Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Council debates charitable donations, OKs quarry work, and hears about job prospects and a grant hiccup

By Megan Smiddie
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway Station, missing grant paperwork, requests for charitable donations and fixing up the old quarry at the city park were among topics the Midway’s City Council discussed Monday night.

Brad McLean, the chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, reported that there have been “four or five inquiries” recently on the three available industrial lots in Midway Station.

“I wish I could say more,” said McLean. “There is progress, I promise you.” He said any resulting development on the lots would be small, totaling only five to 10 employees.

Midway Station is a failed industrial park north of Interstate 64 that currently hosts a couple of small businesses, with all other lots empty. It left Midway and the county with a $6 million debt, so they optioned the property to Dennis Anderson of Lexington, whose plans for a residential and commercial development on the site have been stopped by the recession. McLean said EDA is trying to work with Anderson and the banks that hold the debt, since Anderson has an option on the entire property.

Mayor Tom Bozarth said that he would like to see a progress report from EDA on recruitment of “small, little, green jobs” and an agreement for funding of the agency, especially since it has employed a recruiter. “There needs to be an inter-local agreement between Midway, Versailles and the fiscal court about funding for this project,” he said.

The council spent several minutes debating whether it should make a $250 donation to the American Cancer Society as part of the annual Relay for Life fundraiser. The larger question being raised was: Should people who are handling taxpayers' dollars be donating them to charities?

“I think we can all agree that cancer has affected every single one of us,” said Council Member Grayson Vandegrift, who made the motion for the donation, noting (as Bozarth did) that the City of Versailles had given likewise. “I think it is one of those causes that we can make an exception.”

Council Member Daniel Roller countered, “Where do we draw the line?” He added, “Cancer has affected a lot of people, heart disease has affected a lot of people, Alzheimer’s affects a lot of people. . . . I don’t know how we determine which ones we give to.”

Roller moved to table the request until a policy has been put in place on such donations, but his motion lost 4-2, with only Council Member Sara Hicks joining him. The motion for the donation passed 4-1, with Roller opposed and Hicks abstaining.

A citizen at the meeting later emailed Bozarth, the council and the Midway Messenger expressing concern. “This is, I am sure, a worthy cause for donation, by each individual,” Michael Ashton of Midway wrote. “I do not believe it is proper for the city to decide to spend these funds.”

Ashton, who ran for a council seat last year, pointed out that there was “no set aside for donations of this type in the budget.” He added, “It sets a bad precedent; how do you say ‘No’ to the next and other worthy requests?” Ashton requested that the council rethink its decision and that at the next budget meeting set aside a separate allocation for donations.

Near the end of its session, the council agreed to hold a special meeting at 8 a.m. Monday to start discussing the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “It’s just going to be a preliminary walk-through,” Bozarth said. That meeting will be followed by a meeting of the council’s Cemetery, Ordinance and Policy Committee, which has begun looking at noise ordinances in other cites as it considers whether to enact one in Midway.

Bryan Kirby, president of Community & Economic Development Associates Inc., asked the council to pass a resolution approving preparation of the application for the $500,000 grant given to the city in 2007 for the nursing home soon to be built as The Homeplace at Midway.

Kirby said that in getting ready for the actual release of the money, he could not find that the council had ever formally authorized the application. He said paperwork may have been lost in the merger of CEDA and Will Linder and Associates, which actually prepared the application.

“An action by the council was never taken to formerly hire a firm to write the grant,” Kirby said. Bozarth said City Clerk Phyllis Hudson had been unable to find any evidence of such action. He suggested that the council simply amend its agreement with CEDA to include the authorization, and indicated that documents to that effect would be prepared.

In an update on the project, Kirby said the state Department for Local Government is giving Christian Care Communities a 90-day extension of time to award bids on the project. He said CCC technically met Monday’s deadline by hiring a construction manager instead of a using a traditional bid process, but to get the extension the city will need to submit a letter supporting it.

“It was more of a formality to the council,” Kirby explained afterward. “It grants a 90-day extension on provision of any final documentation needed to release the $500,000.”

The council unanimously to approve Bozarth’s request to spend $3,500 on cleaning up the old quarry at the park. “It will make it nice and make it something we can use in the community and enhance the park,” he said. The quarry site lies between the library on the north and the dog park on the south, and between Lee’s Branch on the west and Northside Elementary School on the east.

An ordinance revising rules for the park was given a first reading. It would remove a ban on firearms that has been invalidated by a state law passed last year. “The presence of firearms shall now be permitted,” substitute city attorney Josh Salsburey said.

Perhaps coincidentally, an unidentified man drew attention at the meeting by wearing an automatic pistol. He left before the meeting was over. Woodford Sun Correspondent John McDaniel, a former policeman, noted that the gun was not loaded: "My guess is that he was waiting for someone to challenge him after the mayor read the no-concealed weapon paragraph before the meeting began."

The council also passed a resolution designating April as Alcohol Awareness Month. “We can help provide hope for today and hope for tomorrow to people facing challenges with alcohol use and abuse,” Salsburey read from part of the resolution. “We can discourage underage drinking throughout our community by giving our young people better things to do than use.” 

Vandegrift presented recent statistics for the city’s Meet Me in Midway website. He is working with the creators of the site to redo it. “We are looking to make it more mobile friendly and add a calendar,” he said. The statistics showed that more than 70 percent of new visitors to the site viewed it on a mobile device, but the site has no special configuration for such devices.

Finally, Council Member Sharon Turner asked for help in reviving the city's monthly newsletter, Midway Matters, which has been produced mainly by volunteers.

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