Monday, May 2, 2016

Rumpke's 8% garbage-rate increase doesn't quite add up; mayor reviewing proposed contract, sees no ill intent

By Molly Elifritz
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Last Monday, the Midway City Council authorized Mayor Grayson Vandegrift to sign a contract with Rumpke Waste and Recycling that contained an 8 percent price increase for residential customers. The price increase means that the current rate of $11.95 would escalate to $12.91.

During the meeting, Rumpke representative Stacey Chambers said the 8 percent price inflation for residential customers was a reflection of the Consumer Price Index. In an interview, Chambers said that the price increase was a representation of the CPI over the past four years as well as an estimation of where the CPI will be in the next two years, after the contract renewal.

However, the CPI has risen only 3.7 percent since 2012, and according to the Federal Reserve System estimates, it is expected to rise 1.5 percent this year and 2.2 percent next year. That would put the projected CPI at 7.4 percent, not 8 percent. (Compounded, the ultimate rate would be 7.57 percent.)

When asked about Rumpke's estimated CPI, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said, “We will study the CPI closer and kind of get a better idea about exactly why Rumpke feels the charge is necessary.”

Vandegrift said he noticed the 96-cent monthly increase a few weeks ago when he was presented with the raw numbers of the new contract but “I didn’t know they were basing that figure off the CPI until the council meeting.” Being a man of business, Vandegrift said, he understands that “unfortunately” prices increase as the economy grows.

After looking into what other companies are charging, Vandegrift still believes that Rumpke is offering a competitive price and most importantly, good services.

“From what I have found in the past, Rumpke is a much more competitive company than a lot of others and they offer, in my opinion, probably a better service than a lot of companies do because they are really easy to work with,” said Vandegrift.

Although the council authorized Vandegrift to sign the Rumpke contract, he isn’t ready to sign on the dotted line just yet. “Just like any other contract, I always go in and check things before we do,” he said. Vandegrift said the contract should call for rebidding in 2018.

Vandegrift said that this isn’t the first time that the city has delayed the signing of a contract. Just last year Vandegrift chose to restrain from signing an easement for Columbia Gas of Kentucky, to build a new regulator, until the company fixed a poor paving job in front of the Midway Grocery. “We’ll have to get this settled out before I sign anything,” said Vandegrift.

Vandegrift seems to think that the contradicting numbers stem from miscommunication. “I really don’t think there was any ill intent in not letting us know about the CPI aspect of it. If anything there is a chance our wires got crossed,” he said.

Vandegrift said that the council gave him the authority to execute the contract because no matter what, everyone “unanimously” felt like they were getting a good service. “Overall their service has been excellent; they’ve always been open and honest with us.”

Rumpke is a privately owned waste and recycling company, based north of Cincinnati, that provides services to commercial and residential properties throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Midway University to honor Lexington's Isabel Yates and family of nationally known public-relations executive

Bluegrass civic leader and former Midway retailer Isabel Yates will receive Midway University's Pinkerton Vision Award at the school's annual Spotlight Awards in May 26.

The university will also present its Legacy Award to the family of the late Jim Bowling, a nationally regarded public-relations executive. He, his wife and daughter have been trustees of the school and still have kin in Midway.

Isabel Yates
The Pinkerton Vision Award "honors a person who has shown tremendous leadership and innovative thinking in her field while serving as a role model to others," the university said in a press release. Yates has been vice mayor of Lexington and chair of many civic and philanthropic organizations in the city, and is chair of Friends of the Kentucky Theatre. She once owned Track Two, a dress shop in Midway.

"Her tireless work and selfless service have made her a beloved figure in Central Kentucky," Midway President John Marsden said.

Jim Bowling
The Legacy Award "honors those who have given significant time, service and support to Midway University," the school's release said. A member of the James C. Bowling family has been on the Board of Trustees since 1962. After he died in 1997, Jim Bowling was succeeded by his wife Ann, who took emeritus status in 2009. Their daughter, Belinda Bowling Metzger, has been a trustee since 2012.

Bowling was born in Covington, raised in Paducah, attended the University of Kentucky, served in World War II and completed his degree from the University of Louisville. He worked for Philip Morris Cos. from 1951 until his retirement in 1986, "all the while maintaining a strong connection to his home state of Kentucky and especially to Midway University and the City of Midway, where family members are still living," the release said.

"The Bowling family has been a constant presence at this institution for more than 50 years," said Marsden. "By sharing their time and support, the family has played an integral role in fostering growth and positive change at the university."

This year's Spotlight Awards will be held on the campus Thursday, May 26. The keynote speaker will be Craig King, President and CEO of RJ Corman Railroad Group. The event is presented by Community Trust Bank with additional sponsorships from Hutch Chevrolet/Buick/GMC, Keeneland, WLEX-TV and Woodford Reserve. For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit www.midway.edu/Spotlight or call 859-846-5300.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Volunteers build on earlier work, plant 200 dogwood and redbud trees along creek, elsewhere in park Sunday

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift led his pregnant wife, Katie, across Lee's Branch during Sunday's work session.
John Holloway with shovel and tree markers.
Story and photos by Lean Sharp
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The city’s Walter Bradley Park is getting more attention than usual, from a $10,000 budget proposal by Mayor Grayson Vandegrift to some hard work by the Citizens Action Committee he appointed to look after the park. 

 On Sunday, the committee and other volunteers planted redbuds and dogwood trees in the front and back of the park and along Lee’s Branch. The committee has been working hard to improve the park through volunteers and subcommittees.

Much of the work has been done by John Holloway, a University of Kentucky fine-arts professor who moved to Midway five years ago. He said he started to clean the park after living in Midway for two years and trying to walk through the wooded area near the creek and not getting anywhere because of tree limbs and invasive species, so he decided to clean it up so people could actually enjoy it.

Little red flags mark spots for trees on the trail that Holloway has cleared along the creek.
Holloway created two trails through the area, using woodchips from bush honeysuckle and other invasive species he removed, and mulch from Midway-area nursery operator Dave Leonard.

“If we didn’t have someone like John to spearhead this, and the energy and vision he has, it wouldn’t be happening,” volunteer Dottie Cordray said.
The committee met its goal to plant 200 trees on Sunday. “All the sticks were picked up for the park to be in mowing shape,” Cordray said. ”Once the park is mowed, the committee will lay grass seed.”

Vandegrift said “It was a picture perfect day. It has been a lot of fun, there is a great crowd today, and group of volunteers. . . . The volunteers got a lot done.” He added, “The city really comes together to work on something that is important to everyone.”

The mayor said his whole vision of the park is to make it a place where people can come and use it a lot. “I really think kids will enjoy the trail throughout the park,” he said.

He said when people think of Midway, they think of the downtown area, restaurants, and beautiful homes around the city, but not many know about the creek inside the park, much less the park. “People of Midway don’t mention Walter Bradley Park. . . . When you visit the website for Midway, there is no image of Walter Bradley Park and our water feature, and that is going to change here soon.”

The Citizens Action Committee’s main goal is to build a bridge across the creek with the $10,000 budget line that it and Vandegrift are requesting from the city council. “The stepping stones across the creek are not made for everybody,” Holloway said.

Holloway started a group called the Friends of Walter Bradley Park. There is a $10 fee to become a member of the group; the fee is used strictly for the improvements of the park. The city opened an account for the money, which is is only spent on the park. He said the account has $3,500, including a $2,000 grant from a group that funds removal of invasive species.

The committee is always looking for extra hands to help, said Holloway.

Vandegrift and his wife Katie were among the volunteers Sunday. Holloway jokingly said Vandegrift is really good at digging holes. “That seems to be his area of expertise, amongst other things,” he said.

The committee will meet May 2 with a group from the UK landscape architecture department, which will present the second phase of its overall plan for the park.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Garbage rates to rise 8%; council expands sidewalk debate to include trees and which areas to give priority

By Anyssa Roberts and Katherine Stach
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Garbage rates will increase 8 percent for Midway customers under a contract the city council extended Monday night. And with sidewalk repairs on the horizon, the council also discussed how to deal with trees and set priorities for sidewalk work.

The city will extend its four-year contract with Rumpke Waste and Recycling Services by two years.
The residential rate for trash pickup will rise 96 cents to $12.91 per unit per month, said Rumpke representative Stacey Chambers.

Weekly trash pickup will remain the same with one bulk item pickup for unit. The rate will be effective beginning in July and extend until June 2018.

Sidewalks and trees

For months, the council has been discussing a new sidewalk policy, and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has proposed spending $27,000 on sidewalks in the annual budget that begins July 1.

Council Member Sara Hicks brought up a new concern. “I don’t think that we can really effectively address this policy without also addressing our policy on the trees,” she said.

Hicks said one problem is that roots of old trees overgrow and damage the concrete. Some of the trees are planted by the city, but homeowners are held responsible if something happens to them, she said.

She said the city should take responsibility for the city’s trees, and remove old trees that damage sidewalks and replace them with less destructive trees.

Council Member Dan Roller said another way to address the issue would be redesigning the ways trees and sidewalks are placed around each other. Strategically building sidewalks away from large trees is a way to avoid having only pint-size trees lining sidewalks, and to preserve some larger trees, he said.

Hicks said she sees tree removal as a gradual process that happens along with sidewalk repair. She said the results of tree maintenance could make the city “stunning.”

“If we put in appropriate trees and remove trees that are already being disruptive, in the long run we can make the trees and the sidewalks work together,” she said.

Council Member Libby Warfield asked about a previous policy that allowed the city to place restrictions on changes residents could make to the space between the sidewalk and the road.

She said she would feel more comfortable moving forward with these types of changes if something like it was in place to prevent residents from planting their own potentially destructive trees. Hicks agreed and said that it is in the ordinance but hasn’t been enforced.

Hicks also said the city should have a way to help low-income residents pay for sidewalk repairs over time. Vandergrift said that something could be done to accommodate those residents.

Council Member Libby Warfield also made a new argument, that the city should focus on building sidewalks for areas that don’t have them. She said the two subdivisions that don’t have sidewalks may be disadvantaged if they have to help pay for sidewalk repairs.

Roller said repairs should be done where needed most, but even those who don’t have sidewalks in their neighborhoods will probably use sidewalks in the city too. Vandergrift said that these areas may get sidewalks someday although it’s not an immediate priority.

Council Member Bruce Southworth said the first priority should be to put this money towards areas where sidewalks end abruptly. “There’s places in the city where the sidewalk just ends in the middle of the property,” such as Turner Street, he said.

Vandegrift said Winter Street, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, should be the first concern. “The sidewalks on Winter Street are a death trap,” he said.

Vandegrift said one of the biggest issues is figuring out who owns the sidewalk. If a homeowner believes they own the sidewalk, and the city comes in and claims it’s theirs and begins repairs, it could potentially  cause legal issues.

“It puts us in a vague area of legal liability,” Council Member Steven Craig said.

Vandegrift disributed copies of the city's existing but unenforced policies on sidewalks.

For years, the city’s policy has been that the city can charge property owners $10 a day for damaged sidewalks, a policy that the city has had trouble strictly enforcing because they  can’t expect property owners who can’t afford repairs originally to pay a daily fine.

The city has also tried to work with property owners, covering up to $500 worth of repairs. On projects costing less than $500, the city would  help to cover a portion of the cost. If the property owner did not work with the city to repair the damaged sidewalk by an assigned date, the city would reserve the right to go in and complete the job, billing the property owner for the work completed.

Vandegrift said the city should repace the $10 daily fine with a rule that “a lien can be placed on the property if repairs are not done by a certain date.”

The sidewalk committee and the full council will continue discussing changes to sidewalk policy and possibly tree policy, Vandergrift said.

Other business

Vandegrift announced that the city is reopening bids for snow removal contracts. The city’s four-year contract with Wright’s Farm Service is expiring.

Vandergrift said that the city has not had any problems with Wright, and will consider it in the list of bids.

Cemetery bench: New benches will replace a broken concrete bench in Midway Cemetery.

The bench in the Veterans Memorial Garden of the cemetery has collapsed and a private bench was placed there, Hicks said.

A few years ago the council voted that only the city can provide benches in the cemetery, and any private benches will have to be removed.

Vandergrift said that there should be enough money in his proposed budget to put up new benches in the area.

Park improvements: The Citizens Action Committee for Walter Bradley Park will be planting redbud and dogwood trees from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 24, Hicks said. The committee has been working to improve the park with volunteers and local supporters.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Proposed city budget includes 13% water-rate boost due to expected hike from Kentucky American

By Katherine Stach
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes a 13 percent increase in retail water rates due to Kentucky American Water’s request for a wholesale rate increase, pending at the state Public Service Commission.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said at the City Council’s first budget workshop Wednesday night that while he hopes Kentucky American’s rate increase won’t pass, he said it is necessary to build this increase into the budget in the event that it does.

Kentucky American is seeking a rate increase in part to pay for infrastructure improvements; mainly a $15 million filtration building that is under construction.

The water increase application was filed at the end of January. PSC spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said applications can take anywhere from 6 to 10 months to process and go into effect, meaning that if approved, the water increase rate could take place as early as the end of July, or as late as November 2016.

The cost increase associated with the maintenance and upgrade has not been offset by the additional revenue produced by the increase in rates from the October 2013 case, Melnykovych said.

According to the application, “Its existing rates for water service do not afford Kentucky American Water the opportunity to recover its reasonable operating costs or to earn a just and reasonable rate of return on its investment.”

In the larger budget picture, with the city’s expected revenue going up 12.4 percent, mainly from occupational taxes on higher employment, it will have more money to spend on things like repaving Northside Drive, which runs from the Midway Grocery to Northside Elementary School.

This year’s budget will call for $80,000 for street paving. Vandegrift said he expects that around $55,000 of this fund will go for Northside Drive, a road that is frequently traveled by buses and school children.

Council Member Bruce Southworth suggested using this fund to repave Stephens Street. He said it is in poor condition, and estimated the repaving could cost up to $46,000.

Vandegrift agreed that Stephens Street was a concern, but said they might not be able to find the money to complete both this year. In response, Southworth suggested using whatever remains from the $80,000 for Stephens Street. However, there was a question as to what length of Stephens could be repaired with the remaining funds.

“I don’t think they’re going to get all of Stephens done for $25,000,” said Council Member Libby Warfield, who suggested that part of it could be repaved.

Midway will also focus on sidewalk repair over the next fiscal year, with Vandegrift proposing to spend $27,000, up form $10,000 last year. Dangerous sidewalks in the city have been a concern for the council.

“We really need to make some significant progress on sidewalk issues,” Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift said he originally wanted to budget $40,000 for sidewalks, but had to cut that amount in order to budget money in other areas.

The mayor is asking that the street equipment fund go from $14,800 to $24,000, mainly due to the city’s expected purchase of a new pick-up truck for maintenance.

This year’s budget is also calling for an increase in computer expenses, to $15,000 from $10,000, to pay for a computer technical operator and new equipment.

“The computer technician has to come often, and he is not cheap,” City Clerk–Treasurer Phyllis Hudson said.

New to this year’s budget is the mayor’s call for $10,000 for Walter Bradley Park improvements. Although suggestions have been made for particular park improvements, Vandegrift is unsure how the money will be spent. But he says improvements to the park are important, no matter what form they come.

“There are a number of things that I am willing to bend on this budget, this simply is not one of them,” Vandegrift said. Council members did not comment.

In the current fiscal year, the city’s contingency fund or surplus was budgeted at $252,494. For next year, the fund has been budgeted for $246,554.

Midway had had a similar surplus for several years. “In a truly balanced budget, there would be no need for a contingency line,” said Vandegrift. “I would love it if we could get to a point where we don’t have a contingency line.”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Council likes budget emphasis on streets and sidewalks, but questions details; water rate hike likely

By Anyssa Roberts
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway’s streets and sidewalks will be the city’s priority for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the City Council agreed at its first budget workshop on Wednesday.

Other potential budget increases include the parks budget, maintenance of City Hall and improvements in the city’s computer system.

The biggest question mark in the budget is the city’s water costs, which will affect water costs for citizens, depending on what sort of rate increase Kentucky American Water Co. wins from the state Public Service Commission.

Streets and sidewalks have been a topic of discussion among city officials for several months now, and because of the city’s surplus funds, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift made plans to increase their budget.

The city’s overall budget has about $143,000 more resources than last year's mainly because of higher revenue from occupational taxes, due to higher employment in the city. The occupational tax income in 2016-17 is expected to be $400,000; in the last budget it was $275,000 but the city has already far exceeded that figure.

In March, Vandergrift said he would set aside money to repave Northside Drive, the road that runs from the Midway Grocery up to Northside Elementary School. He said that the job should cost about $60,000 although he planned to set aside more.

“We need to make some progress this year,” Vandergrift told the council. In his proposed budget, $80,000 was budgeted for repaving. Last year’s street paving budget was $7,790.

Council Member Bruce Southworth asked if there was any money available to fix Stephens Street as well. “It’s been a long time since it’s been paved,” he said.

Vandergrift replied that he would like to do both if there is enough money available, but Northside is a priority.

Council Member Libby Warfield asked if only part of Stephens could be paved. That is a possibility, Vandergrift said, but the county and the city have been arguing over who’s responsible for Stephens Street, which connects Spring Station Road on the west with Weisenberger Mill Road on the east.

Sidewalks are likely to be repaired in the coming year too, as council members tentatively agreed on a budget of $27,000, up from $10,000 last year.

Vandergrift said that he had $40,000 originally set aside for the sidewalk budget but had to move money to other parts.

He added $10,000 to the parks budget, for improvements to Walter Bradley Park.

Under the mayor’s proposal, the City Hall maintenance budget would increase to $30,000 from $20,000 for repairs. Because the building is an older historic building, it takes special treatment for its repairs, Vandergrift explained.

Vandergrift also proposed budgeting $15,000 for computer services, up from $10,000 last year. Warfield asked about the increase, which the mayor explained as the cost of protecting important information to the city. He said recent database hacks have made these kinds of precautions necessary. The cemetery computer services budget would increase from $500 to $2,750.

The budget forecasts that the city’s payments for water will increase to $392,356, from $315,000. This would increase charges for residents, if the city continues its policy that the water system must pay for itself.

The council dismissed after discussing all parts of the budget for more than an hour. Council members decided to wait to schedule another budget workshop. Vandergrift hopes to have a first reading by May 2. The budget must be passed by June 30.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ag-review panel votes 3-1 in favor of warehouses; fiscal court wants more in-lieu tax payments to issue bonds

UPDATE, April 27: The Fiscal Court voted April 26 to issue $120 million in industrial revenue bonds for the project, with payments in lieu of taxes to be made to the county. The company also agreed to pay for new nozzles and hoses for the county fire station in Midway and up to $25,000 worth of training for firefighters.

By Aayat Ali
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Woodford County Agricultural Advisory Review Committee voted 3-1 Wednesday to recommend that the Board of Adjustment grant Brown-Forman Corp.’s request for a conditional use permit to build whiskey warehouses just north of Midway Station.

Brown-Forman fared less well the night before, as the Woodford County Fiscal Court voiced unhappiness with the company’s plans for payments in lieu of taxes on the warehouses and whiskey as part of its request for tax-exempt bonds to finance the project.

The Louisville-based distiller is seeking to build the 12 warehouses on 113 acres of Homer Michael Freeney’s 400-acre farm as an agricultural enterprise, but the main concern among the committee members was how bourbon can be considered an agricultural product.

Committee member John Wilhoit, the dissenter, expressed his concerns over the definition of agriculture and said it was “a stretch” to consider bourbon an agricultural product.  Committee member Lindy Huber shared similar concerns.

“I’ve thought about a lot of other agriculture products and how they can be interpreted in the finished product,” she said.  “If someone were to grow cotton in Woodford County and wanted to set up a textile mill, is that an agricultural product? To me, food and fiber is what agriculture is, and bourbon does not fit into that category.”

But committee member Skip Philips said if only food and fiber fell under the definition of agriculture, “Where do you fit in tobacco?”  He said that he considers bourbon and tobacco to be agricultural products, especially with no processing facility to create a distraction amid the farmland.

Steve Rushell, attorney for Brown-Forman, drew a distinction between this project and a more intrusive industrial or manufacturing project, saying it has no noise or air emissions.  He also said Brown-Forman is purchasing about 50,000 bushels of corn a year and would prefer to buy most of it in Woodford County if it meets Brown-Forman’s standards.

Lynn Martin, a tenant on Freeney’s farm, said he supported the project.  Brown-Forman said it would make arrangements for Martin to cross the access road at certain points so he can continue operating the farm.  The 113 acres would not be acquired all at once, so over the 12-year development of the warehouses, two per year, Brown-Forman would lease to Martin the land it does not use. 

Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Distillery is located off McCracken Pike in Versailles and is a popular tourist site.  For the new warehouses in Midway, Brown-Forman says the barrels would be shipped to Georgetown Road over New Cut Road to U.S. 60 and down Interstate 64 to the Midway exit.  This would be shortest route between the two locations without using back roads and coming through downtown Midway.

Ruschell introduced a list of conditions of the permit.  He said they would help preserve the land and make sure the warehouses don’t become a distraction, by:
•             Using own-box lighting that will not illuminate beyond the farm
•             Using signage to make it clear that no visitors are allowed on the site
•             Limiting truck traffic to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday
•             Limiting construction traffic from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday
•             Requiring outdoor activities to be conducted at least 300 feet from surrounding properties
•             Not using reflective roofs
•             Building a three-million gallon retention pond to prevent spillage into South Elkhorn Creek

“The first warehouse will be well over 1,100 feet from Georgetown Road,” Ruschell said.  “The reason it’s being located there is to make sure the pastoral setting is preserved.”

Fiscal Court meeting

On Tuesday, other Brown-Forman attorneys, Timothy Eifler and Mark Franklin of Stoll Keenon Ogden, returned to the fiscal court for more discussion of their request for $120 million in industrial revenue bonds to purchase the land and build the warehouses.

The issue for the court is the proposed PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement that the company presented.

“We negotiated with the school district and worked out a PILOT formula,” Eifler said.  “Typically these are designed to cover situations where a project is going to cause additional costs or burdens imposed on a local government, so the PILOT is there to deal with that.” Industrial revenue bonds create a property-tax exemption.

Some members of the court felt that other county functions, such as the fire department and the county government itself, deserved more of the payments.  The annual payment per barrel would be about $2.50.  The school district would receive 70.2 percent of the payments and the county would get 7.4 percent.

“The county has not raised its tax rates,” Judge-Executive John Coyle said.  “We have made cuts, we have laid off employees, we have done everything to provide everything that is needed for the citizens of Woodford County.  The school board, on the other hand, raises its tax rates to the maximum every year.”

The court deferred further discussion of the matter until its April 26 meeting.