ice cream. Nothing else is mentioned about this caboose for months other than ice cream. They even had these neat advertising cards printed about the attractions in Downtown Calhoun, and a huge photo of the caboose is pictured promoting that they would be selling ice cream out of the caboose. The ad actually states, "The old red train caboose has been renovated into an ice cream shop and information center. Enjoy a delicious treat...". The card was placed in multiple downtown businesses and at the Chamber of Commerce.
Now, after all of that money put into the caboose...ice cream is off the table. So broadening my caboose with ice cream from the caboose is out of question. For whatever reason, the powers that be have decided they can’t sell ice cream out of the caboose, and put out a bid notice for possible business lease in the paper. Well, of course, no one wanted it.
Not only that, but suddenly, the spin from the most transparent government entity in the land is that they have finally made this caboose ADA compliant. Now, I’m all for people with disabilities getting to where they want to go in the easiest, most effective and safe way possible, but if you really, really, really and truly wanted to be ADA compliant, if that was honestly your goal from the beginning for this caboose, shouldn’t you have brought that up before the fiasco of spending that much money on an empty shell that no one wants to utilize?
My question to several in the City was: Just how many requests, or complaints, has the City received in the last year- by phone call, email or in person visit- that the caboose needed to be ADA compliant? None of my contacts were aware of any.
Is the whole ADA compliancy spin just a cover-up for bad decision making? The citizens of Calhoun may never know, but thank God for the vision of this Council that now, everyone can get up that ramp to an empty caboose and....do something. I really don’t know what you'd do at an empty caboose, or why you’d want to visit an empty caboose. The big use that comes to mind for me is for skateboarders: it could be used to practice tricks because I doubt you will find more ramp, or more rails, in Northwest Georgia.
So here we are at this latest meeting of Calhoun’s finest visionaries and the caboose is empty. One fine gentleman from the community spoke about making this “historic” caboose into a museum, but as pointed out, there’s really not a lot of room, or history, in the caboose. Just a lot of ramp...and rails.
Now, back to the budget shortfall fiasco, which may be resolved by the time the Council meets again on June 12 to discuss the budget, because as we know, all these visionaries putting their heads together really accomplishes a lot. But, in reading the minutes of the May 8 budget meeting, there were a ton of cuts that were suggested to bring the budget into balance. The two that I see that stand out to me in relation to our historic caboose are: Cutting money to non-profits, like the VAC, Boys and Girls Club, Winners Club, Domestic Violence, etc. by $24,500. The other I see is cutting out some of the downtown events, like the Fall Festival, saving the overtime pay of public safety officials in the amount of $30,000.
Now, I’m no visionary, but couldn’t that caboose have sat there just as empty as it is now, still have been used for photo opportunities for things like senior photos and school dances, and that $36,000 been saved so either the non-profits could have the money they receive each year or the overtime for public safety paid to save downtown events?
I’m not very popular with some cliques in this city due to my stance on this whole caboose issue, but I’m calling it like I see it...this was poor planning and poor vision at its finest. And now that our transparent City government meetings can be found on YouTube live-streamed each meeting, you can rest assured that I’m not reporting inaccurate facts or fake news. My sincere hope is that this Council will start thinking about their decisions and honestly having vision to do what’s best for the City of Calhoun as a whole, and not for their own personal special interests.
Brandi Moorehead-Owczarz is the Managing Editor of the Calhoun Times. She is accused of picking on public servants who like to waste money on “historic” cabooses and plans to take up skateboarding in the near future so she can shred the rails at the historic downtown caboose. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/brandi.owczarz.