Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Council making a second try for pay raise; hears about plans for new high school, deals with property complaint

By Tre Lyerly, Sarah Landers, Katia Davis, Destiny Butler and Tanquarae McCadney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council came closer Monday to raising the pay for the council and mayor to be elected next year, giving first reading to an ordinance that would take the salaries from $50 and $100 a month, respectively, to $200 and $1,400 in 2019.

They also heard school officials' plans for a new Woodford County High School and merchants' plans for the upcoming Fall Festival, decided to look into a property owner's complaint that a neighbor's new gravel parking lot could cause water damage to his property, and heard Mayor Grayson Vandegrift say that a committee would consider a large increase in police costs that may be proposed.

In spring, council members proposed salary increases in order to more accurately reflect the duties coming with each position, saying the pay hadn't been raised in 30 years. After several months of negotiations, on Aug. 7, they voted 4-2 against monthly salaries of $1,000 for the mayor and $400 for each council member. Council Member Kay Nita Gallagher suggested then that the council get a lesser increase and the mayor get a larger one.

The council held a special meeting Aug. 24 to discuss the issue, and agreed to consider an ordinance that would pay council members $200 per month and the mayor $1,400 per month. The first reading of the ordinance Monday prompted no discussion, and Vandegrift said he would schedule second reading and passage for the next meeting, on Sept. 18.

No journalists attended the Aug. 24 meeting, but a tape recording of it will be available Thursday at City Hall. Asked after Monday's meeting how they came to agreement, council members and the mayor said it came down to a numerical compromise.

Vandegrift said, “They compared the size of our city, how much we make on an annual basis, how long it takes me to do my job, how long it takes to do their job, and after batting around a few ideas, they settled on those numbers.”

Gallagher said, "Steve [Simoff] and I had one number. Bruce [Southworth] and John [McDaniel] had another set of numbers. Sara [Hicks] agreed with, well, basically we all just decided to meet in the middle. We only had one person that didn’t, I don’t know if she changed her mind or not,” Gallagher said. That was Council Member Libby Warfield, who declined to comment after the meeting.

McDaniel said, “Now the mayor has a whole lot more to do with new developments, it’s time to bring things up to date.” He cited figured gathered by Warfield, showing that six towns in Kentucky similar to the size of Midway average paying their mayors $6,000 and council members $1,900 a year.

New high school, tax proposed: Woodford County School Board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV of Midway introduced Supt. Scott Hawkins to inform the council of the board's goal to build a new high school that is expected to cost a total of $56 million. Local governments have no authority over schools, but school officials are informing all three of the county's governing bodies of their plans.

Hawkins said, “This is my tenth year as superintendent in Woodford County, and probably the question that I have been asked more frequently than any other since I’ve been here is, when are we going to get a new high school?” The current building is 53 years old.

He said the district planning committee made that the number-one need in 2013, and again this year, and bought 61 acres next to Woodford County Middle School in Versailles for that purpose. But a tax increase would be needed, because the district has a bonding capacity of just $13.8 million, less than one-third of the amount the new building is projected to cost.

The district has completed $34 million in projects over the past four years, Hawkins said, and has accumulated $27 million in outstanding debt. Without the required bonding capacity, Hawkins said building a new school wouldn’t be possible until 2028. “We want to act on this opportunity to build now, we don’t want to wait another 20 years,” he said.

Hawkins said the board could levy an occupational tax, but it only levy it on people who work in Woodford County. “That’s only about 40 percent of our population, so that doesn’t generate the revenue that would be needed,” he said.

Hawkins said the board believes the best option is to enact a facilities tax of 6 cents per $100 worth of property, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $60 a year. That would increase the bonding ability to $53 million. The other $3 million could come from the state.

The board could raise its basic tax rate 1.5 cents a year, Hawkins said, but that would take much longer to get the project completed, and the state assistance would not be available. “I know that an increase in taxes is never a popular subject,” he said, “but if we truly want a new high school in our community, that’s the way to get there.”

He said the new school would include an auditorium and a theatre, now lacking in the county's schools, and allow Woodford County children to stay competitive with surrounding county school districts.

If the board agrees to a 6 cent facilities tax, an architect can be hired to do the design work in early 2018. “We could, if everything goes well, begin the 2020-21 school year in a new high school,” said Hawkins.

Homeowner fears damage: Charles Logan, of the 100 block of East Higgins Street, came to the council with concerns of water run-off due to gravel laid on his neighbor's lot. If the gravel stays, and especially if it is blacktopped, there is a higher potential for flooding, Logan said. If the gravel is a dense grade aggregate, "It could be as impervious as concrete over time," said Warfield, who lives at the end of West Cross Street. 

“My main concern is that if at a later date they come along and say we're gonna blacktop this, then it's gonna flood us out down there, probably on both sides of the street,” Logan said. “If you can do nothing else, I would like something in writing that that lot will never be blacktopped.”

The matter was already on the council agenda because the driveway to the parking lot entered Cross Street without an encroachment permit. City Attorney Phil Moloney wrote the property owner, Emmajo Pulley Gray, a letter Aug. 2 saying concern had been expressed about drainage from her lot, and enclosing an encroachment permit for her to file. She did, but did not appear at the meeting.

Vandegrift said the council could decide to reject the encroachment permit or require conditions for it, such as removal of part of the gravel or prohibiting blacktopping. “This is a good example of why people need to realize, it’s not better to ask forgiveness than permission,” he said.

The mayor said Gray's son laid the gravel to store trucks and trailers, which Simoff could possibly devalue the surrounding properties. It’s as if a parking lot has been put into a residential area, Simoff said.

Warfield raised an additional concern, that Gray's fence may be on the city's street easement. She said the street has a 24-foot-wide right of way, but only 12 feet of surface, and the fence is three feet from the blacktop.

Southworth moved to table the matter for at least 30 days while the city gathers more information, and the council agreed. The letter is part of the council's meeting documents, available here.

Public safety: Midway might have to pay the City of Versailles a lot more for its part of countywide police protection.

McDaniel said before the meeting that County Judge-Executive John "Bear" Coyle wants Midway to pay $400,000 a year for police services instead of the current $100,000, and the magistrates on Fiscal Court "kind of agree with that."

But he said a three-member committee of magistrates, at a meeting Monday morning, rejected Coyle's alternate proposal to return countywide policing to the sheriff's office, which Coyle once headed, and which is now headed by Johnny Wilhoit, recently retired as police chief in Versailles.

"The judge wasn't very happy," McDaniel said. "I was very surprised."

In the council meeting, Vandegrift alluded to the negotiations, saying that when a proposal is made, he will assign it to the council's Public Works and Services Committee, headed by Southworth, who also attended the Monday-morning meeting.

In another public-safety matter, the council authorized Vandegrift to purchase a second radar sign after observing that the first, installed on Northside Drive, had slowed down drivers. The mayor said the first sign cost about $3,200; the limit on price of the second one is $4,000.

Vandegrift said the current sign will be moved from East Stephens Street to Coach Station Road at the request of Northridge Estates residents. He said the sign is taken off of a street, speeding increases again. “It’s like playing whack-a-mole,” he said. “You take one off Winter Street and they speed up there.”

Downtown events: Peggy Angel, president of the Midway Business Association, announced that the Midway Fall Festival Sept. 16-17 will have up to 160 vendors, with food, crafts and activities for all ages, making the festival one of the largest in its 43-year history. The event typically draws a crowd of more than 10,000. 

Angel announced that the merchants will kick off the downtown Christmas season the first weekend of November. The city will continue its tree lighting on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the merchants will have Santa Claus visit by train the next day, as usual.

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