Friday, May 9, 2014

Incumbent, former councilman and political newcomer seek to represent Midway district on Fiscal Court

By Rachel Aretakis
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Three Midway citizens are vying to be elected magistrate from District 1 on the Woodford County Fiscal Court. 

District 1 has two precincts: No. 2, rural Midway; and No. 21, the city.
Incumbent Larry Craig, Linda Popp and Dale Benson are running in the May 20 Democratic primary.  No Republican or independent filed.

The winner will represent Midway on the county level as one of eight magistrates. Each receives a salary of $21,322 as well as health insurance benefits and a cell phone, Craig said. The salary has not changed since 2008, he said, and he does not accept the insurance or the phone.

The candidates bring different backgrounds and experiences to the race. In separate interviews with the Midway Messenger, they discussed issues such as tourism, community involvement and Midway’s position in the county.

Craig defended his record of improving public services in the district. Popp says she will stay in better touch with constituents. Benson hopes to improve Midway’s relationship with the county and boost tourism.

Larry Craig

Craig has been elected as the Midway area’s magistrate for two four-year terms. He served on the City Council for several terms, beginning when he was in his early 20s, he said. He also has been on the Woodford County Economic Development Authority and county Planning and Zoning Commission; was vice president of Northside Elementary PTO for two terms and president one term; and was on the Woodford County Schools task force when his children were in school. Craig is a retired Lexington firefighter and is also retired from a painting business.

Discussing his work as a magistrate, Craig noted that a stoplight is being installed at Leestown and Georgetown roads and Interstate 64, and the long-sought nursing home is under construction. The county gave $25,000 for a study of the feasibility of a nursing home, which has since become a senior living community with nursing facilities, being built by the non-profit Christian Care Communities.

Craig said fiscal court has purchased one ambulance and has money in the budget for another, which would allow Midway to have an ambulance station.

“I’ve been a strong voice for Midway in District 1,” he said. “The roads in my district are in better shape than they have been in the last several years.”

Craig said roads have been widened, paved, striped and signed, and he drives through the district at least once a week to check road conditions.

“Any time the city council has come to me and had a request, I went to the fiscal court on their behalf and fought strongly for everything they asked me to do,” Craig said. “You don’t always win your battles, but I’ve always spoken up.”

Larry Craig
The biggest city-county conflict recently has been the county’s decision to stop snow removal on Midway’s streets after it became a fourth-class city. Craig said the decision was made by Judge-Executive John Coyle and the county engineer, and was only brought up in a fiscal court meeting. When he found out, he said he called Mayor Tom Bozarth.

At a city council meeting in January 2013, Craig 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.”

Craig said in the recent interview that he could not remember if there had been a vote on the issue because it was a policy change, which doesn’t require a vote, he said: “If it did go to a vote, I’m sure I voted a no on it.”

Craig said he thought it was “silly” that a county snowplow truck would drive through Midway, stop plowing, then resume plowing outside the city limits.

Whoever is elected Midway magistrate, he said, must stand up and sometimes be the only vote on the court for a certain issue that concerns the north end of the county. 

Craig touted the fiscal court’s success at maintaining stability through the last few years.

“We’ve weathered through one of the worst economic downturns in history and haven't cut any services, we didn’t have to raise taxes," he said. "I think that says a lot for job that’s been done.” He said, the county recycling center in Versailles has been streamlined and is more efficient. 

Looking ahead, Craig said he would like to promote Midway College, one of the county’s biggest employers, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which is headquartered in Versailles.

“When employers are looking to locate in a community, they  . . . want to see that the community puts an emphasis on education” and quality of life, he said. “They want to see a trained work force.”

Craig said it is important to encourage tourism including leisure activities and restaurants. He would like to see a hotel in Woodford County, which only has bed-and-breakfast lodging, to create more revenue from the lodging tax that is dedicated to tourism promotion.

Linda Popp

Popp is a financial representative for AIG Financial Network and was the owner of Country Classic, a gift shop, restaurant and catering business in Midway, which closed in 2006. She is a member of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, the Midway Merchants Association and Women in Business. She said she was born in Versailles and has lived in Midway 41 years. 

Linda Popp
One of Popp’s main goals is to educate the community about county government and what a magistrate does. She referred to her advertisements in The Woodford Sun, one of which read, “So many of you have asked, ‘What are the duties of a magistrate?’ A magistrate is a voting member of your Fiscal Court; determines county budgets and enacts ordinances; issues bonds and hires county personnel, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.”

Popp said she tries to be involved in many different things. “We’ve all got issues,” she said, "but my issues and concerns are my people in the communities. I want to be their voice to see that things can happen in the future.”

Popp said she wants to see more community members involved in discussions about the county and hopes to do this through better communication with constituents.

“People don’t know what is going on,” she said. “My intention is being out around people in my district and going around and checking on them in the next four years. I’m not going to wait until the next election to go see them.”

A big concern Popp expressed is that the community does not work together.

“I come from the old school where everyone worked together as a community, and I don’t think we have that in our community anymore. I think it’s very separated between Midway and Versailles and the southern end”of the county, she said.

Dale Benson                     

Benson said he has lived in Woodford County his entire life and moved to Midway when he was 25. Six years ago, he completed his fourth two-year term on the City Council. He said he was the yearling manager at Airdrie Stud for more than 20 years and has worked in the horse industry for more than 33 years.

During his time on the council, Benson said, he was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown, developed the trails for the city park, and was actively involved in getting the city streets repaved as the chairman of that committee.

Benson expressed views similar to Popp’s about the county, saying there is dissension among its governing bodies. At the county level, he said, Midway is looked upon as “the little brother.”

Dale Benson
“The common denominator for all of us is that we are Woodford countians. That’s the one thing that we all can say we are,” Benson said, adding that he would like to see everyone start thinking with that in common and look to the future to work together.

“Woodford County, with three government entities, is never going to make great strides forward if what we spend most of our time doing is talking about who owes what to whom and not having a fair formula for determining that.”

Midway will pay Versailles $100,000 a year for police services over the next four years, up from about $70,000 this year. Benson said the fee isn’t wrong, but is arbitrary.

He wants a task force made up of government officials, private industry representatives and citizens to find ways to increase efficiency by merging various services.

Benson also calls for a more determined effort for tourism in Woodford County, and says the county can better capitalize on what it has to offer, such as the thoroughbred industry and the Bourbon Trail. “I feel like we are sitting on a gold mine,” he said.

He suggested two ways the county could do more to increase tourism: Encourage hotel construction to generate more lodging-tax revenue and create a paid position to promote tourism in the county. A hotel could be built next to the interstate, he said, which would bring in tax money to promote tourism. Eventually, he would like to see a full-time director of tourism so someone is held accountable. 

“Once you commit real funds to something,” he said, “it puts more pressure on the elected officials to make sure it works.”

He said the county is "overlooking our best opportunity for long-term success,” tourism.
“I want to help Midway be the front door of Woodford County instead of the back door.”

 Merging road and street departments

Recently, Bozarth said he wanted to merge Midway's street department with Woodford County's road department and the Versailles street department. He said in an April 22 Midway Messenger article that Midway citizens would save money and it would be more efficient.

Coyle rejected the idea, but all three candidates for Midway magistrate said they favor it. Popp said any time resources are merged, it can only get better.

Craig said it might not save money, but it would increase efficiency. "In the long run, the taxpayers would get more bang for their tax dollar," he said.

Benson said he doesn't think the city really has a street department now, and "The county should be providing the Midway district with basic road department service based on the fact that we are taxpayers and we pay county tax." He said a funding formula would need to be worked out, and Midway might need to pay some sort of stipend for the service.

“I believe most Midway citizens think right now that we don’t get a lot of bang for our buck with our county tax policy," he added.

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