Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mayor says he's disheartened by county's ending of emergency-management talks; flood issues discussed

By Paige Hobbs
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Midway City Council meeting Monday night focused on emergency management. The agency’s budget and the joint mass notification system, Everbridge, were at the top of the list. The council also discussed issues raised by recent flooding.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he was sending the proposed emergency management budget to the council’s finance committee for review before asking the full council members to make a decision. The negotiations between the City of Versailles, Woodford County, and the City of Midway were ended last week by the fiscal court, which wants more money for the program.

Funding for the program has been debated since last summer. Under state law, Midway has until July 1 to establish its own program or form a joint program.

Vandegrift said it was vote of 5-4 last week in fiscal court that ended the negotiations, thus telling Midway it must pay an extra $200 a month or start its own program.

“The five who voted to basically say ‘This is it, take it or leave it,’ they believe they are doing what is right. . . . However, I want to give a special thanks to Magistrate [Linda] Popp, our magistrate . . . Magistrate Gill, Magistrate Dotson, and Magistrate Gardner, who by voting against that meant ‘Let’s keep negotiating’,” said Vandegrift. Popp was at the council meeting.

“So I’m giving a special thanks with the caveat that I do believe that the other five are doing what they believe is right,” Vandegrift said. “But I believe we are trying to form a new relationship with the county and we’re trying to say ‘Let’s negotiate and talk.’ And that vote is a little disheartening. Because what it told me is that we’re going to stop talking. That’s not the way I think the City of Midway wants to do things, personally.”

Vandegrift said the finance committee will review the budget and the options and report back to the full council during a budget workshop on April 14.

System offers alerts about emergencies, weather, community happenings

In a related matter, Vandegrift said the county and Versailles have already signed into the joint agreement for the mass notification system, Everbridge. Midway’s contribution to the program would be $1,430. Versailles has agred to pay $4,390 and the county has agreed to pay $7,842,

Everbridge, for which only 5 percent of Midway residents have signed up, allows citizens to opt in for alerts about emergencies, weather advisories and warnings and other topics via text messages, email, social media, telephone calls and other methods. Citizens have the option to exclude certain alerts and times, except for tornado warnings. They can sign up at www.woodfordalerts.com.

Council Member Libby Warfield asked what could be done to publicize this program more.

Deputy Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler, representing the local Emergency Planning Committee, said the committee had already spent $5,000 on a public service campaign, including newspaper advertising that has not been completed, to get the word out. “We are taking a proactive approach,” he said. 

Vandegrift said, “It is a good program; I get these calls before any other notification. Why we can’t get people to sign up, I don’t know.”

Council Member Sarah Hicks suggested making signups available at the library.

Chandler said the dispatch center has more than 10,000 phone numbers in its 911 database.  Despite the low opt-in rate, Chandler said dispatch can still make emergency notifications to almost all residents, and the opt-in system for additional alerts can reach 200 phones in a matter of minutes.

Vandegrift noted that Midway is not set up for that function. Chandler said, “If we can get the customer data base in an Excel format (a software program used to organize data) . . . that can be done for Midway,” said Chandler.

Assistant City Clerk Diane Shepard expressed concern about sharing citizens’ cell-phone information to fill in the database. “If we take someone’s cell phone number here we promise we won’t give that out and we won’t use it for anything,” she said. “I think they should be the ones that opt in. That’s the reason we haven’t provided that information to you all.” (Shepard was filling in for City Clerk-Treasurer Phyllis Hudson, who was absent due to the death of her sister.) 

Chandler agreed that if a cell-phone number is given, the confidence in privately sharing that information should not be violated. No cell phone information given in confidence will be shared with the data base unless citizens choose to do so themselves, he said.

Emergency Management Director Keith Slugantz said he wanted to go ahead and build the database so citizens could sign up to get alerts on their cell phones. 333-0046

Flooding raises issues

Vandegrift noted that due to the flooding last week, two fences were knocked down by the debris carried by floodwaters in the dog park. The park, which was privately funded and built through an Eagle Scout project, is owned by the city.

Hicks said the park isn’t in the healthiest location. During heavy rains, “It becomes a muck pool,” she said. ”It’s not the best location because it doesn’t have drainage. I want the dog park to be replaced but would like for us to re-think the location.”

Vandegrift offered the options of putting the park in the city budget or seeking private funding. “We’ll get on it and weigh our options further on down the road,” he said.

Warfield brought up another issue raised by the flooding, asking why the fire department does not help citizens pump water out of their basements when it floods. Council Member Steven Craig said that it could be a liability to do so, and that the fire department does not have the proper equipment.

Council Member Daniel Roller said, “I think it could be great if they could provide safety information.”

Council Member Bruce Southworth suggested having the fire chief and water and sewer superintendent attend council meetings once a month to provide updates.

In other business, the council passed a motion by Southworth that Midway Station developer Dennis Anderson pay for a city inspector to review infrastructure for the housing development he is to begin in part of the failed industrial park this year.

Southworth told the Messenger after the meeting that in Anderson’s development of the Green Gables commercial area on the south side of Interstate 64, some valves were not installed and some of the pipes weren’t three feet deep as required.

The council adopted a motion by Warfield to donate $250 for supplies and staff time for the Main Street Clean Sweep program to be conducted by Bluegrass Greensource on Earth Day, April 22.

The non-profit environmental educational organization is offering the program in 17 cities across Central Kentucky. Environmental Educator and Volunteer Coordinator Ashley Bryant-Cheney said there are 14 staff members working on this event and they are expecting 1,000 participants.

“I think this is a very good program,” said Warfield. “If you get children involved in picking up litter, hopefully, when they become adults they won’t be throwing down litter. . . . They will remember the next time they think of throwing something out of the car.”

The 17 cities participating are Midway, Versailles, Nicholasville, Wilmore, Harrodsburg, Burgin, Frankfort, Cynthiana, Georgetown, Lancaster, Richmond, Stanford, Winchester, Paris, Stamping Ground, Irvine, and Sadieville. More information can be found at bggreensource.org.

The council scheduled four meetings for next week. The Cemetery and City Property Committee will meet Monday, April 13, at 6 p.m., to continue discussions about the wooded area along Lee’s Branch at the foot of Gratz Street.

The Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee will meet Tuesday, April 14, at 2 p.m. to discuss a draft fairness ordinance with city attorney Phil Moloney.

A budget workshop will be held Tuesday, April 14, at 5:30 p.m. There will also be a progress meeting for the Higgins Street water project Wednesday, April 15, at 10 a.m.

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