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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Nance, Raglin oppose city-funded public toilets, Simoff endorses them, in forum for City Council candidates

Candidates were questioned by Midway Messenger reporters, students in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media. The moderator was their Community Journalism instructor, Al Cross, editor and publisher of the Midway Messenger.
By Gage O'Dell
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Candidates for Midway City Council mostly agreed on issues in an online forum Monday evening, but the idea of funding public restrooms downtown brought some disagreement.

Questions in the forum sponsored by the Midway Woman’s Club and run by the Midway Messenger also included strategy on tax rates, industrial rezoning around Midway Station, funding another round of covid-19 relief for businesses, and speeding on city streets.

After four candidates said they were open to funding a public restroom downtown for visitors, Council Member Logan Nance disagreed.

“At this point I don’t believe I support public funding for a restroom downtown,” Nance said. “I have concerns with the logistics of building the facility and maintaining it.” He said city employees are already overworked, and “Not having public restrooms does force people into the restaurants.”

Candidate Mary Raglin, who answered immediately after Nance, agreed.

“I don’t really see a need for a public restroom,” Raglin said. “It would force them to go into the restaurants that they are supporting and use the restrooms there.”

Steve Simoff, who answered eighth and last, was a strong proponent for the restroom idea.

“I think there is a way to work it out,” Simoff said. “I firmly believe there is a need for public restrooms downtown and we need to take that burden away from the store owners and restaurants.”

Council Member Stacy Thurman said businesses have been seeking public restrooms for years, “which makes me think there is a need, of sorts,” but more research is needed.

“I would talk to other cities that have a public restroom and see how it works, who maintains it and is it opened twenty-four hours,” Thurman said. “These are all questions I would want answered before I approach having it publicly funded.”

She said such a project would need to be a partnership with the Midway Business Association, but “I do think there is a need.”

The other candidates also took a cautious approach. Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher, who answered first, said she was willing to consider the idea.

Adam Bailey said it is “definitely something to explore” but probably not until the pandemic has ended.

Council Member Sara Hicks said, “I don’t see us doing it right now, though it would be great to have.”

Andrew Nelle was more skeptical. He said most people in need of a restroom probably use restaurants’ restrooms, and “I would like to see a serious need.”

Council Member Bruce Southworth and former member John McDaniel did not participate in the forum, which was broadcast on the Messenger’s Facebook page and YouTube. The order of questions was rotated among the candidates, in pairs of the five incumbents and non-incumbents.

Taxes: Asked if the city should continue to reduce property tax rates if real estate assessments continue to go up, reduce the occupational tax rates, or enact some other kind of relief, candidates generally took a wait-and-see attitude.

But Nance again stood out, saying, “If we’ve decided there’s not a ton of places to build more homes, I do think we need to look at reducing or getting rid of property taxes at the city level altogether.”

Hicks, who answered this question first, said, “I think during this covid period, we need to see how we are doing in terms of income for the city before we think about reducing property tax further or reducing occupational tax.”

The other six candidates generally agreed with Hicks that with the current climate, it would be tough to predict if they could continue to reduce property taxes in the future.

Development: The candidates also agreed that it was time to stop rezoning land in and around Midway for industry, especially once Midway Station hits capacity.

“Once we get Midway Station full, which it’s almost done, that’s it,” said Gallagher, who answered first. “No, we don’t need to develop anymore.”

Bailey, who answered next, said, “I think it’s critical that we use that urban service development area, those boundaries and stay within that.”

Thurman and Nance also opposed expanding the urban services boundary, which limits industrial and commercial development. Nance noted that he voted last year against annexation and industrial zoning of 138 acres next to Midway Station.

Speeding: Asked what should the city do about speeding on city streets, candidates had a variety of thoughts.

Thurman, who answered first, said “I think we should look at speed tables,” which raise the entire wheelbase of a vehicle, are flat-topped and can form crosswalks. “We’ve talked about bulb-outs at the post office, and caution lights.”

Bulb-outs are circular extensions of curbs at intersections, which narrow the street, discouraging speeding.

Simoff, who spoke next, said, “I think students at the university could help a great deal. I know they’re rushing to class, but I’ve sat at intersections many times and seen them going at excessive speeds.”

Gallagher said, “I think we need speed humps again on Stephens Street.”

The other candidates agreed with some of the options mentioned, and said the city should work with the state, which has rejected the idea of lowering the 35 m.p.h. speed limit on Winter Street, which is  a state highway.

Summing up: During opening and closing statements, candidates said why they’re running and made appeals to the nearly 100 voters watching.

Bailey said he wants to “give back to the community who’ve given myself and my family so much.”

Nelle said he “wants to bring a fresh set of eyes and perspective to the council” as well as “create an environment of prosperity.”

Raglin said she “wants to be that voice you don’t hear; I want to be that Black voice. I’ve lived in Midway all my life and I’ve been silent. I don’t want to be silent anymore, I want my voice to be heard.”

Simoff, who was on the council in 2017-18, said his objective is to “serve the city and citizens of Midway and to finish the work the present City Council has started and to further better the community.”

Gallagher said she is running for re-election because “she wants to see some of the projects the current council has going finished.”

Hicks said she is seeking her fourth term because “I have been chair of the property and cemetery committee and those are places I still have work that I’d like to see done.”

Nance said he is running for his second term because he “wants to make sure to protect that farmland that surrounds us and reinvesting in our infrastructure.”

Thurman said she is seeking a second term because “I can help my community and I can be a part of the change.”

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