Hennessey’s small town budget makes it extremely difficult to maintain existing amenities.  Improving or adding amenities is almost impossible.  How small is Hennessey’s budget?  Hennessey sales tax collections are about 50% less per citizen as compared to Kingfisher.  If Hennessey is to maintain and add amenities, it must be thru grants and legacy giving programs.  There is no alternative.

Grants involve long range planning.  Priorities are established and the grant submission is made in advance of the needed project.

Hennessey’s great mistake, a mistake that has existed over decades, is not pursuing grants. This has cost Hennessey not thousands and thousands of dollars but hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Let’s go thru some examples.

Hennessey has installed automatic reading water meters, a project costing about $500,000.  The Hennessey Town Council never applied for available grants to pay for them.  But several small towns have thru the Northern Oklahoma Development Authority (NODA).

Canton, a small town of 400, applied for and received a grant of $272,000 for street improvement thru NODA.  Hennessey has never applied for a street improvement grant.

The Hennessey Town Council just approved $175,000 to install a new storm warning siren system.  I voted for it as the sirens are very old and need to be replaced now.  But if the Town Council did long term planning, a grant request could have been submitted to FEMA’s Warning Sirens and Systems Grant Program to pay for the new storm siren system.  

Then there is Hennessey’s water drainage issue, an issue that has existed apparently for decades but nothing done to correct the problem.  Frustrated and angry Hennessey citizens appeared at the June 2019 Town Council meeting voicing their complaints.  This was my second town council meeting as a town council member.  The next day I called Kingfisher Manager David Slezickey and asked for help.  Kingfisher has been applying and receiving grants worth millions to solve their flooding problems.  David told me to start with the Northern Oklahoma Development Authority (NODA).  So I did.

It was there I learned that all these grants were available but the Hennessey Town Council was not applying for them.  From there, I raised the question in town council meetings why we were not applying for grants?  The town council sessions were taped and the information made available to all Hennessey citizens.  My intention was to create public pressure to apply for NODA grants to fix the drainage problem.  It worked.

I have strongly advocated securing grants as a Town Council member.  As a result, Hennessey has received three REAP Grants totaling $237,800 and two CDBG grants totaling $450,000 in a three year period.  The REAP and CDBG grants total $687,800.  The two CDBG grants of $450,000 have gone for the drainage problems.  The three REAP grants have gone to water line rehabilitation and replacement.  REAP and CDBG grants applications are submitted and approved thru NODA.

How much money has Hennessey’s Town Council left on the table?  It is hard to say.  No one knows what will happen in the future.  Getting a grant is not an automatic and the competition is fierce.  But what we can say is the Hennessey Town Council has left not thousands and thousands of dollars on the table, but hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The basic problem is that Town Council members do not attend the community development programs and workshops sponsored by such organizations as NODA, the Oklahoma Municipal League, and the state government of Oklahoma.  Because Hennessey Town Council members do not attend these informational programs and workshops, they do not know what is available.

In his letter to the Editor in the Hennessey Post, Mayor Bert Gritz states “I have not attended grant writing classes nor would I expect any present or future Town Trustee to do so.  This is simply not our job.”  I would like to comment on Bert’s statements.

If Bert attended a grant workshop, he would discover that it is attended by Mayors, Town Council members, town employees, and volunteers.  The reason the water drainage problem has existed for decades in Hennessey is that Town Council members were not aware that there were grants available to pay for the improvements needed.  As an aside, these are not grant writing classes.  Rather, they are informational programs discussing the grants available that can help small towns like Hennessey.  How can one criticize a grant informational class that they know nothing about and have never attended?

Hennessey has one of the worst and most expensive Town Councils in the state of Oklahoma for three reasons.  

One, the Town Council has historically not pursued grants.  I would like to “institutionalize” a framework ensuring that Hennessey consistently applies for available grants.  This can be simply done.  First, require the Town Council to issue an annual report of grants applied for and received.  Second, the salary of the Town Administrator needs to be set up with a base salary plus bonuses.  The bonus would (among other factors) be determined by the grants applied for.

Two, I know of no other town council so intent on tearing down its main street and historical buildings.  The east side of North Main was torn down in order to put in a huge bank parking lot.  Then, thru bank consolidations, much of the bank’s work was transferred out of Hennessey.  Employees processing checks and bank statements were transferred or laid off.  That huge bank parking lot was not needed.  Contrast that to Main Street’s busiest building, the Post Office.  There are four street parking spaces on the west side and five street spaces on the south side including a handicap space.  There are no parking issues for the Post Office.  

One cannot anticipate the future.  So don’t tear down historic buildings because the future may not turn out as envisioned.  Instead, reconfigure the interior of existing historic buildings.  Preservationists pound and pound on this issue.

Pioneer woman Doctor Sturgeon’s historic medical office building was almost torn down.  The old horse stable was almost torn down.  I asked the Town Council not to tear down these buildings for a parking lot.  These two buildings are now part of Prairie Quilt generating sales tax for Hennessey.  Have you seen Main Street lately?  Parking is not an issue.

And our legacy is at risk because the Town Council has not developed a plan to maintain the old High School building and the library, museum, war memorial, and archives contained within it.  The Town Council took possession  of the buildings in 1983, four decades ago, and has done nothing.  Something as simple as gutters have not been maintained which has caused interior flooding and mold damage.

Third, the Town Council is lethargic and hostile to change.  In terms of community development, the two greatest recent accomplishments were solving the water drainage problem and establishing a framework to preserve the old high school building, auditorium, and old gym.  Both of these huge accomplishments are not due to the town council.  Rather, these two accomplishments have come to pass because Hennessey citizens appeared at the town council meeting and demanded change and action.

Let’s make this election an opportunity for change.  I am unable to make change happen.  But you can just as you did with the water drainage issue and the library and museum.

Those in the past have had their opportunities.  It is time for a change for a better Hennessey future.

Approved and Paid for by Richard Simunek