Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Council OKs revised deal with EDA Chair Soper, backed by mayor, who calls city 'very strong' in annual report

State Rep. James Kay swore in Council Members, from left, Steve Simoff, Libby Warfield, Kaye Nita Gallagher, John McDaniel, Bruce Southworth and Sara Hicks.

By Al Cross and Dan Roller
Midway Messenger

The new Midway City Council approved an agreement Tuesday night that will make Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chairman John Soper an independent contractor paid by the city, the county and the City of Versailles.

The contract will cost Midway $858 per month, slightly more than double the $417 a month it had been paying, but much less than the $2,240 a month that Soper and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott proposed in November that each of the three governments pay.

That proposal prompted an open clash Nov. 21 between Soper and Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who asked for "some kind of open hiring process" and said he wouldn't consider the proposal without additional representation for Midway on the EDA and the county planning commission, agencies with one board member each from Midway.

The next day, Soper withdrew his proposal, and the following day, Traugott offered another one, to give Midway one more member on each board and have it pay $1,008 a month to fund EDA and 24 percent of planning and zoning expenses instead of the current 11 percent, an increase of about $14,000 a year over the current $10,000.

The agreement now being adopted says nothing about extra board members or funding of planning and zoning. Vandegrift said in an interview that he didn't think another board member "would be worth paying $24,000 and still be outvoted," and the agreement with Soper addresses issues the city had with EDA, which owns the Midway Station development, for which the city and county are still in debt.

Vandegrift said he recently reminded Soper that Midway, Versailles and Woodford County have different development goals, and they agreed that a master plan must be developed for Midway Station, including greenspace, attractive landscaping and an appropriate mix of businesses.

The agreement calls for Soper to promote the cities and the county to prospective employers, help retain current employers and work an average of 35 hours a week, performing the functions now handled by part-time EDA Executive Director Craig McAnelly, who works mainly for the Bluegrass Area Development District, is retiring.

Soper will remain chair of the EDA board. He is to be paid $5,720 per month or $68,640 a year, and abide by the Versailles ethics code. Versailles will pay half his fee, $2,860 per month; the county will pay $2,002 a month. Any of the four parties can cancel the agreement with 30 days' notice.

Council Member Sara Hicks asked how Soper would handle a prospective employer who was looking at both cities. Vandegrift said, "We have to assume that he's going to work in good favor for whatever's best. . . . I certainly wouldn't expect him to play favorites."

Vandegrift said about 10 prospective employers have visited Midway Station, and most wanted cheaper land or more land than the development has available. He said that if the city thinks it is "not being properly marketed, he would have to make those changes."

Mayor presents annual report

Vandegrift presented the proposal in conjunction with his required annual report, which said his disagreement with Soper "in a sense" personified "the great debate of the day in Woodford County. The dividing line of the discussion seems to be between those who feel Woodford County had been growing too slowly, with missed opportunities, and those that feel that it might be growing too quickly, and without proper planning."

The mayor's report cited Midway Station as the area of greatest improvement and future potential. The American Howa auto-parts plant is complete and hiring of 88 employees has begun; the Lakeshore Learning Materials distribution facility is well underway, with construction continuing through the holidays. As Midway’s largest employer, with 262 permanent employees plus temporary jobs, its economic impact will be felt for years. The addition of a large gas line to serve Midway Station improves the prospects of future development.

The report said the condition of the city had improved in several areas over last year, including: finances, infrastructure improvements with the paving of Northside Drive, "the worst road in the city," and repair of other deteriorated street areas, and agreements in place for the spring to repair sidewalks the city deemed most in need of repair. "Further cost sharing with homeowners should be explored," Vandegrift said.

He noted the new Parks Board and improvements to Walter Bradley Park, especially the bridge crossing Lee’s Branch, completed with both volunteer labor and donations and city employees’ labor and resources, linking residential neighborhoods, the library, the school and business areas.

"All in all, our city is very strong," Vandegrift concluded. "With the momentum that the four returning council members have helped create – and the energy the two new voices are sure to bring – there is no reason why we can’t make Midway the model for small cities across Kentucky."

New members and committees

State Rep. James Kay swore in council members for the two-year terms they won in the Nov. 8 election. The new members are John W. McDaniel and Steven Simoff. Returning to the council are Kaye Nita Gallagher, Sarah Newell Hicks, Bruce Southworth and Libby Sharon Warfield. The council elected Sara Hicks, top vote getter in the election, as mayor pro tem, to serve in the absence of the mayor. After Hicks' election, she was presented a petite version of the brass-and-walnut gavel used by Vandegrift.

The mayor established and appointed council committees for 2017-18. The Public Works and Services Committee is chaired by Southworth, with Gallagher and McDaniel as other members. The Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee is chaired by Hicks, with Southworth and Simoff as additional members. A new committee for Events, Outreach and Tourism was formed to recognize the economic importance of these activities to residents and visitors. The members are Gallagher, chair; McDaniel, and Simoff.

A newly combined committee for Cemetery, City Property and Blighted Property is chaired by Warfield, with Hicks and Simoff as other members. Vandegrift said he combined the city-property and blighted-property functions to assure that city properties are maintained as examples to citizens who are being ask to bring their own properties up to the building codes.

Other business

The council approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance to allow signs and banners for “solely charitable events or activities” to on fences and poles. The council agreed with a comment: “As long as it does not apply to the post-office bulletin board, the source of all information in Midway, we can accept it!”

Vandegrift said the City of Midway will again sponsor a table for eight at the countywide Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Versailles Monday, Jan. 16.

Al Cross is director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes the Midway Messenger.  Dan Roller served six years on the city council and is the first participant in a citizen-journalism project that will eventually put the Messenger in the hands of citizens of Midway.

No comments: