Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Future of water and sewer systems dominates discussion among city council candidates at forum

By Drew Teague
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Two candidates for Midway City Council said at a forum Thursday night that the issue of whether to sell the city’s water and sewer system or have the city refurbish them was too big for the council to decide itself.

At the forum presented by the Midway Woman’s Club, restaurant manager Grayson Vandegrift, seeking his first term on the council, said the issue "should be voted on by all the people." Council Member Sharon Turner, the mayor pro tem, said after the forum that such an issue can't be put on the ballot, but "We talked about having public forums to let everyone in Midway voice their comments, concerns and thoughts prior to the council making any decision." (An earlier version of this story incorrectly had Turner supporting a referendum.)

Some of the four questions put to the candidates sparked discussion of the water-sewer issue, and several candidates brought it up in their opening remarks.

Turner said there needs to be a lot of research into the questions of selling the systems to a company – probably Kentucky-American Water Co., the city’s raw-water supplier – or the city borrowing millions of dollars to refurbish the current systems. “I don’t think this is anything we can decide yet,” she said. “Even after we prepare the sides, I don’t think it’s for a panel of six people to figure out.”

Vandegrift’s thoughts on the matter were similar to Turner’s, but he added that there may be an opportunity to sell the system at a later date, so there is no rush to sell it now. He said the systems are operating at half capacity.

Turner, who has served on the council since 2005, is looking to take on the systems’ problems during her next term if re-elected, she said in her opening statement. She noted that she is on the council’s Water and Sewer Task Force, “and that’s going to be a lofty task in front of us … but it’s something we’re researching.”

Bruce Southworth noted in his opening statement that he has served Midway, Versailles and Georgetown and their water-treatment systems for 27 years. “What I’ve heard this year while I’ve been running is the water-sewer system is the main issue,” he said. “It’s my time to give something back to Midway.”

He said that once the council sells the water and sewer systems, they are gone, so careful consideration needs to be taken when deciding the solution, after the task force releases its research report on the systems. “Unfortunately, until the task force report is released I cannot make an intelligent response,” Southworth said in his candidate profile in the October issue of Midway Matters, a monthly newsletter for citizens about the goings-on in Midway.

Sara Hicks, a licensed marriage and family therapist, also said there should be a lot of research before a decision is made, and if the systems are sold, that the council should realize  that the company will make a profit and the council will have to make sure the company keeps to the promises they made.

Steven Craig and Council Member Daniel Roller said there is a lot more to know before decisions are made.

Roller said that the city needs to continue the study, through the task force, to find the cost of refurbishing the systems. “For over a year we’ve analyzed the different problems with that. There’s old lines, there is dead lines, there’s pop offs,” said Roller, a member of the task force.

Michael Ashton, Kevin Locke and three-term incumbent Aaron Hamilton did not respond to a question about the systems, but Hamilton was the first to bring up the topic during opening remarks. He is on the task force and said the issue needs to be addressed soon by the council.

Ashton said in his opening statement that he is looking to build a balanced budget and vigilant controlled growth for the city.

Craig said he is a Midway native who believes he can help the council.

Hicks said she “longed to come home” to such a “precious, sweet treasure” while she lived outside the state. She said she has worked with non-profits for over 30 years and knows how to listen and analyze problems. “I want to be a person on the city council that hears the people in Midway,” she said, adding that the city needs to be smart with money and use it to solve problems. “We have to use our taxpayers’ money in the most efficient and effective way possible," she said. "We need to solve any structural issues, such as the water and sewer.”

Vandegrift, who said he has been to every city council meeting his year and is president of the Midway Merchants Association, said he had a deep passion for public service and would bring new energies to the council.

Locke, a member of the Woodford County Board of Architectural Review, said voters should find out the motives of the candidates. His stated reasons for running: responsibility for and pride in Midway.

After opening statements, candidates were asked four questions from the public that had been screened by members of the Midway Woman’s Club, including city Council Member Charlann Wombles, who is not seeking re-election. They answered voluntarily, in no particular order.

Asked to name the council’s first responsibility to citizens of Midway:
  • Locke said he would want to make the council open and available to all citizens of the town.
  • Roller said he wants to work with others on economic development and businesses in the city. Hamilton said he wants to keep the citizens safe and that there is not a bad crime rate in Midway. Turner said the city needs to be fiscally responsible while providing services to its citizens.
  • Vandegrift said the council should work with all organizations, the city and county, making sure there are no breaks between them, adding that political parties should not be brought into the council. Council races are nonpartisan.
  • Southworth said the quality of life in Midway would be one of his big concerns if he was elected.
  • Craig said he would do whatever was best for the whole of the citizenry of Midway.
  • Ashton said participation would be his main focus, and everyone should show up and participate in city council meetings.
Asked if they favored moving the Fire Department to a shared facility with Woodford County:
  • Roller said that as best he knew this would just be a joint facility, not a joint department between Midway and the county.
  • Turner said the city would need to continue researching and see about a joint station saving money, but something else needs to be built on the Midway end of the county, instead of a joint fire station. “We just started research on it, but I see more of a need for an ambulance station on this end of the county,” she said.
  • Craig said the council needs to “dive into it.” He is a brother of Magistrate Larry Craig, who is the captain of the county’s Midway fire unit.
  • Hamilton said they need to explore the options and see the benefit that it will have to Midway. Ashton, Locke, Southworth and Vandegrift did not answer this question.
Asked to identify problems that “haven’t gone so well” for the council:
  • Craig cited the bickering and fighting among the members of the council: “I’d like to see this council come together as a team.”
  • Turner said she feels some items the council has dealt with have been rushed, saying the council has not looked into things as hard as it should. She also said there needs to be research into all sides of an issue before a decision is made.
  • Locke said divisiveness is a good thing and that council needs to talk about items more. He added that Midway needs more engaged citizens. “I like it when people get involved,” he said. “We solve the questions … by being engaged.”
  • Roller pushed Danville, a town 10 times the size of Midway, as the prime example of what Midway can be like.
  • Ashton said money needs to be used better, for all citizens, not just small groups, and he also pushed the new “Uniquely Woodford” brand that the council voted Monday night to support with $1,500 (in conjunction with Versailles and Woodford County) for a video and brand logo.
  • Southworth and Hamilton did not respond to this question.
Nine of the 10 candidates attended the forum. Moderator Steve Wilson said Council Member Doris Leigh was absent due to illness.

Council members are elected to terms of two years. Voters can vote for six candidates, one for each seat available, but are not required to vote for six.

The last day to register to vote in Kentucky is today. Election Day is less than a month away, on Nov. 6. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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