Monday, April 20, 2009

City officials say county left them no choice but to approve emergency-management agreement

By Tilly Finley and Meg Quigley
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

At tonight's City Council meeting, council members and Mayor Tom Bozarth were forced to make a decision that none of them found appealing.

On a 3-2 vote, with Bozarth breaking a tie, the council voted to accept the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with Woodford County and the City of Versailles to establish a countywide disaster emergency preparedness, response and recovery program.

The council's concerns were political and monetary. Bozarth said the two cities should have a say in appointment of the joint emergency-management director, and Council Member Sharon Turner noted, among other things, that money paid by Midway would buy equipment the county would own. “We had fair questions that were asked and not addressed,” she said.

Because the state requires the city to have an emergency director, which would be more expensive than sharing one, and since County Judge-Executive John Coyle had refused to change the proposed agreement, Bozarth said, "We don't have any choice." The proposed city budget for next year, distributed at the meeting, includes $6,480 for the city's share of the director's pay, based on $4 per person counted in the 2000 census.

County Emergency Management Director Keith Slugantz, who presented the agreement to the council, said the city "will have a say in the appoinment" of the joint director, but Bozarth said the actual appointment would be made by the county. He said the disagreement had nothing to do with Slugantz, but told him, "You know how politics are. Politics change." County and city offices are on next year's ballots.

Bozarth made clear to Slugantz that the city would pay its part on a monthly basis, and only if invoiced by the county. “We have had some issues in the past and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” the mayor said.

Council Member Aaron Hamilton made the motion to accept the agreement. Doris Leigh joined him in voting yes, while Turner and Diana Queen voted no. Soon after Bozarth broke the tie, Council Member Sandra Cooke arrived. She said in an interview, “Out of necessity, I would have voted yes. ... Right now we have no other option.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

County gives final approval to Sunday alcohol sales, sought primarily by restaurants in Midway

By Meg Quigley
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Woodford County Fiscal Court gave final approval Tuesday night to Sunday alcohol sales in Midway and the rest of the county outside Versailles.

The vote was 6-3, With Magistrates Larry Craig, Ellen Gormley, Geoffrey Reid, Gerald Dotson, Steve Barnett and James Staples voting yes. Charles “Bones” Webber, Jackie Brown and Judge-Executive John Coyle voted no.

Sunday drink licenses will cost restaurants and wineries $300 per year. They will also have to pay a $500 state fee, County Attorney Alan George told The Woodford Sun. Sunday sales are allowed between 1 and 10 p.m.

Sales will not be allowed in Versailles unless the city council reverses a 4-3 vote against them in February. The change was sought mainly by restaurants in Midway, which attract patrons from a wide area. Versailles makes some of its own alcohol rules but Midway is too small to do so, under state law.

The idea of Sunday alcohol sales has been a controversial topic for the past few months. The county deferred action on the restaurants' request until Versailles acted, then passed a motion by Craig to begin drafting the ordinance.

Brown, one of the opponents, said in an interview that personal safety could be at risk. “I just hope that we don’t get someone leaving a restaurant, after drinking, and get in a wreck,” he said, citing unspecified information he said he had found on the Internet about higher accident and crime rates when Sunday sales are allowed.

Coyle said in an interview that the way the ordinance was first presented to him sounded fine, but he didn’t agree with adding retailers to it.

“It was first presented as just restaurants needing the ability to compete with other restaurants and I was fine with that, then they added wineries, and I was fine with that, then they added package stores,” said Coyle.

He said alcohol sales in tourist attractions would help, especially with the World Equestrian Games coming up in 2010, but “I just don’t see package stores as a tourist attraction. It’s not like someone outside of Midway is going to choose to spend their day at a Midway retail store to buy beer.”

Craig said in an interview, ”It’s a good thing. It will make us more competitive with all the other counties, especially in time for the World Equestrian Games.” Frankfort and Lexington have had Sunday sales for some time, and the Georgetown council recently voted to start them.

The question now is: When will alcohol actually be sold on Sundays? Craig said that restaurants, wineries and package stores must apply at the county level, then the license will be sent to Frankfort for approval.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keeneland meet brings tourists, boosts restaurants

By Tilly Finley
University of Kentucky School of Journalism & Telecommunications

Spring is finally here, and with it come showers, flowers and of course, Keeneland thoroughbred horse racing.

The spring meet at Keeneland Race Course is very important to businesses in Lexington and surrounding areas such as Midway. It is a time when many tourists come to enjoy themselves, spend some money, and see why the Bluegrass is dubbed the horse capital of the world.

Many businesses in Midway look forward to the opening of Keeneland and see it as the kickoff to their busy season. Restaurants prepare extra food and hire extra staff to prepare for the influx of dining customers they expect during the April 3-24 racing season.

“We look at spring Keeneland meets and the horse sales [at Keeneland] as our most productive time,” said Mark Wombles, chef and owner of Heirloom Restaurant, at 125 Main St.

Heirloom can expect a 30 to 40 percent food and alcohol sales increase once Keeneland opens, Wombles said. Much preparation must be done in order to accommodate to the added guests in town for the races.

Heirloom hires more people and buys nicer ingredients for their nightly specials which bring many Keeneland tourists into the restaurant.

“The specials are determined by what I decide I want to eat for dinner,” said Wombles. “I start with my protein and where it ends up is where it ends up. Many changes take place along the way.”

Another Midway restaurant that prepared for an increase in guests is Wallace Station, at 3854 Old Frankfort Pike. Because the restaurant is on a main route to Keeneland from Midway it sees a significant increase in guests and sales.

“We get a lot of people who come for breakfast and return for lunch on their way back from the track,” said three-year employee Ashley Holland.

Wallace Station knows when to expect to get hit with a crowd, said Holland, so preparation is a key factor. Employees help get ready by doubling everything from making bread and desserts, to slicing double the amounts of meats and cheese for lunch sandwiches.

The restaurant offers many items that have names inspired by Keeneland and horse racing to appeal to track patrons . The “Wild Turkey Triple Crown” and the “Santa Anita Club” are two of the most popular selling sandwiches during this time, said Holland.

Summer Cooper, manager of The Black Tulip, at 133 Main St. (in photo), is excited to be able to offer a full bar for the first time under its new full liquor license. The Black Tulip maintains steady numbers throughout the year, said Cooper, but when the patio is opened, beginning with Keeneland, weather permitting, it doubles the restaurant capacity and therefore sales.

To bring Keeneland visitors into the restaurant The Black Tulip will offer a spring version of the wine list which includes lighter, patio-style wines, and will refresh the menu, adding items that incorporate seasonal produce, said Cooper. The Black Tulip also incorporates live music on the patio into its seasonal change.

There is no question that the Keeneland spring meet brings more people to Midway, but not all the businesses there are feeling the track-tourist love.

“Restaurants see a great deal of business,” said Glenn Castle, the owner of Midway Leather, a specialty shop, at 208 Dudley St. “It is more food-oriented as far as Keeneland tourism is concerned.”

The out-of-towners come to Midway to dine and usually do boost the sales of the restaurants in Midway, said Castle. Midway Leather used to be located on Main Street where many restaurants are located, but even in that location, Castle did not see a substantial additional amount of revenue during the Keeneland season.

“They are saving their money for the races,” he said.

Carel Pelzer, owner of Le Marche, a boutique at 104 Main St., shares a similar experience. While she doesn’t need to prepare for the opening of Keeneland, Pelzer says she sees a distinctive difference in her clientele.

“Keeneland brings in people with more money to spend,” said Pelzer. Her higher priced items such as gifts, soaps and food items usually go first when the Keeneland tourists visit the store.

Restaurants also cater to the different clientele that Keeneland brings to Midway. During the spring meet at Bistro La Belle, a restaurant at 121 Main St., the strongest sales come from finer wines, said owner Laura Wolfram.

Bistro La Belle has seen a 30 percent increase in sales during the Keeneland season in the past and is expecting the same in 2009, Wolfram said. She plans on accommodating extra reservations as well as having more staff on hand.

“We will be busy for the whole month,” Wolfram said. “Keeneland kicks off Derby season as well, and leads us into summer.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Council OKs ordinance regulating volunteer work

By Sarah Livesay
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Midway City Council passed a much-debated ordinance concerning volunteer work on city property Monday night by a vote of 5 to 1.

Sandra Cooke, the only member to oppose the ordinance, said she believed it was offensive to certain groups who volunteer in the community. "I think it hurts the feelings of some of the people who do most of our volunteer work," she said. "I think some of them feel it's aimed specifically at them, and makes them feel powerless in all this, and that bothers me."

Council member Diana Queen said the ordinance seems targeted because it mentions certain types of work, and questioned whether it needed to be so specific.

City attorney Phil Moloney said he didn't write the ordinance to target anyone, and said it would simplify the process of getting volunteer projects approved. Before the ordinance was passed, volunteer groups went before the City Council to be approved, but now approval can be granted via e-mail, he said.

Council Member Charlann Wombles said, “This has absolutely no particular group in mind . . . I’m sorry there is a group taking offense.” The group to which Cooke and Wombles were referring was not disclosed, but at prior meetings people with Midway Renaissance made the most frequent cases against the ordinance as drafted.

Those complaints resulted in some relaxation of the first draft. “We’ve had a lot better ordinance tonight than when we started,” Wombles said.

Moloney said riskier projects, as specified in the ordinance, should be supervised in order to protect the volunteers. The ordinance also says the city may require volunteers to sign a waiver of liability. The original version, proposed in February, would have required waivers in all cases, but was softened after complaints from volunteers.

"From a city attorney approach," Moloney said, "I would say everyone needs to sign a waiver." He said the process would be simple. The head of the volunteer group would sign the waiver and as volunteers show up, their names and addresses would be recorded. Moloney said that would thwart claims by people that they were injured on a project on which they did not work.

Moloney said Midway’s insurance plan covers volunteers like it covers city workers — limited to medical protection, under workers' compensation — and if volunteers don't adhere to the ordinance, they may not get that protection. "This is not to penalize the volunteers but to provide them some sort of insurance protection," he said.

Council Member Doris Leigh said, “More volunteers will come if we have something to protect them.” She said she had received several calls in favor of the ordinance.