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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On 5-1 vote, council OKs big pay raises to start after next election; approves Child Care Task Force

By Destiny Butler
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

After months of discussion, the Midway City Council voted Monday to increase the pay of council members and the mayor elected next year. It also approved an effort to place a child-care center in Midway.

Effective January 1, 2019, the mayor’s pay will increase from $100 to $1,400 per month while council members’ pay will increase from $50 to $200 per month.

Libby Warfield (file photo)
The ordinance passed 5-1, with Libby Warfield opposing it.

Warfield said after the meeting that the raise is drastic. Comparing Midway to similar towns, she found that Midway officials make much less than their counterparts, but those elected next year will make more than average.

Council members in favor of the raises say Midway is growing and so will the responsibilities of the mayor and council, and the salaries have not been raised for 30 years.

Having discussed the issue several times, the council members had no discussion of it Monday, other than Kaye Nita Gallagher, who said, “I think we’ve already had a discussion.”

Child-care task force: The council approved Mayor Grayson Vandegrift’s proposal to create a task force to study the viability of a privately funded child-care center in Midway and try to attract one to the area. It would serve anyone who lives or works in the area, Vandegrift said.

“There’s been a baby explosion” in Midway, he said, “and with that there have been a lot of comments about how nice it would be to have child care, like there used to be.”

The council approved Vandegrift’s appointees: Amy Bowman, Brittany Ehrlich Jaimie Hogan, Mary Beth Rouse and Katie Vandegrift, the mayor’s wife, who will chair the task force. She and the mayor have an infant son.

The mayor said the Child Care Council of Kentucky will assist the task force: “They were very encouraging and very excited.”

Schools Hall of Fame: The council voted unanimously to keep giving the Woodford County Public Schools Hall of Fame $1,000 a year, after a presentation by Ken Tippett of the organization.

The Hall of Fame recognizes the most accomplished alumni and patrons, and the sixth class of hall-of-famers was inducted Aug. 27, Tippett said. “When we got into looking at this we found that there were a lot of schools that had hall of fame, but they were primarily athletic,” he said. “We wanted to be able to recognize every graduate in every area.”

In response to questions from the council, Tippett said annual expenses for the program are about $6,000. He said the City of Midway is one of the top sponsors, and has been since the inception of the organization six years ago.

Festival: The annual Midway Fall Festival Sept. 17 and 18 had the biggest turnout in its history, Vandegrift told the council. He said the crowd was estimated at 11,000 on Saturday and 6,000 on Sunday.

“The festival was really well-run,” he said. “Elisha Ann Holt, in her first year as coordinator, did a fantastic job; it was promoted well, a great showcase for the city, and I’m so impressed with the clean-up crew.”

The students at Spark Versailles were one of the groups of students helping pick up trash around the area. The city gave them $1,000 for their projects.

Council committee to consider higher-cost police contract, encroachment issue, lights for North Gratz

The Public Works and Services Committee of the Midway City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at City Hall to discuss changes in the city's police contract with the City of Versailles and other issues.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said after Monday evening's council meeting that Versailles wants Midway to pay $150,000 a year for police protection, up from $100,000.

The committee will also discuss an encroachment permit for the lot at 120 S. Winter St. to have rear access to East Cross Street, an issue discussed at the Sept. 5 council meeting; street lights on North Gratz Street, which leads to the improved section of Walter Bradley Park and where businesses recently opened; and damage to the roadway on North Winter Street.

All council and committee meetings are open to the public.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mayor says Midway Fall Festival was the largest ever

Story and photos by Katia Davis, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The 43rd annual Midway Fall Festival may well have been the largest ever.

Festival-goers crowded Main Street on Saturday.
On Saturday the festival had about 10,000 guests, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email around midday Sunday. “Yesterday was far and away the largest single day crowd in festival history,” he wrote.

Monday morning, he said in an email, "I think it's safe to say this was the largest ever. The crowd Sunday remained robust most of the day, and I couldn't find anyone who didn't agree that Saturday was the largest crowd they'd ever seen. The festival itself was the largest ever as well, though, with 160 vendors and the bank parking lot almost completely full of vendors (and customers.)”

Vandegrift speculated Sunday that the large crowd could be because of the good weekend weather and good promotion by the festival committee, “especially on social media.”

The weekend high was 83 degrees, just in time for the festival after several days of cool and rainy weather. Last year’s festival had some rain, but the weather was sunny and clear for this year.

Vandegrift said something larger may be going on. “There's been a great buzz about Midway regionally and across the state it seems, even more so than usual,” he wrote. “Talking to some folks from all over the state this week I heard a lot of words like ‘exciting,’ ‘booming,’ and ‘energetic’ in describing the city, and I think that contributed.”

Lisa Cissell of Versailles resident agreed that the festival was larger than usual.

“Lots of people here today,” she said. “I think it might be one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen.” Cissell said she attends the festival every year.

Another hint of the large number of festival-goers was parking. Cars were parked on the sides of South Winter Street just before Walnut Street, a 10-minute walk from the festival.
A view heading north on South Winter Street shows the shoulder lined with cars of festival-goers.
Cissell said parking is “the only downfall. Because it’s so small and quaint, the parking is horrendous. It’s a little bit of a hike, but we are here because it is worth it.”

Cissell said she parked on West Stephens Street, an eight-minute walk from Main Street.

Vandegrift said in his email that he heard “cars were backed up on the I-64 on-ramps yesterday, trying to get into town.”

The Evans Orchard and Cider Mill train gave rides.
Paid parking was near the event for $5. The Sojourn City Church on Northside Drive, an eight-minute walk from Main Street, opened up its parking lot for free and offered festival guests water and restrooms.

Reece White of Versailles agreed that the event was well worth having to park a short distance away.

White said that between seeing old friends, the atmosphere, friendliness of Midway residents, and seeing what vendors are selling makes the event worthwhile. “It’s fun just to wander around and look,” he said.

Cissell said her favorite vendor was West Sixth Brewery. White said he enjoyed the food trucks and the Crank & Boom ice-cream booth.

“It’s just a lovely atmosphere and small enough that you feel like you can see everything within a day and have a good afternoon,” Cissell said. “We’ve had great weather.”

There were 160 vendors, the largest number ever.
The festival welcomed guests and vendors from surrounding counties and states. About 160 vendors lined the streets, up from 150 last year, also helping make the festival one of the largest yet.

Jim and Nancy Phillips of Jim and Nancy’s Handmade Baskets came from Jacksboro, Tennessee, about 30 miles from the Kentucky line, for what Nancy Phillips thought was the eighth consecutive year. 

“We used to do several shows in Kentucky, but since we’ve gotten older we’ve dropped a lot of our shows, but Midway is one of our favorites, so we keep coming back,” she said. “It’s a nice place and all of the people that put on the shows are always nice to you, that makes you wanna come back.”

Crowds enjoyed musical entertainment from the Southland Drive Bluegrass Band and other performers.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

'Everything Equine' exhibit on Thoroughbred industry scheduled at Midway Branch Library Saturday, Sept. 23

By Destiny Butler
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
              
The Midway Branch Library will host an exhibition to give children and adults the opportunity to learn about the life of a Thoroughbred horse Saturday, Sept. 23. “Everything Equine” will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the library’s parking lot at 400 Northside Dr..

Visitors will be able to understand the way the horse eats, what they wear, and how they are cared for by veterinarians, said Suzanne Conrad, program coordinator at the library.

“We are trying something new in Midway,” Conrad said. “We want to create an opportunity for residents in Woodford County to have contact with people who are in contact with horses daily.” She said the library hopes to make it an annual event.

There to display their talents and professions will be a veterinarian, blacksmith, pharmacist, jockey, and others to teach the attendees what it’s like to have a career revolving around horses. According to the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the equine industry in Woodford County brings in over $125 million a year.

Conrad said no horses will actually be present for the exhibit, due to liability issues. However, attendees will get the full experience of the life of a horse. The blacksmith will bring tools he uses to trim and shape the foot of a horse, the veterinarian will bring extremely long exam gloves, and there will be a model of the horse digestive system.

The jockey will be there to explain what it’s like to ride a 1,000-pound rocket – better known as a horse. He will talk about what it’s like to encounter a horse the day before riding and controlling them.

Conrad encourages people to call and register for the exhibit, so everyone can be accommodated. Anyone who comes will be entered in a drawing for four one-day admission passes to the Kentucky Horse Park.

The exhibit isn’t only to introduce people to the Thoroughbred industry, but to introduce people to the health-care community of the Bluegrass, Conrad said: “I am excited about the opportunity to have all of the professionals there at the same time and the community to be able to ask questions and dispel some of their fears and mysteries and maybe open their eyes to careers they haven’t thought about.”


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

43rd annual Midway Fall Festival Saturday and Sunday

Enhanced photo illustration
Excellent weather is expected for the 43rd annual Midway Fall Festival, which will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 11 to 5 on Sunday. Saturday's forecast from The Weather Channel is for partly cloudy skies and a high of 83; on Sunday the prediction is sunny and 84. The festival usually attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people and is widely regarded as one of the best community festivals in the Bluegrass.

Peggy Angel, president of the Midway Business Association, announced at the last City Council meeting that the festival will have up to 160 vendors, with food, crafts and activities for all ages, making it one of the largest ever. It is staged by the business association, with help from the City of Midway. For more information, see the festival website.
A banner along Leestown Road at the Interstate 64 interchange advertises the festival and its sponsors.

Midway University, in second year with male undergraduates, reports significant gains in enrollment

By Sarah Landers
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
               Midway University says it has a record-breaking graduate-student enrollment of 215 for the fall semester, as well as its highest traditional undergraduate enrollment “in recent history,” with 482 students at the school that admitted male undergrads for the first time last year..
               Midway’s graduate enrollment has increased 12 percent over the last year, including students pursuing Master of Business Administration, Master of Education and Master of Science in Nursing degrees, the university said in a news release.
               Enrollment Management Vice President Kelly Gosnell said undergraduate programs at Midway supplement the graduate programs.
               “In addition to our own graduates, other students are also drawn to our programs because they are fully online, affordable and can be completed on an accelerated schedule,” Gosnell said in the release.
               The undergraduate enrollment is up from 432 last fall, the first semester that undergraduate education was co-educational. With 204 incoming freshmen, the university said it has reached a total student body of 1,217. 
               The undergraduate population is now 32 percent male, a 10 percent increase since last fall. Athletics involvement also rose 30 percent, now reaching a total of 340 Midway students.
Midway University President John P. Marsden attributes the increase to a new plan for the institution.
               “Our staff has worked hard this year getting the word out about the university to students, particularly men, who were not a part of our recruitment strategy a little more than a year ago,” Marsden said in the release.
               “To say the old plan is outdated is an understatement,” he said. “It’s time to reassess where we are and plan for our future as a fully co-educational institution.”

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Council making a second try for pay raise; hears about plans for new high school, deals with property complaint

By Tre Lyerly, Sarah Landers, Katia Davis, Destiny Butler and Tanquarae McCadney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council came closer Monday to raising the pay for the council and mayor to be elected next year, giving first reading to an ordinance that would take the salaries from $50 and $100 a month, respectively, to $200 and $1,400 in 2019.

They also heard school officials' plans for a new Woodford County High School and merchants' plans for the upcoming Fall Festival, decided to look into a property owner's complaint that a neighbor's new gravel parking lot could cause water damage to his property, and heard Mayor Grayson Vandegrift say that a committee would consider a large increase in police costs that may be proposed.

In spring, council members proposed salary increases in order to more accurately reflect the duties coming with each position, saying the pay hadn't been raised in 30 years. After several months of negotiations, on Aug. 7, they voted 4-2 against monthly salaries of $1,000 for the mayor and $400 for each council member. Council Member Kay Nita Gallagher suggested then that the council get a lesser increase and the mayor get a larger one.

The council held a special meeting Aug. 24 to discuss the issue, and agreed to consider an ordinance that would pay council members $200 per month and the mayor $1,400 per month. The first reading of the ordinance Monday prompted no discussion, and Vandegrift said he would schedule second reading and passage for the next meeting, on Sept. 18.

No journalists attended the Aug. 24 meeting, but a tape recording of it will be available Thursday at City Hall. Asked after Monday's meeting how they came to agreement, council members and the mayor said it came down to a numerical compromise.

Vandegrift said, “They compared the size of our city, how much we make on an annual basis, how long it takes me to do my job, how long it takes to do their job, and after batting around a few ideas, they settled on those numbers.”

Gallagher said, "Steve [Simoff] and I had one number. Bruce [Southworth] and John [McDaniel] had another set of numbers. Sara [Hicks] agreed with, well, basically we all just decided to meet in the middle. We only had one person that didn’t, I don’t know if she changed her mind or not,” Gallagher said. That was Council Member Libby Warfield, who declined to comment after the meeting.

McDaniel said, “Now the mayor has a whole lot more to do with new developments, it’s time to bring things up to date.” He cited figured gathered by Warfield, showing that six towns in Kentucky similar to the size of Midway average paying their mayors $6,000 and council members $1,900 a year.

New high school, tax proposed: Woodford County School Board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV of Midway introduced Supt. Scott Hawkins to inform the council of the board's goal to build a new high school that is expected to cost a total of $56 million. Local governments have no authority over schools, but school officials are informing all three of the county's governing bodies of their plans.

Hawkins said, “This is my tenth year as superintendent in Woodford County, and probably the question that I have been asked more frequently than any other since I’ve been here is, when are we going to get a new high school?” The current building is 53 years old.

He said the district planning committee made that the number-one need in 2013, and again this year, and bought 61 acres next to Woodford County Middle School in Versailles for that purpose. But a tax increase would be needed, because the district has a bonding capacity of just $13.8 million, less than one-third of the amount the new building is projected to cost.

The district has completed $34 million in projects over the past four years, Hawkins said, and has accumulated $27 million in outstanding debt. Without the required bonding capacity, Hawkins said building a new school wouldn’t be possible until 2028. “We want to act on this opportunity to build now, we don’t want to wait another 20 years,” he said.

Hawkins said the board could levy an occupational tax, but it only levy it on people who work in Woodford County. “That’s only about 40 percent of our population, so that doesn’t generate the revenue that would be needed,” he said.

Hawkins said the board believes the best option is to enact a facilities tax of 6 cents per $100 worth of property, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $60 a year. That would increase the bonding ability to $53 million. The other $3 million could come from the state.

The board could raise its basic tax rate 1.5 cents a year, Hawkins said, but that would take much longer to get the project completed, and the state assistance would not be available. “I know that an increase in taxes is never a popular subject,” he said, “but if we truly want a new high school in our community, that’s the way to get there.”

He said the new school would include an auditorium and a theatre, now lacking in the county's schools, and allow Woodford County children to stay competitive with surrounding county school districts.

If the board agrees to a 6 cent facilities tax, an architect can be hired to do the design work in early 2018. “We could, if everything goes well, begin the 2020-21 school year in a new high school,” said Hawkins.

Homeowner fears damage: Charles Logan, of the 100 block of East Higgins Street, came to the council with concerns of water run-off due to gravel laid on his neighbor's lot. If the gravel stays, and especially if it is blacktopped, there is a higher potential for flooding, Logan said. If the gravel is a dense grade aggregate, "It could be as impervious as concrete over time," said Warfield, who lives at the end of West Cross Street. 

“My main concern is that if at a later date they come along and say we're gonna blacktop this, then it's gonna flood us out down there, probably on both sides of the street,” Logan said. “If you can do nothing else, I would like something in writing that that lot will never be blacktopped.”

The matter was already on the council agenda because the driveway to the parking lot entered Cross Street without an encroachment permit. City Attorney Phil Moloney wrote the property owner, Emmajo Pulley Gray, a letter Aug. 2 saying concern had been expressed about drainage from her lot, and enclosing an encroachment permit for her to file. She did, but did not appear at the meeting.

Vandegrift said the council could decide to reject the encroachment permit or require conditions for it, such as removal of part of the gravel or prohibiting blacktopping. “This is a good example of why people need to realize, it’s not better to ask forgiveness than permission,” he said.

The mayor said Gray's son laid the gravel to store trucks and trailers, which Simoff could possibly devalue the surrounding properties. It’s as if a parking lot has been put into a residential area, Simoff said.

Warfield raised an additional concern, that Gray's fence may be on the city's street easement. She said the street has a 24-foot-wide right of way, but only 12 feet of surface, and the fence is three feet from the blacktop.

Southworth moved to table the matter for at least 30 days while the city gathers more information, and the council agreed. The letter is part of the council's meeting documents, available here.

Public safety: Midway might have to pay the City of Versailles a lot more for its part of countywide police protection.

McDaniel said before the meeting that County Judge-Executive John "Bear" Coyle wants Midway to pay $400,000 a year for police services instead of the current $100,000, and the magistrates on Fiscal Court "kind of agree with that."

But he said a three-member committee of magistrates, at a meeting Monday morning, rejected Coyle's alternate proposal to return countywide policing to the sheriff's office, which Coyle once headed, and which is now headed by Johnny Wilhoit, recently retired as police chief in Versailles.

"The judge wasn't very happy," McDaniel said. "I was very surprised."

In the council meeting, Vandegrift alluded to the negotiations, saying that when a proposal is made, he will assign it to the council's Public Works and Services Committee, headed by Southworth, who also attended the Monday-morning meeting.

In another public-safety matter, the council authorized Vandegrift to purchase a second radar sign after observing that the first, installed on Northside Drive, had slowed down drivers. The mayor said the first sign cost about $3,200; the limit on price of the second one is $4,000.

Vandegrift said the current sign will be moved from East Stephens Street to Coach Station Road at the request of Northridge Estates residents. He said the sign is taken off of a street, speeding increases again. “It’s like playing whack-a-mole,” he said. “You take one off Winter Street and they speed up there.”

Downtown events: Peggy Angel, president of the Midway Business Association, announced that the Midway Fall Festival Sept. 16-17 will have up to 160 vendors, with food, crafts and activities for all ages, making the festival one of the largest in its 43-year history. The event typically draws a crowd of more than 10,000. 

Angel announced that the merchants will kick off the downtown Christmas season the first weekend of November. The city will continue its tree lighting on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the merchants will have Santa Claus visit by train the next day, as usual.