Thursday, March 31, 2011

Last week's council meetings: A drama in 2 acts

ANALYSIS By Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The March 21 Midway City Council meetings unfolded like a drama in two acts. Act 1 was an example of city government at its best. Act 2 showed the strain and tension of two factions reaching to understand each other.

Act 1: More than a dozen citizens, including downtown merchants, joined council members and Mayor Tom Bozarth as Joe Grider of HMB Professional Engineers (at right in photo below) brought the plans for the downtown railroad improvements and the Midway streetscape to life at a special outdoor meeting.

Grider, looking like the Pied Piper, led the contingent along points he had pre-marked on the cement showing each construction phase planned by the city and R.J. Corman Railroad Group. His crisp narration was occasionally interrupted by questions from merchants, interested citizens and council members. (Photo by Dick Yarmy)

Although the basic plan has been public for some time, Bozarth called the special meeting and walkthrough to highlight the latest changes to the project, such as scrapping the original plan to demolish two walls on the north end of East Main Street.

Public notice of the special meeting was posted and the mayor telephoned merchants, potentially affected by the changes, to avoid possible misunderstandings.

Grider detailed the nine areas where existing walls, curbs and sidewalks would be removed, and described the six construction tasks involving walls and columns. Changes in parking spot dimensions, which could affect storefront businesses, were covered in detail. Accessibility to the area will be improved with the addition of sidewalk ramps allowing wheeled access to the street.

The streetscape diagram is available as JPEG photo file here.

Grider explained the project scheduling in relative terms. The city can begin its construction only after Corman has completed its work, and Corman’s schedule has yet to be announced.

As different construction tasks were detailed, questions came from the crowd, such as: “Who’s paying for that?” Grider said the city will spend $53,000 on streetscape while Corman spends $700,000 on railway improvements.

The project plan was clearly explained, the interested parties were informed and the city government achieved its goal of keeping interested parties up to date.

The curtain dropped on Act 1.

Act 2, the regular council meeting, added some drama. After routine business, the council began a lengthy debate fueled by new council members’ concerns about communication, access to information and citizens’ involvement in government.

Different understandings between the three new members and holdovers (the three other members and Bozarth) surfaced when new member Joy Arnold discussed a proposed meeting designed to share the council’s goals with the public and solicit additional goals.

Holdover member Doris Leigh questioned the need for the meeting, citing the council’s retreat at the Holly Hill Inn Feb. 12, when members and Bozarth met with a facilitator to establish goals for 2011.

“We already decided our goals at the Holly Hill meeting,” said Leigh, who suggested the council accomplish those goals before taking on new ones.

Arnold replied, “I’m not sure the public is aware of our goals.”

“We represent them,” Leigh responded. “They tell us what to do.”

As the discussion continued, the lines of communication appeared to connect, and all members agreed to the purpose, content, format, location and time of the meeting. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 2 at Midway Baptist Church.

But the tension built again, as Council Member Dan Roller introduced a memo with nine suggestions for holding more productive council meetings. Again, the new members and holdovers took opposite positions, and the main point of disagreement was access to information.

Roller asked for more detail to be included in the packet sent to council members to prepare them for council meetings. He also called for a document to track pending projects and proposals that have been acted on in the past year.

Bozarth, left, said any information needed would be provided when requested by a council member. “If you want something specific, just ask,” he said. (Photo, from earlier meeting, by Dick Yarmy)

Roller said information pertaining to the council’s business is “guarded” rather than open. “It’s not our business, it’s the public’s business,” he said. “Most of the suggestions we’re making are for having more productive meetings going forward.”

Roller suggested the packet information should also include the individual committee reports and scheduled meetings. When Bozarth said he saw no need to include detailed schedules and actions of the committees in the packets, Roller asked, “You’re opposed to informing the public?”

Council Member Aaron Hamilton said, “It’s all open. They can come to a committee meeting, if they want to; they don’t have to wait for a report. We send a notice out, and anybody can attend –– anybody.” By law, council committee meetings are public.

New Council Member Becky Moore, who preceded Bozarth as mayor, said a more complete and detailed agenda would serve to inform and engage more citizens, because the agenda is published on the city’s website.

Council Member Sharon Turner expressed support for the current agenda content: “It’s been the same the last four years as it was the two years before that,” she said. “You put on there what you know –– when you know it.” Bozarth was mayor the last four years.

The differing points of view between the new members and holdovers continued during a discussion about providing the news media with the council packets in advance of the meeting.

Bozarth said he saw no need for that, saying that if journalists want something, they can ask. He said the city is following the state open-records law.

Phil Moloney, the city attorney, left, said the city uses the three-day delay the law allows for a response to minimize costs and conserve city clerks’ time. (Photo, from earlier meeting, by Dick Yarmy)

Moore suggested that the reporters present be asked if they needed the packet to do their jobs. Bozarth asked this reporter’s opinion, specifically on receiving an advance copy of the complete packet.

“I would ask for what I needed,” I replied. “We’re not bashful.”

The discussions included other topics, such as operation of the council’s email system, including date stamping; the ability of city clerks to be informed of council decisions to answer citizens’ inquiries; and the possibility of developing a more comprehensive city calendar that would include holidays, city events and anything requiring a permit.

After the meeting, this reporter asked Roller for a copy of the memo he read during the meeting. He suggested I fill out an open-records request, or see the mayor. Bozarth, hearing the conversation, offered to email me one. Roller then handed me his copy, ending Act 2.

In phone interviews the next day and the day after, two council members opined on the meeting.

Moore said part of the problem is the appearance of secrecy: “We’re doing public business in a public place; having people wait for information makes you suspicious.”

Asked what changes she’d like to see, she said, “An elected official should be able to go into City Hall and get what they need immediately. I feel the information is guarded. We should review the current policy.” She added, “The new council members want to know what’s going on because people ask us.”

Turner said their constituents are well informed.

“I can’t get in or out of the grocery store without someone saying ‘What’s going on?’ . . . If you can’t answer to their satisfaction, you can be sure they’ll show up at a council meeting,” she said, adding that communication has improved.

“I’ve worked under both mayors, and I don’t know why some folks think it’s different now. It’s been more open in the last four years than in the previous six.” Moore was mayor for about six years.

“Everything I’ve wanted to know –– when I’ve asked, I’ve been provided with,” Turner said. “Everyone is doing what they can do –– we’re not in it for the money, we’re in it for the love of Midway.”

On that point, Moore agreed. “The information will come, now that we’re asking for it,” she said.

Cemetery committee to meet at 9 a.m. Friday

The Cemetery and City Property Committee of the Midway City Council will meet Friday, April 1, at 9 a.m. at City Hall. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss two work days in the cemetery, get an update from city employees about work completed in the cemetery, and the observance of Arbor Day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Midway P.O. finances still secret; USPS releases more data on offices in danger of closing

The manager of post office operations in the Lexington sectional center of the U.S. Postal Service has declined to give the Midway Messenger and Mayor Tom Bozarth the same information on the Midway post office that postal officials in other areas have shared with reporters about other post offices.

Bozarth, left, and the Messenger had asked for the information to help evaluate Adkins' claim, at a town meeting on the issue, that cuts at the office would save almost $100,000 a year. Adkins saidat the meeting that the Midway post office loses money, but he said in his letter, "The Postal Service does not disclose specific financial data, not even in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The revenues and expenses of our offices are considered proprietary business information." Bozarth told the Messenger that he received a similar letter.

However, the Postal Service appears more willing to reveal such information about the finances of smaller post offices that were being closed or in danger of closing, perhaps to justify those actions. Annual revenues and expenses of such offices were reported in this story in the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and another in The Washington Post. The reporters who wrote those stories told the Messenger that they got their information from Postal Service officials: a regional spokesman in Minneapolis and a sectional manager in Virginia.

The USPS releases other types of specific information, as it did last week to residents of Slayden, Tenn., population 300, who got a letter warning that they may lose their post office. At a meeting there, a USPS official "said low business activity at the post office warranted an investigation into the closure. She said the Slayden post office processes 15.1 daily retail transactions, 84.4 pieces of mail, rents about 68 boxes, and dispatches about 51 letters/flats," reports Josh Arntz of the Dickson Herald. The number of retail transactions was mentioned in a letter the USPS sent residents, Arntz told the Messenger. (Read more)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Census: Midway's official population is 1,641

Midway had only 21 more people on April 1, 2010 than it did 10 years earlier, according to official figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city's 2010 census population is 1,641. In 2000, it was 1,620. The new population figure is contrary to an estimate made by the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, an ongoing national poll, in 2005-09. That survey estimated Midway's population at 2,019. However, the bureau's official population estimate of the city last year was only 1,627.

The census count in Versailles was 8,568, up 9 percent from 7,863. Woodford County's population was 24,939, up 6.2 percent from the 2000 figure of 23.486. Woodford's percentage gain was virtually the same as the state's, 6.1 percent, and lagged far behind Scott (up 40.7 percent, to 47,173) and Jessamine (up 22.6 percent, to 48,586). Fayette rose 11.6 percent, to 295,803, and Anderson rose 10.7 percent, to 21,421. Franklin County gained only 2.1 percent, to 49,285, and Mercer gained just 1.2 percent, to 21,331.

Council, engineer to walk through downtown and discuss streetscape changes at 4:30 p.m. Monday

A special meeting of the Midway City Council has been called by the mayor and will be held at 4:30 p.m., Monday, March 21, to discuss and view changes that will be made in the downtown streetscape due to the R.J. Corman Railroad Group sidetrack project.

The council will gather first at City Hall and walk through downtown with Joe Grider of HMB Engineers, the city's engineering consultant. The council's regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 at City Hall. All city council meetings are open to the public.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Corman moving dirt, but VP says 'a lot of pieces need to come together' for an excursion train

By Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

R.J. Corman Railroad Group is almost ready to begin construction of its sidetrack in Midway, and is already moving dirt elsewhere that could lead to an excursion train serving the town.

“There is no formal plan for an excursion or dinner train to Midway at this time,” Noel Rush, vice president of strategic planning and development for Corman, said in an e-mail to the Midway Messenger. “We are optimistic we will be able to develop a plan as the excursion train becomes a viable business opportunity.”

Corman has begun excavation work in Lexington (above) to allow trains to pass under under the new Oliver Lewis Way (the Newtown Pike extension) from the railroad's yard to property it has leased from the Lexington Center Corp. that could be used for a passenger platform.

Lexington Center President Bill Owen confirmed in an e-mail that that Corman has leased sufficient area in the Cox Street parking lot to allow train access. He said all construction work on the project is under the railroad’s control, and has been slowed by complications with underground electric transmission lines and storm drains.

“I continue to be very enthusiastic about the project and feel it offers not only a nice attraction for convention attendees but also local residents,” Owen said.

While Corman says it has no formal plans for an excursion train, “Our lease with the Lexington Center is a forward thinking act in contemplation of our being able to make a business and financial case for operating an excursion train of some kind on a frequent basis,” Rush said. “There are a lot of pieces that need to come together before an excursion train becomes reality.”

Rush said the excursion-train idea has several things going for it: “Midway would be a natural destination because of its distance from Lexington, because it is such a picturesque town, and because we expect to build a siding there which will allow a shorter train, like an excursion train, to pull off the main freight line so our regular freight service is not interrupted.”

Suggestions from city officials that the sidetrack construction in Midway was related to a federal grant Corman received for various track improvements were not exactly correct, Rush said.

“It seems like a situation where over a period of time there have been a number of perspectives, and as things have changed some perspectives haven’t been kept current.” Kentucky and other states applied for economic-stimulus money to finance a package of improvements on Corman’s lines in July 2009, but the grant agreement with the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program was not executed until Dec. 1, 2010. (A PDF of the grant documents is here.)

“The Midway funding is entirely separate from the TIGER funding,” Rush said. However, “The improvements we are making on the Central Kentucky Line would be beneficial to future projects like an excursion or dinner train,” he said. “The R.J. Corman Railroad Group is interested in being a part of the economic growth of not only Midway, but downtown Lexington, as well.”

The Corman group has operated a dinner train from Bardstown for several years. (Corman photo: dinner train car) “My Old Kentucky Dinner Train has been a wonderful addition to our economic base,” said Kim Huston, president of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency. “It brings in affluent people, people that are also doing things on special occasions that might also cause them to spend the night, come to other attractions, shop in our stores.”

There has been speculation about commuter passenger service on Corman's line between Louisville and Lexington, but Rush suggested caution. “The idea of an 80- to 90-m.p.h. passenger rail service from Lexington to Frankfort does not seem viable for the immediate future; by that I mean in the next five years,” he said. Rail experts have said the tracks would need considerable improvement to accommodate commuter trains.

As far as Midway is concerned, the sidetrack is coming; the wall construction and handrails are scheduled; but the train is still around the bend.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Water and Sewer Task Force to meet at noon Fri.

The Midway Water and Sewer Task Force will meet at noon on Friday, March 11, in the Piper Dining Hall at Midway College to discuss water and sewer issues.

Members of the task force are Mayor Tom Bozarth; City Council Members Dan Roller, Aaron Hamilton and Sharon Turner; and citizen members Bob Blankenship, David Duttlinger, James Johnson, Roy Mundy and Danny Smith.

The task force was created by city government, so the meeting is open to the public.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lively audience hears from market-study consultant, has many questions and observations

By Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

A lively group of about 30 citizens attended a forum last night launching the state-funded Midway Market Study. The forum featured a presentation by Joshua Bloom, right, a principal of Community Land Use and Economics Group (CLUE), a Virginia consulting firm Midway Renaissance picked to do the study.

The meeting in the Midway Christian Church fellowship hall started on a light note when Bloom, startled by a close-up flash from Woodford Sun columnist John McDaniel’s camera, recoiled like a deer caught in the headlights, pointed to McDaniel and said: “Delete that!” (Photo by Dick Yarmy)

The ice was broken, and Bloom continued with his presentation, which included: A brief history of downtowns, and how they have changed; how, according to his group’s findings, surviving downtowns need to find their own economic niche; and how downtown vacancies don’t necessarily mean something is wrong, but do signal a change in the business landscape.

“People create sales that create rent that support the buildings,” Bloom said, explaining the CLUE premise that downtowns are basically a real estate equation, and the key to success is in getting the right mix of businesses. He said downtown areas like Midway have the opportunity to offer housing, and rentals of upstairs apartments reduce pressure on business owners by adding additional income.

Bloom explained the importance of attracting a solid customer base of workers, visitors and residents. “Who’s good for Midway? And how do we attract more people?” he asked.

Bloom then outlined the study CLUE designed for Midway and what it could do for the town, by analyzing downtown consumer behavior and marrying the results with a survey of present businesses’ strategies. Analysis of the data is to produce a market strategy for Midway, defining the stakeholder roles for everyone involved.

“The right direction for Midway has to come at the intersection of community desire and market potential,” said Bloom, stressing the importance of individual desire and cooperation.

The audience, made up of downtown business people, Renaissance committee members, Midway council members and interested citizens, had several questions and observations.

“Have you seen a precipitous drop in downtown businesses in other towns?” Jim Mannis asked.

Bloom said it would be an overreach to give a definitive answer with so many factors involved, such as the mix of the businesses in other towns, changes in buying habits, and changes in marketing strategy –– antique stores moving their businesses online, for example.

Recession is a state of mind, downtown clothier Crittenden Rawlings said. “There is no recession in Midway, is an attitude,” he said. “I’ve traveled and worked all over the country and I’m very happy to have my store here in Midway,” he said.

Rawlings told of a clothier who called a meeting of his employees and announced that the word “recession” was not allowed in the shop. Crittenden said he could document the fact that the shop’s sales figures continued to remain strong and showed no signs of a recession.

City Council Member Joy Arnold asked how Midway Station, the failed industrial park that is supposed to be redeveloped commercially and residentially, would figure into the study. “I visited it today,” said Bloom, “ but that’s a whole other animal and not part of our study.”

Audience comments and questions ranged from specifics about the mechanics of the market study to ideas and strategies for existing and proposed downtown businesses.

Rawlings suggested that Midway consider certain zoning regulations and absence of conventional commercial signage like those in Middleburg, Va., heart of Virginia’s horse country, to add charm to the town.

As ideas continued to surface, a voice in the crowd said: “You never know if unless you actually try,” capturing some of the “can-do” spirit of the audience.

“You can create a vibrant economy,” said Bloom, challenging the audience. He explained that downtowns offer a different kind of service than shopping malls and shopping centers, so business owners will have to figure out how to serve and support their customer base.

Picking up on the theme of personal challenge, Midway Renaissance President Randy Thomas reminded the audience that although the survey was for downtown businesses, citizens also need to figure out their own role in the process.

Thomas suggested that everyone ask: What’s in it for me? What do we want? How can we help make it happen? His comment triggered comments about the need to support Railroad Drug and Old Time Soda Fountain, the downtown pharmacy that opened a few months ago.

“We need to buy there,” one said. “They sell medicine at the same price as Kroger, and give good customer service as well,” offered another. “And don’t forget you can get ice cream at the same time,” a comment that promoted some laughs and seemed to strike home.

“We have to change our thinking,” said Marcie Christensen, manager of Midway Renaissance. “ It’s not, ‘I’ll go shopping to get what I need.’ It has to be, ‘I’ll go downtown and see what they’ve got, so I know what I need.’” (See clarification from Christensen in comments section of this story.)

UPDATE: Railroad Drug owner and pharmacist Ken Glass said today that his store is actually a bright spot in the downtown economy. "We are ahead of where we expected to be at this time," he said in an e-mail. "My wife and I are appreciative of all the support we've received to this point, and plan be here a long, long time."

Christensen reminded the audience that the Renaissance website is a vehicle to track the progress of the study, and invited the audience to help with the consumer interviews scheduled for April.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Postal official says changes at post office are first step toward saving it; some citizens skeptical

By Clark Brooks
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

For the people of Midway, the post office is more than what its name implies; it’s a benchmark of the community.

“For a place to be a town for me, it has to have a church, a bank, and a post office,” regional postal official Tom Adkins told Midway postal customers Thursday night at a meeting on the future of their office. “I’ve seen post offices close and I don’t like doing it. Believe me when I say there isn’t even a whisper to close this office.”

Despite his repeated assurances, Adkins was grilled by citizens about the fate of the office. He confirmed that it will undergo several changes March 26 as part of a nationwide plan by the U.S. Postal Service to save $2 billion over the next decade by shrinking or eliminating 20,000 post offices. Here's a video report from Summer Hall:

The changes in Midway will downsize the post office from a class 16 station to a level 15, which includes a slight reduction in the postmaster’s salary, transfer of two mail carriers to the Versailles office and reassignment of one of the two mail clerks.

Over the two-hour meeting, dozens of townspeople were given hope that their beloved post office wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. A few, however, were already anticipating the changes to be the beginning of the end.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this is the first step to closure of our branch,” Dave Johnson said. “I mean, look around the country. There are places closing left and right. Soon this switch from a level 16 to 15 will finally end up with us turning around and the office being gone.”

Adkins, however, repeatedly said there are no plans to close the office, at one point saying, “We are not looking at closing the Midway Post Office. Not gonna do it.” But he deflected questions about who above him, or after him, could make that decision.

He said the changes would benefit of the community by making the branch more efficient, protecting it from further cuts that could lead to its closure.

Adkins was straightforward in saying that the post office, though it serves a growing community, doesn’t make money – though its mail volume has declined less than the average for post offices in the Lexington area.

“Right now, this is simply not a profitable branch, and it hasn’t been any time recently,” said Adkins, who supervises small-town post offices in the Lexington area. “This is not a first step to closing it. To me and anybody who’s been working on this project, it’s the first step in saving it.”

He said the biggest savings will be in “the clerks’ salary and benefits packages, which can be absorbed in the Versailles hub. I can easily see roughly a million dollars being saved by this branch alone in the next few years.”

Besides the benefits he feels it will bring to Midway, Adkins also mentioned that the downsizing will help the USPS deal with competitors such as UPS and Federal Express.

Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth, however, was skeptical that the changes would actually save money in the long run.

“I just can’t see how this isn’t a profitable branch,” he said. “We use our office more than most communities. I want to see expenses versus the profit in black and white; show us the savings.”

Though Adkins was reluctant to release information that might reveal individuals’ compensation, he did promise to give Bozarth details of the savings plan, and revenue and expense data for the post office.

People at the meeting made it clear the post office is the most visited building in Midway, with the possible exception of the grocery, and is much more than a place to buy stamps and pick up mail. It is a place to socialize with neighbors and stay informed about them, their families and community happenings, giving it great importance.

“It’s like a rite of passage for our kids to turn that key in our own mail box,” Midway resident Shirley Wilson said. “To me, it’s the most important building in town.”

Most residents of Midway don’t have home mail delivery and instead pick up their mail at their family box at the office, which is a free service if the box is small. Some residents complained that they have paid for a larger box for years without knowing that a small one is free.

Certified mail and packages will still be held at the Midway post office, meaning Midway postal customers wouldn’t need to travel to the Versailles office.

In Kentucky, 16 post offices have already been shut down in the retooling by the USPS, but Adkins said those offices and service areas were different from Midway’s.

“The offices we have been closing are generally extremely close to other post offices or stations that are only two- or four-hour offices,” Adkins said. “I remember one such instance where there were three offices in less than of a mile from each other. It’s just a matter of cutting unnecessary spending.”

Adkins said one way to help guarantee the future of the post office is to use it. Residents suggested that the office should not close for lunch, and Adkins said he would look into that.

Market study meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday

The public is invited to a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Midway Christian Church to discuss the Midway market study recently funded by the Kentucky Heritage Council with a grant to Midway Renaissance.

The study will include current business and consumer interests and concerns, and develop plans to address them. A similar study in 2002 reported several improvements people wanted to see downtown – sidewalk repairs, streetlights, landscaping, burial of electric lines and so on. "Many of these improvements have been achieved," Renaissance reports, inviting citizens "to learn about the scope of this project and ask questions of our consultant, Josh Bloom of CLUE Group."

The meeting will be held in the Fellowship Hall of the church at the corner of Gratz and East Bruen streets. Renaissance will provide coffee and dessert. More information on the study, such as its timeline and the consultant's contract, is available on Renaissance's Midway Market Study web page.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bills to raise city's classification go to governor

The legislature gave final passage yesterday to bills that would make Midway a fourth-class city, allowing it to enforce alcoholic-beverage laws and get related fees, among other things. Because it is a fifth-class city, those rights and responsibilities now rest with the county.

The reclassification is in two bills that were amended to include Midway: a Senate bill amended by Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, left, and a House bill amended by a Senate committee. The Senate concurred in Rollins' amendment and repassed its bill 34-3, and the House concurred in the Senate amendment to the other bill and passed it 91-4, sending both to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature or veto.

Midway lacks the 3,000 minimum population that the state constitution may require for a fourth-class city. Its population at the 2000 census was 1,620 and was recently estimated by the census to be 2,019. The official 2010 census figure has not been released.

The constitutional rules on classification are open to interpretation, and the bill Rollins amended would move at least two other cities with fewer than 3,000 people, Greensburg and Guthrie, up to fourth class. (See our previous item on the bill for the details on the legalities.) The bill would also raise to fourth class Junction City in Boyle County, which the census estimates has exceeded the 3,000 threshold in the last few years. One of the four House members voting against the other bill was Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, whose district includes Junction City.

Midway is the only city in both bills. The other bill would also raise Sadieville in Scott County from sixth to fifth class, though it is far short of the 1,000 minimum for that class. It would do likewise for Wurtland in Greenup County, which meets the guidelines.

Rollins said in an interview that he thinks the constitution gives the legislature authority to classifiy cities as it wishes. The bills say "satisfactory information has been presented to the General Assembly that the population" of Midway and the other fifth-class towns "is such as to justify its being classified as a city of the fourth class."

Rollins introduced the measure, and an identical bill last year, at the request of Mayor Tom Bozarth and the city council. The main motive for the change is the city's desire to have its own alcoholic beverage administrator. That power now rests with County Judge-Executive John Coyle. Versailles is a fourth-class city and runs its own alcohol affairs.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tornado siren test set for 10:07 a.m. Tuesday

Tornado sirens are scheduled to sound at approximately 10:07 a.m. Tuesday, March 8, in a test of the state emergency warning system. Weather alert radios will activate and television and radio stations will broadcast the alert message. This will be a test.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Post-office downsizing raises concern; town meeting set for 7 p.m. Thur. with Postal Service

By Colin Walsh, Summer Hall, Clark Brooks and Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway’s post office, a central piece of the city’s identity, will likely be undergoing some federally mandated changes later this month, and city officials have called an "urgent town hall meeting" out of fear that the downsizing could eventually lead to its closing.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Anne Hart Raymond Center at Midway College. A official from the U.S. Postal Service will be present to answer questions.

Although Midway customers' postal service will remain virtually unchanged, the measures have raised concerns about the changes in the shadow of the larger cuts planned by the service. Citizens are fearful the office could close –– a blow to any small town where the post office functions as a popular meeting place.

The Midway post office's two rural mail routes and one of its two clerks are to be reassigned to the Versailles office on March 26. The move is part of an effort by the postal service to save money after a $3 billion loss last year. It is reviewing the profitability of as many as 20,000 offices, and is in the process of saving $500 million by closing 2,000 offices designated Class 13 and below. The cuts at the Midway office will reduce it to Class 15 from Class 16, and the meeting-notice advertisement in tomorrow's Woodford Sun asks, "Could the next step be CLOSURE?"

City Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Turner, left, who worked at the post office for two years about 20 years ago, told the Midway Messenger, “My gut instinct says it won’t be shut down any time soon. But, one can't help but wonder if this is the start to the gnawing at a problem to challenge the office’s profitability.”

Turner said volume reduction, along with the reduced stamp sales and package pick-ups by carriers, could reduce overall revenues, impacting profitability. Lack of profit and decreased mail volume make it easier for the Postal Service to close an office.

"I don’t think it will close," Turner said, "but what I am worried is that this is a first step." Asked what closure would mean, Turner said, "Devastation is the first word that comes to mind. We actually have a lot of business there that people don’t realize out of the city of Midway. . . . There’s a lot more there than you just actually see driving through."

She said the post office and the grocery are the most popular meeting places for the community, and residents at one point had the opportunity to have their mail delivered to their homes or continue to pick it up at the post office, and they preferred the latter. About half the Midway post office's 1,700 customers rent boxes at the office; Midway has no city delivery, except to residents who live on the sections of the rural routes inside the city.

Turner said city officials learned of the plan through “kind of a fluke. I was making simple conversation with one of the clerks and she said she might not be here next month.”

The reduction in service is not expected to change daily routines, except that postal customers on the rural routes may get their mail at a different time than they do now. Turner said customers expecting certified mail will have to travel 10 miles to the Versailles post office to get the mail if they are not home when the carrier tries to make delivery. She said those on Midway rural routes will still have Midway addresses though the carriers will be based in Versailles.

Midway has a history of defending its post office. The postal service offical at the meeting will be Tom Adkins, a veteran of the last skirmish between Midway and the postal service, 20 years ago, when the service wanted to move the office to another building but backed off in the face of public objections.

House passes bill to raise city classification

The state House passed a bill this afternoon that, if the Senate approves, would make Midway a fourth-class city and let it enforce alcoholic-beverage laws and get related fees. Because it is a fifth-class city, those rights and responsibilities now rest with the county. Versailles is a fourth-class city and manages its own alcohol affairs.

The Midway measure is in a floor amendment attached to Senate Bill 82 by Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway. It now returns to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain, though Rollins said last night, "I'm optimistic."

The amended bill passed the House 82-16, perhaps reflecting misgivings about the amendment. Reclassification bills are usually not controversial, but Midway lacks the 3,000 minimum population that the state constitution may require for a fourth-class city. Its population at the 2000 census was 1,620 and was recently estimated to be 2,019. The 2010 census figures are not yet public.

The section of the constitution that specified population ranges for classes of cities was repealed in 1994 and replaced by a section, 156A, that allows the General Assembly to "create such classifications of cities as it deems necessary based on population, tax base, form of government, geography or any other reasonable basis." But the legislature has never set up a new system, and the 1994 constitutional amendment says "The law pertaining to the classifications in effect at the time of adoption of this section shall remain in effect until otherwise provided by law."

Some legislators argue that the amendment allows them to reclassify individual cities on the basis of the criteria it mentions, but the heading of the bill prepared by legislative staff advises, "The population requirement for the classification of cities established by the former Section 156 of the Constitution remain in effect until changed by law. Therefore, classification of a city of the fourth class requires a population of 3,000 to 7,999."

The original Senate bill applied only to the city of Guthrie in Todd County, which had a census population of 1,457 and is estimated to have had 1,760 as of 2009. Senate amendments added Greensburg in Green County, pop, 2,396, estimated to have 2,544; and Junction City in Boyle County, pop. 2,184, estimated at 3,214, making it the only city of the four with the requisite population.

"I'm pretty sure Midway probably does not meet the requirements, but at the same time there are some pretty good things going on in Midway and it would be to our benefit to be a fourth-class city," Rollins said, adding that he acted at the request of Mayor Tom Bozarth and the city council. He said he agrees with those legislators who believe the legislature has inherent authority to classifiy cities as it wishes.

He acknowledged the bill could get caught up in larger issues as the legislative session ends this week. As chairman of the House Education Committee, Rollins has been a key obstacle to charter-school legislation pushed by Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. But Rollins said he was encouraged because one of his bills is to be heard tomorrow in the Senate State and Local Government Committee, headed by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Thayer has added Midway and another city to a reclassification bill that originated in the House.

Rollins' amendment, mirroring language in the Senate's classification bill, says "Satisfactory information has been presented to the General Assembly that the population of the City of Midway, in Woodford County, is such as to justify its being classified as a city of the fourth class." The American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Midway had a population of 2,019 in 2009.

Rollins simply told the House, "Midway meets the requirements, in my opinion," and his colleagues approved his amendment on a voice vote. The only other real discussion came from Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who told the House, "We need to renew our whole system of city classification. It's archaic." He called for "one set of rules for every city" and won applause.

Bozarth is chairman of the classification committee of the Kentucky League of Cities, and has said the legislature should reform the system. As the league's second vice president, in line to become president, he will be in a position to advance the issue.

Midway City Council Member Sharon Turner, the mayor pro tem, said in an interview that fourth-class status would be good for the city in other ways, but the city's immediate concern is the desire to have its own alcoholic beverage administrator. That power now rests with County Judge-Executive John Coyle. "We get no fees and we're not an administrator per se over who gets a license or who doesn't get a license," she said. Turner publishes a magazine for the state's wine and distilled spirits industry and works for the Kentucky Malt Beverage Council, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors in the state.