Sunday, February 24, 2013

In latest leadership role, Vandegrift assembling tourism committee, hearing divided views on water

By Julia Myers
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
One of a series of looks at new City Council members.

New City Council Member Grayson Vandegrift has high hopes for what he can help accomplish in the city of Midway. Vandegrift, one the three new council members elected in November 2012, says he’s excited about the opportunity to make improvements to the city.

Vandegrift said he is involved in a handful of exciting projects that will have an impact on the community. He heads a committee studying a possible Midway chamber of commerce and tourist commission, but says the debate regarding the future of the city’s water and sewer system is his primary focus. 

“I think this is a really, really important topic for the future of our town,” he said. “And of all the things we will do, this might be the thing that affects us the most in the future.”

The council will decide whether to refurbish the system and keep ownership, or sell it to Kentucky-American Water Co., the city’s water supplier. Vandegrift voiced his uncertainty in an interview, saying he needs more information before he can make his decision.

“I think if you’d ask all six of us right now, I think we’d all say the same thing – that we don’t have enough information yet,” he said. “The information we need is slowly starting to trickle in but there is going to be a lot more information to gather over the next couple of months.”

Some of that information came out last week during a public hearing on the issue. Engineers working for the Midway Water and Sewer Task Force estimated that to fully repair the current system would cost $8.4 million, and would add $26 to the average resident’s monthly bill.

But Vandegrift says that there is still more to learn before they vote on the issue. One of his biggest concerns is the opinion of the people of Midway.  He asks that residents attend the public hearings, and share their opinions with the council. The first hearing drew about 35 people, which disappointed at least some council members.

“I’m definitely going to encourage residents to call us and email us and stop us on the street and let us know what they think,” said Vandegrift, “because the council is going to have to vote on it and it’s certainly going to help our decision to know what the residents think, going forward.”

The council member says about half of the residents he has heard from so far believe that the city should sell the system, while half are in favor of keeping ownership a little bit longer. The majority response, he says, is that residents want to learn more about each option.

Last week’s public hearing was one of three.  The next one will be held March 12, and will feature a presentation by Kentucky American outlining the option of selling the system.

Vandegrift is also busy putting together a tourism committee.  During the first council meeting this year, Mayor Tom Bozarth said he wanted to study creating a Midway chamber of commerce and tourist commission, separate from Woodford County’s. He asked Vandegrift to lead the effort.

This is the latest of several leadership roles Vandegrift has held in Midway. He has been president of the Midway Merchants Association and chairman of the Woodford County Tourist Commission, and is general manager of his family’s restaurant, 815 Prime, on Main Street.

This project is still very much in the “fact-finding phase,” according to Vandegrift. He has been working with the Kentucky League of Cities to understand what it would take to create a chamber of commerce and tourist commission.

Bozarth asked Vandegrift to lead a committee of other business owners. Kenny Smith, who is the president of the merchants association this year, and Clare McCarthy, owner of Celtic Trends, have both joined the committee. Vandegrift plans on adding one more person to the group.

The committee will speak to people in other towns similar to Midway about the benefits and drawbacks of having its own tourist commission. They plan to speak to cities such as Morehead, Bardstown and Harrodsburg over the next few months.

The council member says that there is still a lot of research to be done. “It’s very complicated,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen tomorrow in any way, but I’m interested in it. At the end of the day, if it’s something that’s going to be beneficial to the entire city, I’m certainly going to recommend that we do it. “

The tourism committee will meet for the first time in the next few weeks. Vandegrift’s plan is to present ideas to the City Council by April.

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