Wednesday, January 18, 2012

County cites city's new fourth-class status in stopping free salting and snow removal in Midway

By Cassidy Herrington, Martha Groppo, Lauren Conrad and Justin Wright
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway’s recently gained status as a fourth-class city might have come at a cost it did not anticipate.

Last night the City Council discussed the startling news that Woodford County would no longer provide snow removal services in Midway, and voted to continue a temporary arrangement in which the city pays the county’s costs for the work.

County Judge-Executive John Coyle told Mayor Tom Bozarth in a Jan. 13 letter that the county made the change because Midway became a fourth-class city in July. Versailles, a fourth-class city, removes its own snow and Coyle said "the consensus of the court" is that the cities should be treated alike.

"The decision to reclassify Midway as a fourth-class city, which, quite frankly, caught me by surprise, prompted this move," Coyle said. For a copy of the letter, and the Jan. 12 letter from Bozarth that prompted it, click here.

After the meeting, Council Member Sharon Turner said she thought retribution was an underlying motive. When Midway gained more control over alcohol restrictions under its fourth-class city status, it shifted about $3,000 in alcohol fees from the county to the city, she said.

Coyle said in a telephone interview this morning, "I think they will receive close to $6,000 [in alcohol license fees] but that wasn't the reason. I wanted to treat both fourth-class cities the same." He said Midway officials should have considered the ramifications of a higher classification.

But last night, the tenor of Coyle’s reply and the nature of his decision had some council members wondering if more factors were at play in the decision than the pursuit of fairness. “There must be some other dynamic,” Council Member Becky Moore said. The population of Versailles is more than four times that of Midway, according to the 2010 census.

Dan Roller, the only council member to vote against continuing the temporary arrangement, cited Coyle’s "consensus of the court" line and suggested the council not pay for the snow removal until it could be determined whether the decision had been made by the fiscal court.

Craig was unable to cite a day or meeting at which consensus had been reached, and apologized for being several days late in reading an email that Coyle had sent the magistrates advising them of the decision. Once he read it, he said, “I fought very passionately to leave things the way they were.”

When asked if the decision may have been made in violation of the state Open Meetings Act, Craig responded, “I will refer you to Judge Coyle.” The law prohibits public agencies from reaching decisions outside open sessions. Coyle said this morning that the decision was his, and that his email to the court was advisory.

Midway became a fourth class city in July 2011. Council members questioned why the county decided to halt assisting Midway with snow removal now, as opposed to months ago. They noted that Midway residents pay county taxes that are to assist in maintaining safe roadways for citizens, including snow removal. City Attorney Phil Moloney said the county is under no legal obligation to provide the city with snow removal.

Bozarth said nothing had been mentioned about the county ending this service prior to the statement last week. Craig said he did not read email for several days during the holidays and was late in learning of the decision. He apologized for that. (Photo: Craig speaks with council)
Midway officials learned last Wednesday, Jan. 11, that the county was no longer going to provide the service to the city, the day before much of Kentucky was predicted to get several inches of snow. In an effort to protect public safety, Coyle and Bozarth agreed that the county would continue to assist the city with salt and snow removal needs at an at-cost charge to Midway.

The cost of three trips made by the county road department to Midway for salting and snow removal from 4:20 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12 through 8:55 a.m. Friday, Jan. 13 was $1,233, according to a written statement from the county engineer.

Craig said that to protect public safety, he assisted in dedicating a county truck to the treatment of Midway roads when winter weather hits until an agreement between the city and county can be reached. He and council members questioned Midway citizens paying county taxes for a service they are no longer going to be provided.

The county decided to stop treating Midway roads during winter snow after doing the work for 30 years, Bozarth said. He said it would be difficult to find a more cost-effective option this late in the season, when salt is more expensive and private contractors already have their assignments.

Water advisories, money and vultures

Other items on last night's agenda included potential emergency alert changes, use of the city’s invested funds and a growing vulture problem.

Community member Phil Burchell attended the meeting, requesting an improved emergency notification system after he did not receive timely notification of a boil-water advisory in effect over the weekend. “It was Sunday before we knew it was out there,” he said.

Burchell’s main concern was whether the advisory meant that the water was not safe to drink. Keith Slugantz, the Woodford County emergency coordinator, said the notice was only an advisory and a preventive, and that if contamination had been found in the water, officials would have taken steps to notify every customer.

Burchell said the city needs a “one call” computerized system that will reach all phones in the city. Slugantz said his department could provide such a system, but that he would have to bill Midway if the number of minutes used exceeded his monthly allotment. The council agreed to discuss the issue further, and also compare costs with another provider.

During a discussion of financial-management issues with city auditor Bob Ryan, Roller said he would like to see the city's two certificates of deposit, totaling $711,000, "transferred into actual, usable accounts." Bozarth and Turner, who is mayor pro tem, disagreed.

"They're being carried for rainy-day funds, for any emergency," Turner said.

Turner called vultures roosting behind Midway Christian Church "a major issue. . . . It's got to be four times the amount of birds it was when we started talking about this." Some efforts were made to roust the birds last winter, but the effect was unclear because the weather soon warmed and the roost is a cold-weather phenomenon.

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