Wednesday, March 22, 2017

City council backs mayor and cemetery workers' enforcement of rules; variances won't be grandfathered

By Elizabeth Allen
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

At Monday’s Midway City Council meeting, council members unanimously agreed to support Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and cemetery workers in the enforcement of Midway Cemetery regulations. They acknowledged the move would stir some controversy.

“It's going to be bad. . . . We really need to show some solidarity at this table,” said Council Member Libby Warfield, chair of the Cemetery and City Property Committee, which discussed possible changes in the regulations but decided that they should be enforced “and not grandfather anybody in.

Vandegrift said his position since taking office in January 2015 has been to enforce the regulations as they are written, but previous administrations granted certain individuals “variances” from some rules.

Examples include benches placed around graves, bushes and flowers that take up too much space, or anything that might encroach on other graves or might be considered inappropriate for a cemetery. Vandegrift said there were probably fewer than 20 cases of such variances.

The council agreed to enforce the rules retroactively. In other words, those who were given special permission by former city officials will no longer be exempt. Vandegrift said he recognized that will be but believes it is the fair thing to do.

The council discussed how to enforce these rules in a strict but reasonable way. Warfield asked if 30 days would be enough time for those in violation of the rules to make corrections after receiving a letter telling them to do so. The other council members agreed, but no definite decisions were made about specific enforcement procedures.

Judy Offutt gestured as she and Joyce Evans discussed their idea
for neighborhood associations with the Midway City Council.
Neighborhood associations: The council also discussed the possibility of creating neighborhood associations in Midway, an idea conceived by Joyce Evans and Judy Offutt.

Evans said the idea was “driven by the need for a little closer communication within the community.”

“I know the idea of having another committee is horrible for everyone,” Offutt joked, but said the potential benefits would be more than worth the inconvenience of initial startup.

“I think it’s about getting to know who your neighbors are and how you can interact with them and help out,” Offutt continued.

Vandegrift said he thinks neighborhood associations would be “a great way to connect city government to the city.”

Council Member John McDaniel questioned the need for neighborhood associations, noting Midway's small size, and said he would prefer "town hall meetings."

Vandegrift said such meetings typically attract about 30 people, and neighborhood associations would probably be more effective because individual leaders within the associations could promote involvement in each community, person to person.

Vandegrift, Evans and Offutt agreed that the first step in creating neighborhood associations would be to establish boundaries. Council member Kaye Nita Gallagher said the Events, Outreach and Tourism Committee that she chairs would meet Wednesday morning, then meet with Evans and Offutt on the idea.

Drew Chandler, director of Woodford County Emergency Management, presented the county hazard-mitigation plan to the council. Chandler said the greatest natural risk to Midway is severe weather.

“Hail actually kills more people than tornadoes each year,” Chandler said.

Following severe weather, the next greatest natural risks to Midway, Chandler said, are flooding, winter storms, drought, wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes. The plan outlines a way to deal with these natural disasters when they occur. Vandegrift said the plan, part of a Bluegrass regional plan, is “very impressive.”

Tourism appointment: The council approved the appointment of Gallagher to the Woodford County Tourism Commission, which manages revenue from the county's 3 percent tax on overnight lodging. The revenue is small because the county has only bed-and-breakfast lodging, but a Holiday Inn Express is to be built in Versailles soon and there are prospects for a hotel on Interstate 64 at Midway.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lakeshore expects to be operational with 100 workers Nov. 3; unsure but 'optimistic' on timeline for goal of 262

The Lakeshore Learning Materials distribution center is under construction in Midway Station.
This is an expanded version of the original story.
By Elizabeth Allen
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Construction of Lakeshore Learning Materials’ distribution facility in Midway Station is right on schedule, a top company official told the Midway City Council Monday evening.

Paul Chisholm, the company’s vice president of Eastern U.S. distribution, said it is still on track to begin shipping from the facility by Nov. 3, at which point it expects to have 100 people on the payroll.

Paul Chisholm of Lakeshore spoke to the council Monday evening.
Chisholm said the company will make a “big push” for hiring in August and September, with the goal of work starting Sept. 29, depending on weather. He said 46 construction days have already been lost to rain, but the company still hopes to have the plant under roof by its original target date of May 16.

Support from local and state officials “has been phenomenal,” he said.

Asked after the meeting when the 262 jobs Lakeshore has promised are expected to be filled, Chisholm said that depends on when the building's expansion is completed. He also said recent elections may affect the timetable, since the company is heavily reliant on public-school funding.

“We’re optimistic,” Chisholm said, adding that he expects the plant to employ 150 to 175 people a year from now. It has three years to reach 262 jobs and kick in the state and local incentives offered to attract it.

Chisholm also gave new insight into Lakeshore's decision to come to Midway. He said the final decision essentially came down to three factors: location, available labor and a sense of community.

The central location of Midway made it a better choice than the runner-up, High Point, N.C., Chisholm said. North Carolina has a “right to work” law and no inventory tax, but those advantages were not enough to outweigh Midway’s.

Chisholm said Midway was also expected to provide a workforce that was more likely to stick around and contribute to the culture of the company. He said Lakeshore could already be shipping from readily available buildings in Shepherdsville or Hebron, but competition for workers is heavier there.

Perhaps most importantly, Chisholm said, Midway is a place where he and other Lakeshore officials felt like the company could be part of a community.

He recalled Lakeshore CEO Bo Kaplan saying as they left Midway, "'This place feels right; this place feels like home. Chisholm said the feeling was "intangible."

In response to a question, he said one thing was not a factor: the recently passed "fairness ordinance" that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

After Chisholm updated the council members on Lakeshore's progress, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift updated them on Midway's occupational tax revenue.

Through December, Vandegrift said, Midway had already taken in $331,000 in payroll taxes. This means that in only half of the fiscal year, the city had already received 82 percent of the budgeted $400,000 in payroll taxes for the year.

After the meeting, Vandegrift told the Midway Messenger that the council was conservative in its occupational-tax budgeting. He said construction work on Lakeshore’s plant and the American Howa Kentucky auto-parts plant, now open, is bringing in unexpected revenue, local restaurants are doing better and Midway University has added to its payroll.

Among other business, the council approved an event permit for the 14th annual 5K Race for Education on April 8 and agreed to have the cemetery house torn down. Vandegrift said he would probably seek bids for the work because city workers are about to enter their busy season.