Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Mayor, EDA chairman clash over proposal to have Midway pay more and expand chairman's contract

UPDATE: EDA Chairman John Soper withdrew his proposal from the agenda for tonight's Fiscal Court meeting.
UPDATE, Nov. 23: Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott offered a new proposal that would have Midway pay 15 percent of EDA expenses, up from 10 percent, and 24 percent of planning and zoning expenses, up from 11 percent, with an additional appointee form Midway to both the EDA board and the planning commission, and a prohibition on EDA advocating "anything even remotely similar to" the northwest Versailles bypass. For a copy of the proposal, click here.
By Alexandria Kerns
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
    The Midway City Council meeting Monday evening ended in frustration after discussion of modifying the contract with the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.
    The tension rose after Mayor Grayson Vandegrift gave an update concerning the revision proposed by Versailles and the EDA. 
    The proposal would have Midway, Versailles and Woodford County each pay $26,884 a year for EDA operations. Midway now pays $5,000 and the other two $22,500 each.
    The extra money would cover an expanded contract for EDA Chairman John Soper, whom Versailles now pays $63,000 a year for job recruitment. Craig McAnelly, part-time executive director of the EDA, would be phased out of his position. 
    Vandegrift said at the council meeting that he would like to see the city receive another seat on the EDA board and another seat on the planning and zoning commission in return for the new agreement. Last week, he suggested two new seats on the EDA, but he said Monday night, “I don’t think we can agree to this deal without getting more representation on EDA and planning and zoning.”
    Currently, Midway only has one representative of seven on the EDA board and one of nine on the planning commission.
    Vandergrift said Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and County Judge-Executive John Coyle did not seem open to his suggestions in his meeting with them Monday. The proposal is on the agenda for the Fiscal Court meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m.
    “I think we can be open to other possibilities,” Vandegrift said. “I don’t think anyone has a problem with giving us two more EDA appointments, but I think in reality this is a big step up for us and it’s the first time we’ve been asked to be an equal partner in it, and I thought what’s really more important was . . . give us one more planning and zoning appointment, because those two things do go hand in hand, and I think, honestly, the planning and zoning appointment would be extremely important.”
    The Midway council indicated agreement with the mayor’s stance.
     “If I’m going to go down to the Grey Goose, and order a steak, and two other people order a steak, and we’re all paying $27, they’re better damn be all the same size steak,” Council Member Dan Roller said.
    Vandegrift said, “I appreciate John Soper’s work, I appreciate Craig McAnelly’s work, but I’ve never seen a deal like this where you already have the person in mind ahead of time. I think in all fairness – this is nothing against John, because he’s a wizard – but there probably should be some kind of open hiring process to this.”         
    Soper said, “If you want to start the process and look at somebody else, that’s certainly an option.”
    Vandegrift replied, “It’s not personal, John, it’s just that I’ve never done this . . . and had a person picked out ahead of time. Generally it’s not done that way.”
    Soper responded, What we have now, I think, is working.” He said Midway Station was developed by a volunteer board and “was poorly designed and was a failure,” costing the city and county $750,000 in extra interest costs until developer Dennis Anderson agreed to pay the interest in return for an option on the property.
    Soper argued that someone who is familiar with the development should be in charge of its future.
“I’ve uncovered most of the issues in Midway Station, and let me tell you there’s a lot of issues,” he said. “From you all not knowing that you didn’t own the water tank, to there not being proper easements into it, to the roads you got that you can’t get a car turned around in. . . . If you go out and you try to bring someone else in, they’re gonna have that learning curve. It’s a tough piece of property. It’s a snake pit and it always has been.”
    Anderson recently decided against building housing in Midway Station, a decision that local leaders endorsed, but he has never developed industrial property and wants EDA’s help. “I think he’ll stay on board if we help him,” Soper said.
    “I’m not sure, you know, if we don’t have a good presence trying to help him convert that, that he’ll continue to pay $10,000 a month in interest for the learning experience of knowing how to do an industrial development. I think he’ll walk. I think he’ll sell three or four more lots and I think he’ll walk.”
    Soper said he disagrees with those who think Anderson is already too heavily invested in the property to walk away from it. “If we’re going to convert it to industrial, which I do think is what needs to happen, then we need to keep the press on like we’ve got and let’s get it converted and get the debt paid for. . . . As long as the principal is out there, you all are still on the hook for the interest.”
    Soper said some members of the Fiscal Court have said the ultimate solution would be a foreclosure sale, but he said that might not produce enough money to pay the debt, and without the property as collateral, “You’d have to pay off the debt or you’d have to pay interest forever.”
    After a brief discussion with council members, Vandegrift said, “I just don’t think it’s the best tactic in the world to say, pay up this money or it’s all going to fall apart, and that’s what I am hearing tonight.”
    Soper replied, “Grayson, I am a realist. You do not pay me to be a politician. I tell you what my opinion is, and my opinion is you all got a lot at risk here. It’s as simple as that.”
    When Vandegrift replied, “Thank you,” and Soper kept talking, Vandegrift cut him off,  saying, “That’s enough. That’s enough. Thank you. That’s enough.”
    Soper then left the meeting. McAnelly, who stands on the losing end of the proposal, stayed for the rest of the meeting. Afterward, Soper sent the Midway Messenger a summary of new tax revenue generated by EDA-coordinated projects.
    Midway’s relations with the rest of the county also figured in the council’s 3-1 vote to approve the revised goals and objectives for planning and zoning.  One change would allow more flexibility in the urban services area. 
    Council Member Sara Hicks voted no, saying the new language “makes the urban service boundary fluid in a way that does not protect agricultural lands.”
    Vandegrift said he believed accepting the language would be a good compromise with Versailles and the county, since a committee of representatives agreed to remove from the proposed goals and objectives a specific reference to the proposed northwest Versailles bypass, which Midway opposes.
    Vandegrift said, “Removing that bypass language was extremely important, and I think we have to show the rest of the county that we are willing to compromise, we are willing to find common ground, even when they are not.”
    In other planning and zoning business, the council approved Vandegrift’s reappointments of Phil Kepler to the Architectural Review Board and Al Schooler to the Board of Adjustment.
    Earlier, the council passed on second reading an ordinance of intent to annex 33.485 acres next to Midway Station, which Lakeshore Learning Materials is eyeing for expansion and a possible supplier.
    After more than two months of discussion and debate, the council passed an ordinance that would make the killing of domestic animals through kill traps illegal. This stemmed from the death of the pet cat of Sarah Gilbert and Stewart Surgener, who wanted to prohibit kill traps altogether.
    “I do not feel as if the ordinance addresses the heart of the problem,” Gilbert told the council.
    Council Member Libby Warfield said a kill-trap ban would be difficult to enforce, and said she hoped that people who set traps for groundhogs or other pest animals will let their neighbors know so pets can be protected.
    The vote on the ordinance was 4-0. Council Members Kaye Nita Gallagher and Steven Craig did not attend the meeting.
    Craig ran seventh in the recent election for the six council seats. This council will have one more meeting next month before the new council including newcomers John McDaniel and Steve Simoff, begin their terms. Roller did not seek re-election.

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