Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Council gets a better price from Versailles for police, starts crackdown on owners of blighted property

By Katia Davis
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Versailles has reduced its police budget proposal for Midway, according to Midway officials at Monday’s city council meeting.

Also at the meeting, the council started a crackdown on abandoned property owners with the first reading of a new ordinance that would punish them for not maintaining property.

The council also discussed a community service collaboration with Midway University, possible improvements to North Gratz Street and Warfield Street, and the trick-or-treat schedule; and denied a controversial permit request.

Police Contract: Council Member Bruce Southworth, chair of the Public Works and Services Committee, reported to the council that Versailles had lowered its proposed price for police services in Midway, to $165,325 a year, or 4.25 percent of Versailles’ current police budget.

On Sept. 21, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and Police Chief James Fugate proposed a price of $173,674 a year, a 73.7 percent increase from this year.

That figure was 4.5 percent of the budget of the Versailles police, which patrol all of Woodford County.

Midway has 7 percent of the county’s population, but Midway residents also pay county taxes, and that should be taken into account, Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said after the meeting. He said county officials have not explained what Midway will get for its county taxes.

“We see less and less services all the time and the county asking us for more and more money,” Vandegrift said.

As for the new proposal, Vandegrift said, “I think that we can agree, I think, something close to that, but we’re gonna have to have some increase in services to come with it, because we were paying $16,000 four years ago, now we’re paying $100,000. I don’t know how we can justify to our citizens that they’ve got this type of increase without some kind of increase in services.”

Vandegrift noted that there is plenty of time to conclude negotiations. The new contract would be for four years and start July 1, 2018. 

Crackdown on blight: The council heard first reading Monday of ordinances to establish a Code Enforcement Board and amend an ordinance requiring owners to maintain their property.

The board would be made up of Midway residents and will work to keep city properties maintained.

“If a property is not being maintained properly, we can go and make those changes and place a lien on the property with an 8 percent interest rate, so it’s not just a lien for our cost, there’s also an interest rate,” Vandegrift said. “Another thing is at some point you can look at eminent domain,” condemnation to take ownership the property.

The ordinance would give property owners notice to remedy the situation, give them seven days to respond, and allow for the police department or a code enforcement officer to initiate removal of abandoned vehicles, among other things. For a copy of the council meeting packet that includes the ordinances, click here.

“The main thing is that we are no longer going to allow the people to take advantage of their neighbors in the sense that they keep the property that has become blighted and deteriorated and abandoned and they’re not fixing it up and they’re just letting it sit there,” Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift said it’s unfair to residents who take care of their property. “We’re going to uphold that to the highest extent of the law and we’re gonna surprise some people, because a lot of people think that it cant be done.”

The mayor warned in May that he had asked for new ordinances to crack down on property maintenance. Under the previous mayor, Tom Bozarth, the city put pressure on owners of dilapidated property and had some success, but Vandegrift called that "a caretaker administration." He added, "That's not a bad thing."

Vandegrift said he would schedule second reading of the ordinances for Oct. 16, but the council might not vote on them until November because of possible changes.

Aerial photo provided by Nick Bentley shows North Gratz Street
and its extension, Warfield Street, with addresses and property
lines. The Brown Barrel and Blind Harry's, a restaurant and bar,
recently opened at 224 N. Gratz. (For a larger photo, click on it.)
Businesses seek improvements:  Nick Bentley and Bryan Lynch, residents and landowners in Midway, proposed integrating North Gratz Street and Warfield Street into downtown now that businesses have opened in the block and they plan to open more businesses.

Bentley suggested putting in streetlights, adding sidewalks, repaving the streets and adding a cul-de-sac on Warfield Street to facilitate turnarounds.

“We get a tremendous amount of traffic that comes down kind of looking and then they run into that dead-end and end up turning around in Bryan’s parking lot,” Bentley said.

Vandegrift said, “I love the idea, it just comes down to what it’s going to cost.”

Bentley also expressed concern over parking. “We have enough parking,” he said. “The biggest issue is how do we fit sidewalks in and not hurt parking.”

Bentley said he might put a full-time farmers' market near the doctor’s office on North Gratz. Lynch, who owns several businesses downtown, said he plans to put in a cafĂ© on North Gratz with volleyball courts behind it, and a banquet facility will occupy a part of the building.

“I own the building,” Lynch said in an interview. “I’d be leasing it out to a business from Lexington that would open a new restaurant here in town, that will be the banquet facilities as well.” Lynch owns the Eat Drink Breathe bistro and Damselfly Gallery on Main Street.

Permit denied for street entrance: A permit that would have allowed access to East Cross Street from a backyard at 120 S. Winter Street was denied at Monday’s meeting after much discussion on the issue.

The council first discussed the permit Sept. 4, and tabled the issue for 30 days to gather more information.

The property owner had spread gravel, built a fence and gate, and connected the lot to the street, encroaching on the street, before requesting a permit.

While the denial of the permit will force the property owner to remove all gravel from the city’s right of way, she will still be able to keep a gravel lot in the backyard.

Charles Logan of East Higgins Street, a neighbor to the property, expressed concern over the runoff from the gravel at earlier meetings and Monday’s meeting. Vandegrift said the property owner can have the gravel in her backyard, but cannot have the fence or gravel interfering with the city’s right of way. He said he still thinks the fence is in the right of way.

“There’s nothing that stops somebody from going into their yard and putting gravel down,” Vandegrift said. 

According to Vandegrift, if Logan has an issue with the gravel creating runoff on his property, the matter may have to be addressed as a civil matter.

“Had she followed the rules, then it wouldn’t be no civil matter, I wouldn’t have to hire an attorney and so forth,” Logan said.

Midway University athletes' service: Midway University Athletic Director Rusty Kennedy and Women’s Softball Coach Tripp Swisher spoke with the council about collaborating with the city on a service project for student athletes.

“Part of our mandate within the organization we are governed by,” the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, “is an emphasis on character development, something our very school values,” Tripp said. “We try to get each of our student athletes 15 hours a year, at least, in community service, that’s what we strive for.”

The service project would consist of different tasks such as painting, cleaning and junk removal and would be at least one day each semester.

Vandegrift suggested soliciting requests from community members for projects.

“We are thinking more of people who struggle to complete those tasks, either by health or age issues,” he said. “If we get the word out that the university is going to offer this service in conjunction with us, we can get the word and people can basically, sort of, apply.”

According to Tripp, the service project, if permitted, would be considered for sometime between the end of October and mid-November.

There are roughly 340 student athletes at Midway University, according to Kennedy.

Halloween: The council set trick-or-treat hours for Oct. 31 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

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