Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rollins taking nothing for granted in re-election bid; Atwood running low-key 2nd campaign for House

UPDATE: Rollins got 70.3 percent of the primary vote, defeating Atwood 2,985 to 1,263. He carried Woodford County with 74.7 percent, 1,825 to 619. In the Midway city precinct, he won 65 to 7; in the county precinct, he won 66 to 24. Parts of Fayette and Franklin counties are also in the district.

By Martha Groppo
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The race for the Democratic nomination for state representative from the 56th District has begun, and both candidates are from Midway. Incumbent Carl Rollins is running for reelection against Jerry L. Atwood.

Rollins has spent much more money on the race than Atwood, who is running a low-budget campaign, with an unpaid announcement in The Woodford Sun and a Facebook page. He plans to finance the campaign with his own money.

“I haven’t collected any money from anybody,” said Atwood, right. “I just have a hard time asking people for money. . . . I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

Atwood ran for the Democratic nomination for state representative in 1998. He raised and spent about $4,700 in his race against Rollins’ predecessor, incumbent Joe Barrows of Versailles, who defeated him after spending only $1,700.

In his last race in 2010, Rollins defeated Republican Lyen Crews by a 4.53 percent margin of 744 votes. This time, he is taking no chances, purchasing a full-color ads in the Sun and The State Journal of Frankfort and maintaining a campaign website.

As of April 22, the date of his most recent report, Rollins had $31,607 in his account and had spent $1,778 on his campaign since Nov. 14.

Rollins, left, is in his sixth year in the legislature. He ran unopposed in 2008 and defeated Republican Kevin Locke in 2006 by 13 percentage points.

Rollins said his experience makes him a good candidate. He cited his “track record of working for local government” and the fact that he has “passed significant legislation,” as points in his favor.

Rollins was a councilman and mayor in Midway and a Woodford County magistrate before running for the House. He lives in Midway with his wife, Brenda, and has one daughter and two grandchildren.

During his time in the General Assembly, Rollins sponsored the bill changing Midway into a fourth-class city. In the most recent legislative session, he sponsored a bill allowing Midway restaurants with 50 seats to sell liquor; previously the minimum was 75. As chair of the House Education Committee, his political resume includes several major educational issues.

Atwood has not yet served in public office, but would like the chance to try.

“I’m the alternative,” Atwood said. “I think people deserve the opportunity to pick someone.”

Atwood worked in automotive sales for 46 years before retiring. He was born in Casey County in 1941 and has lived in Midway since 1950. He graduated from Versailles High School in 1959. He and his wife, Margie, have two children and two grandchildren.

The candidates agree on several issues, but have highlighted different topics in their campaigns.

In his announcement in the Sun, Rollins cited legislation he supported “preventing discrimination against those with disabilities,” efforts to improve staffing at nursing homes and several educational policies.

His first ad focused on education. It discussed his support of House Bill 308, which the ad said “toughens the oversight of the state’s for-profit colleges and universities and strengthens the ability of students to file for grievances.” Rollins co-sponsored the bill, which seeks to require more regulation of for-profit schools, some of which have been accused of focusing too much on recruiting students and getting their federal grant money than giving them an education.

Rollins said in an interview he has helped pass legislation making it easier for students to transfer from technical or community colleges to other schools, and hopes to institute an improved course equivalency system to ease college credit transfer. He said attending a smaller local school might enable more students to live at home for the first few years of their education without accruing significant debt.

“We need to makes some changes with our career and technical education,” Rollins said.

One controversial issue he has encountered as education committee chair is charter schools. He is concerned that charter schools will funnel talent and resources away from the school system.
“We must continue to protect public education from those who want to use public funds to provide the wealthy with private education in the form of vouchers and charter schools,” Rollins says on his campaign website.  He said he prefers to find other ways to “improve our schools without creating an entire additional level of bureaucracy.”

Atwood’s view of the issue was similar.“I don’t think we need charter schools,” he said. “Let’s fix the system we’ve got.” He agreed with Rollins that charter schools could take money and students away from the current public school system.

One education issue on which Rollins and Atwood differ is the proposal to raise to 18 the age at which students can drop out without a parent’s permission. Rollins is for it, and Atwood is against it. The idea of raising the dropout age from 16, set in the 1920s, has been debated for years and has most recently been pushed by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and opposed by Senate President David Williams, a Republican.

In the last session, Rollins worked to amend Senate Bill 109 in hopes that a compromise would get it passed. “We’ve got to change the culture,” to put more value on education, he told the House.

Atwood said he believes raising the dropout age “would be a mistake.” He asked, “Why make them stay until they are 18 if they don’t even want to stay until they are 16?”

In his candidacy announcement, Atwood highlighted two issues, gambling and Second Amendment rights, but he and Rollins seem to have little if any disagreement on them.

Debate over gambling in Kentucky has recently centered over the issue of whether it should be expanded in the state to allow casinos at racetracks. The most recent measure to amend the state constitution to expand gambling died in the Senate.

Atwood said, “It needs to be put on the ballot.” Rollins agreed, saying, “You want to allow people to vote.”

On gun issues, Atwood was unsure why he would receive a B+ rating from the National Rifle Association, since he has been a member of the organization for 40 years.

Rollins received an A rating, possibly because he has had the opportunity to vote for pro-gun legislation. According to the NRA website, an “A” candidate “has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office” or “demonstrated record of support on Second Amendment issues.”

Barrows, a man with experience with both candidates, said he expects the race “to be low-key, low-profile, with no major fireworks.”

In 2006, Rollins, who was then the magistrate for Midway, withdrew from the race for judge-executive and filed for Barrows’ seat when Barrows decided to end his campaign for re-election. Rollins ran unopposed in the primary.

Barrows said that his race against Atwood had not been a negative one, and that this race “will not be a negative campaign because neither are negative people.” Barrows said he expected the campaigns to focus on issues and the job that Rollins has done as a legislator—and that he believes Rollins has done a well.

“I thought Carl’s record before he was in the legislature was a good preparation,” Barrows said. “Former colleagues (in the legislature) tell me what a good job he is doing.”

Barrows said he couldn’t think “of any particular involvement in party politics” that Atwood has had, but “You don’t obviously have to have that to be a good legislator.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader endorsed Rollins, saying Atwood "seems to be making his second run for the legislature more because he enjoys interacting with people during a campaign than because of any complaints he has about Rollins' performance in Frankfort."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Council passes leash law, hears budget and plans for Francisco's Farm arts festival, still in the making

Dogs in Midway can no longer roam free, at least legally, under the leash law passed by the City Council this week. Monday night's meeting also included the formal first reading of the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and discussion of plans for the Francisco's Farm arts festival.

The leash law passed unanimously, though Council Member Joy Arnold suggested that it be modified to allow exceptions for dog owners who can prove to an animal control officer that they can maintain control of their dogs without leashes. Arnold said Boulder, Colo., has such a law, and "We need to be a community that appreciates dogs that have been trained." She said a local dog trainer had expressed concern about Midway's ordinance.

Other city officials were skeptical. Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Turner said it is a dog's nature to give chase, and the leash law will keep dogs from being run down in the street. Mayor Tom Bozarth questioned how the exception would be enforced and funded.

Council Member Dan Roller suggested that the idea be referred to the county animal control office, since that office had requested the ordinance to make Midway conform with one in Versailles. Outside the limits of the two cities, the leash laws do not apply.

The proposed budget was read without comment; it had been discussed at two special council meetings, reported here. An Excel spreadsheet of the major items can be downloaded here.

Francisco's Farm: How to maintain connections with Midway?

Sara Hicks, the president of Midway Renaissance, reported on plans for Francisco's Farm, which will be held June 23-24 at Equus Run Vineyards on Moores Mill Road, three and a half miles from downtown Midway.

The festival's move to the vineyard last year, from Midway College, rankled some Midwegians who thought the change reduced the popular event's connection with the town. Tentative plans for a shuttle between the event and the town fell through.

Hicks was asked what the festival will do to bring people to Midway. She said some merchants have agreed to give discounts to festival-goers, and "We want most of our volunteers to be from Midway." The Lexington Art League is playing a major role with the event this year.

Hicks said Pam Trautner is recruiting volunteers for the event, and John Maybrier is seeking vendors. "We're looking to have healthier foods," Hicks said.

Council Member Charlann Wombles, acknowledging that her idea may be too late for this year, suggested that the festival be called "Midway's Francisco's Farm."

"I like that," Hicks replied. "It's the people of Midway who put it on for all those years. She said the festival will have a table for Midway merchants.

However, Grayson Vandegrift, president of the merchants' association, said it was not planning to have a booth because the festival said that would cost the association $1,000. Hicks said she would look into that. Later in the week, Vandegrift said the festival had agreed to provide a free booth.

Francisco's Farm, a nationally recognized and professionally juried art fair, is named for Col. John Francisco, whose farm became the site of Midway when the state's first railroad was built through it in the 1830s.

Other business

The council agreed to have a special meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 15 to discuss garbage and recycling policies and pending bids. Bozarth said water customers will get a questionnaire, the answers to which will guide the city's decisions.

Council Member Aaron Hamilton said the survey will include questions asking if residents would be more likely to recycle if all types of material could be combined into a single stream, and whether they would be willing to pay a fee if glass could be collected for recycling and the current blue bags eliminated.

After the opening of the farmers' market for the summer was announced for 3 to 6 p.m. Monday, June 4, Bozarth said "I think we're going to have someone else down here on Saturdays." That, he said after the meeting, would be B & B Farms from Lawrenceburg.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Water and Sewer Task Force to meet Tuesday

The Midway Water and Sewer Task Force will meet at noon Tuesday, May 8, in the Piper Dining Hall at Midway College to continue its discussion of water and sewer issues. As a committee created by the city, its meetings are open to the public.

Pharmacy-school debacle brought down Midway College president, raised questions

By Cassidy Herrington
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway College’s ambitious plan for a pharmacy school in Eastern Kentucky was a ship that sank before it ever sailed, taking the college’s president with it.

The private college twice withdrew its applications for accreditation of the school, amid doubts from accreditors. The project died last month when its would-be rescuer, the University of Charleston, decided not to proceed with it.

The debacle has raised questions about the management, health and future direction of Midway College, which is Midway’s biggest taxpayer and probably its largest landowner.

The departure of William “Butch” Drake, right, as president was described as a resignation, but from all other indications, he was fired or told to resign.

“The executive committee or the chairman said he should go,” said Emily Gable of Frankfort, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees. And, she said, the main reason was the pharmacy school.

That seems to be common knowledge on campus. “A lot of different things . . . contributed to it but it mostly boiled down to the pharmacy school,” said Ali Edwards, a Midway College nursing student.

Paintsville lawyer Chad Perry and his wife, Julianne “Judy” Perry, a trustee of Midway College, launched the project after Chad Perry’s initial dream of an osteopathic medical school ended up becoming a reality in Pikeville instead.

The couple pledged $13 million to the project. A Jan. 23, 2010, codicil to their wills says $12 million “is to be spent on a building, and to date we have paid $1,050,000.”

The City of Paintsville contributed a site and building for temporary use, valued at $1.25 million, and Johnson County committed $200,000. (Map by Cody Porter from MapQuest image)

The Perrys’ vision was to provide more jobs and access to health care for Central Appalachia. Drake projected that the school would bring in $30 million annually and create more than 100 jobs.

To be accredited, the school had to hire and pay faculty a year in advance. More than two years and millions of dollars later, there is no pharmacy school in Paintsville and there is unlikely to be one.

For the full story, click here.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Brereton Jones had a big day yesterday, but he worries about the horse industry's future

By Justin Wright
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Today is the greatest day for Kentucky horse racing, and yesterday was a great day for a Midway horse farm, but there are troubles on the horizon for the horse industry in the state of Kentucky if things don’t soon change.

 “The economics of the horse industry are tremendously important to the economy of this state, this is one of the reasons that we need to have a level playing field, and this is not level due to the gaming that is going on in surrounding states,” said former Gov. Brereton Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud near Midway. (Courier-Journal photo by Bill Luster)

Jones was the big winner yesterday as his filly Believe You Can won the Kentucky Oaks and its purse of $564,500. His trainer, Larry Jones (no relation), was effusive in his praise of Jones and his family at the post-race press conference, saying they inspire people to do their best.

The Joneses had hoped to enter their cols Mark Velaski in today's Kentucky Derby, but Larry Jones, the only trainer who rides his own horses in workouts, concluded the colt wasn't ready to run a mile and a quarter.

Located on Old Frankfort Pike about three miles west of Midway, Airdrie Stud is a major presence in the area. It has 77 full time employees, with average annual pay of a little over $40,000, Jones said. He said he provides free housing for 31 of the 77 and health-care benefits for all, and the farm’s total annual expenses are more than $10 million.

Those figures show the importance of just one of Kentucky’s major horse farms and its impact on the economy, and the threat posed by expanded gaming in other states.

New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states are attracting more stallions, mares and trainers because they have slot machines or full-scale casinos at racetracks and in some cases funnel expanded-gaming revenue from other sites into race purses and programs that reward breeders for foaling horses in a state.

This year the Kentucky legislature again rejected the idea of casinos, which would have been located mainly at racetracks, with the revenue helping the industry and other causes. There was division in the  horse industry about the specifics of the plan, and Jones objected it to it soon before it died.

Another factor that hit the horse industry hard was the economic downturn of 2008. That has put pressure on owners and trainers to ship horses to other states to seek better breeding grounds and racing purses. some owners sold horses or farmland simply because of the cost of keeping up a Thoroughbred. Feed, shelter and training costs run into a lot of money.

Jones said the business is more difficult now because the competition is more challenging. “Countless small farms are on the verge of being put under concrete,” Jones said, showing his concern for the smaller farms around Central Kentucky.
During his time in politics, Jones focused more on breeding than racing, but he has moved back into racing as a way to make money when breeding won't. He is racing some 3-year-old horses that did not meet the reserve price he set for his 2-year-olds at sales. He discussed that in an interview at Churchill Downs this week (video from The Courier-Journal): But he is more able to do that than the typical breeder, because he has more resources to fall back on. Some other breeders have cut some of their help and sold horses to stay afloat.

Although horses are raised all around the country, history has shown that the best place to raise thoroughbreds is on the land in Central Kentucky, Jones said: “You can raise a good horse any place, but it’s easier to raise a good horse in the midst of the best land.”

Many if not most of the world’s finest horses have come from this region and it is still where some of the finest horses are bred today. That has helped make tourism a staple of the economy of Kentucky. Tourism in the horse industry is a key player. “You don’t come to Kentucky to tour a coal mine,” Jones said. “You come to see the horse farms.”

Friday, May 4, 2012

City to save by paying off fire truck early; has fewer water customers because of vacant houses

By Alex Ruf
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

As it wrapped up preliminary public discussions about next year’s budget Wednesday, the Midway City Council agreed to pay off the city’s loan on the fire truck to save money. It also heard that water revenues are down because vacant houses mean fewer customers.

City Clerk-Treasurer Phyllis Hudson said paying off the loan will cost $48,376, which will save about $16,000 because the loan still has four annual payments of $16,126, adding up to $64,504. She said the payoff figure may vary because her projection was for May, and the council plans to pay off the truck on July 1. The council budgeted a maximum of $48,500 to pay off the loan.

“To be able to pay stuff off, I feel very good about it,” said Council Member Sharon Turner, the mayor pro tem.

One of the largest increases in the 2012 budget is for streets, with the addition of snow removal at an estimated $30,000. After Midway became a fourth-class city like Versailles last year, the county said it would have to be paid for its snow-removal services because it does not remove snow in Versailles. The deal between the city and county, however, does not cover every street in Midway. The city has been informally seeking bids to see who will do the rest of Midway. The one snow removal by the county last winter cost only $1,233, but Bozarth said the city has no idea what next winter will be like, so he budgeted $30,000 to be safe.

The proposed budget combines the previously separate lines for plants and Christmas lights. Council Member Charlann Wombles suggested this at the last meeting, so the combined category can cover decorations throughout the year, instead of just on Christmas.

The water budget projects a decline in sales from last year’s figure. Hudson said the number of water customers has decreased because of vacant homes in Midway. “There are at least 10 empty houses in Northridge alone,” Turner said.

Though there are fewer water customers, the city expects to pay more for water next year than this year because Kentucky American Water Co. has raised wholesale water rates to cover costs of its new Kentucky River plant and supply line. Water costs are budgeted at $285,000, up from $265,000.

Council Member Aaron Hamilton asked why the water meter upgrade project wasn’t being budgeted for the coming year. Bozarth said he gave the project a deadline of July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, so there is no reason to budget for it. The  project is adding electronics to meters, making them readable from the street. Bozarth and Hudson said 200 meters have been upgraded, with 500 more to go.

The council agreed to move the budget to its first formal reading as an ordinance, at Monday’s council meeting.

Wombles and Council Member Joy Arnold said the software for the council’s monthly financial reports produces a document that is confusing and hard to read. “The goal of government should be to be easy to understand,” Arnold said.

Bozarth said the monthly financial reports have “been an age-old discussion. . . . It’s not easy to understand at times. Turner and Wombles said they brought up the issue up six years ago, when they originally joined the council.

Bozarth agreed that something needs to be done about the system, but suggested that new software would be costly. “It takes 10 years to kind of get used to it,” he said.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Leash law up for final approval at council Monday

Second reading and final passage of a revised dog ordinance, requiring leashes when off the owner's property, is among the business on the Midway City Council's agenda Monday.

Other items on the agenda include first reading of the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which the council has been discussing; and several guests, including Sara Hicks of the Francisco's Farm art fair, city-county Planning Director Pattie Wilson, county Library Director Karen Kascavage and Brad McLean, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.

All council meetings are open to the public. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In budget talks, city plans to buy new van for fire department, give firefighters a small raise

By Alex Ruf
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

During last week’s initial discussions of next year’s budget, the Midway City Council heard plans to purchase a new van for the fire department and raise firefighters’ pay a bit. The council will continue discussions on the budget in a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.

The city plans to purchase the new van, and a new mower for the cemetery, before the new fiscal year begins July 1. The $37,000 for the van and the $1,000 $6,000 for the mower will come from the city’s contingency fund, which is not otherwise allocated to divisions of government and is projected to be $107,550 next year, out of a total general-fund budget of $995,150.

City Clerk-Treasurer Phyllis Hudson and Mayor Tom Bozarth suggested using this contingency money for the van and mower, and perhaps to pay off the fire truck obtained from the state and other leased equipment.

“I feel our fire department is deserving of this and does a great job for the citizens of Midway, and we need to do anything we can do to give the them the tools and the means to achieve that great responsibility.” Bozarth said. The fire department asked for the van this year to replace one that is 20 years old and in poor condition, he said.

Bozarth’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year includes the van, which would be mainly responsible for an increase the fire department budget to $113,926 from $70,950 this year, but not if the contingency money is used.

The fire department personnel budget would rise to $24,000 from $18,000 as firefighters’ pay for attending monthly training meetings would rise to $35 from $30. The pay raise is designed in part to help recruit more firefighters.

This year Midway has not received its usual state grant of $8,250 for the fire department bevause it is one firefighter short of the minimum needed. To get the grant, the department must have 13 fire fighters and a fire chief, and Midway only has 12 firefighters and a chief. Council members said they plan to advertise in the city newsletter and hope that or word of mouth brings in a new recruit.

Another state grant, $5,000 for a tree nursery has been awarded and will be matched by the city. This grant is designed for Midway to grow young trees that can be used in the cemetery, parks and other places around town. Larry Hanks, Midway’s arborist, applied for the grant and is overseeing it.

This grant will lead to some of the trees being cut down to make room for new ones. A few trees in the cemetery will have to be moved, and any Midway resident will be able to buy them at a discount.

The cemetery also was another topic of discussion at the April 25 council meeting. Though the proposed budget includes the new mower, the budget for the cemetery would go down from $162,553, to $156,601.

Another point of discussion was the house on the cemetery grounds. The house is in poor condition, and is vacant. The future of this house is up in the air. The city is accepting bids on contracts to renovate the house into a more livable condition. There are also talks about tearing down the house or turning it into a chapel.

Other proposed changes to the budget include:
  • The addition of $3,000 $30,000 for snow removal, which is being done by the county at a charge rather than free now that Midway is a fourth-class city. One snow removal last winter cost only $1,233, but Bozarth said the city has no way of knowing how much snow will come.
  • Police will cost an additional $5,000 this year, due to gas prices.
  • Planning and zoning would get an additional $4,000 for salaries.

City council to hold special meeting on budget and dog ordinance at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday

The Midway City Council will hold a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 2, at City Hall to continue discussion of the proposed 2012-13 budget, second reading and final passage of the revised dog ordinance, and a resolution honoring Eagle Scout William Borland for his cemetery cleanup work.

Under state law, the agenda at special meetings is limited to the subjects listed on the meeting notice. All council meetings are open to the public.