Thursday, September 20, 2018

Former business-group head says festival coordinator not to blame for power outage; KU cites heavy demand

By Sierra McLean and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Kenny Smith, owner of Kennydid Gallery on Main Street, challenged Mayor Grayson Vandegrift’s account of the electricity outage at the Midway Fall Festival.

Vandegrift told the Midway Messenger on Saturday that the electricity outage was caused by the festival allowing too many vendors, more than its permit authorized.

Smith said Wednesday the extra 20 or so vendors could not have been the reason, because the extras were placed in the bank lot, where there was no electricity. He also said those in the bank lot should not count towards the permit number because that lot is private property, not a city street.

Smith, a former president of the Midway Business Association, said the MBA and the city upgraded the Main Street electric service for the upcoming festival, at a cost of about $20,000.

The replacement (Photo by Sierra McLean)
Smith blamed Kentucky Utilities for the outage. “KU dropped the ball because when they hooked all this up to the old transformer,” he said. “They should’ve known they were going to have a problem.”

KU spokeswoman Liz Pratt said Thursday afternoon that the transformer had been checked after the service upgrade, and “The outage was likely caused by a combination of factors” that overloaded it. She cited increased demand, partly heavy air conditioning, on a hot day. Saturday's official high at Frankfort, recorded at 3:54 p.m., was 90 degrees.

“There was a larger demand for energy than could be served by that transformer and it became overloaded,” so a KU crew installed a transformer with a larger capacity, Pratt said. While they did that, power was off to part of Main Street for 30 to 45 minutes.

Smith said he was concerned that Vandegrift was blaming Elisha Holt, the festival coordinator. “The mayor was totally wrong,” he said.

Vandegrift said, “I never intended to blame anyone, and if my words insinuated that I was, then that is regrettable, and I apologize for that. I did say previously, and still stick with my previous statement, that Elisha has a tough and thankless job and does it well. . . . But warnings from the city about the size of this year’s festival, for whatever reason, went unheeded.”

Vandegrift said, “My bottom line is that the festival was great, no doubt about it, but we need to ensure that it’s not growing too fast.” He added, “I’m extremely confident that the minor issues we had will be easily remedied.”

The mayor said he has spoken to representatives of the MBA and said they “have agreed to work with us to make sure that the festival continues to be one of the greatest in Kentucky, but that it’s also safe, manageable, and as little a burden on the taxpayers of Midway as possible.”
As for Smith’s criticism, Vandegrift said, “Kenny is a friend of mine, and he may be upset with me, but I believe he’s misunderstanding me, and at the end of the day, my job sometimes requires me to upset some in the interest of everyone.”

Smith and Vandegrift are familiar with the workings of the festival. said he succeeded Vandegrift, then a Main Street restaurateur, as festival coordinator a few years ago.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Council OKs support for child-care effort, gets good news on money available for sewer repairs, rate cut

By Christie Netherton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council approved a $500 grant to the Midway Child Care Task Force and will act as a fiscal sponsor for the organization to help bring quality child care back to Midway.

Also at Monday evening’s meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift discussed a plan to cut citizens’ sewer bills by 25 percent starting in December and to repair faulty sewer lines. Vandegrift also said he wants to pass code ordinances for building maintenance before the end of the year.

Child care: Members of the Midway Child Care Task Force, including Mary Beth Rouse and Helen Rentch, asked the council for the grant and for the city to be a fiscal partner to seek a grant from the Woodford County Community Foundation. The grant would be used to conduct a survey on the necessity of child care and to hire a consultant to help bring quality child care back to Midway, Rouse told the council.

The task force was created by the mayor last year. Because the task force is not an independent organization, Rouse said, it needs a fiscal sponsor to apply for the foundation grant.

The task force plans to ask for $6,000 and is one of two Midway organizations applying for grant funds; the other is the Midway Park Fund. The public will decide who gets $25,000 grant money with a public vote at Midway University Nov. 14.

“I’d rather see the money go to child care at this point rather than the park,” Council Member John McDaniel said.

The $500 grant from the council is contingent on the foundation grant and would be available to the task force in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2019.

Stacy Thurman, the Midway branch manager at the Woodford County Library and candidate for city council, attended the meeting and said in an interview afterward, “People constantly come to us and ask if there’s a good child-care option when they move here. They are always looking for something, so I can tell you that there’s a need for it.”

Rose told the council, “In the years that Midway College had their program and our kids were there, people came from Frankfort, Lexington, Georgetown to use that because it was quality child care. As a parent, I know how important it was to have child care and I’m very hopeful we can do that again for all the families that need it.”

Sewer news: Now that the city has paid off the bond issue for its sewage-treatment plants, Vandegrift said he wants to cut citizens sewer fees 25 percent starting in December, fix faulty sewage lines and make other general repairs as needed.

Vandegrift said the debt retirement frees up Sewer Fund money of $63,000 plus an extra $88,000 in emergency funds. Also, he announced “wonderful news” that General Fund money is now available, and the city has had a running surplus of about half a million dollars. “We’re going to be able to cut sewer rates and invest in infrastructure.”

Vandegrift said he will meet with the city’s engineering consultant, HMB Engineers, on Sept. 24 to discuss plans for repairs. He said the Brand Street line, which serves the Midway University area, is likely to be the first major project.

Code enforcement: Vandegrift announced that he hopes to hold a code-enforcement workshop in early October for the council to deal with an ordinance he has been seeking for more than a year on building standards and maintenance.

“We want to make sure this thing is air-tight before we go forward with it,” he said. The council has been debating the issue for more than a year; one sticking point is whether the council or a new board appointed by it would be the main enforcement body. 

Vandegrift said after the meeting that he wants to enact a new code-enforcement ordinance by the end of the year, when the current council’s term ends. Four of the six council members are seeking new terms in the Nov. 6 election, and four non-incumbents are running.

Fire Department: Assistant Fire Chief Vincent Price has retired after 43 years of service. The council appointed Joe Campbell to replace Price. Campbell has 24 years of fire service and has worked as captain, fire safety inspector and recruit firefighter instructor. The council appointed Firefighter and EMT Allen Vann to replace Campbell as captain. Vann has worked 15 years in fire service.

State mows high grass and weeds along Leestown Rd.

State highway crews were busy this morning mowing along Leestown Road (US 421), following complaints from city officials at the Sept. 4 City Council meeting that grass and weeds had gotten so high that they were interfering with sight lines of motorists.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Record number of vendors blamed for overheated transformer at Fall Festival; mayor pledges changes

Story and Photos by Sierra McLean
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway’s Fall Festival drew thousands to town on a warm, sunny Saturday, but hit a roadblock in the afternoon when an electrical transformer overheated and leaked hot oil.

The leak at the corner of Gratz and Main was reported to the police by a festival goer. Power to downtown had to be cut off while Kentucky Utilities replaced it. According to Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, the power went out around 4:15 p.m. and was out for about 30 to 45 minutes.

The faulty transformer
Vandegrift said the transformer overheated because there were too many vendors at the festival drawing electricity. He said Elisha Holt, the contracted coordinator for the Midway Business Association, assured the city council in August that the festival would have no more than 210 vendors, a record number. “She told us, on record, ‘We are not adding anymore vendors. We are turning our waiting list away’,” Vandegrift said.

Asked about that, Holt said, “Well, we had 230 vendors who actually paid to be here, but oftentimes they don’t all show up, and there are several who aren’t here.”

Vandegrift said, “Where I feel burned is that the permit was approved for 210 vendors. I started getting reports from people today who thought there were as many as 250.”

Transformer oil spilled onto the street.
Asked if anyone was monitoring what was being plugged in, Holt said, “No, no, that’s never been the situation. Not only was it not regulated, it’s never been regulated.”

Vandegrift said, “It frustrates me that they turned around and overloaded the circuits like this and we were warned -- now we passed this warning onto the coordinator, told them that you still can’t just plug anything you want into this. There has to be some oversight and some control of how many circuits are being overloaded. And then we have what happened today.”

Holt saw the loss of power in an opposite way. “That gave those food booths, who normally are making food the whole time, a half an hour to go shopping.” she said. “A vendor actually came in here and said, ‘Normally I have to cook the whole time, but I had half an hour to come and shop,’ so it all worked out. It was fine.”

Vandegrift said, “I didn’t hear anyone who was upset about losing power. The ones I talked to seemed very understanding and patient.”

Prototype was among several bands performing at the festival.
But he also said, “I feel like it’s an insult to the city (a) to violate the permit and (b) to essentially cause a problem that the city has to fix, despite the fact that we don’t put on this festival and we don’t receive any money from this festival, aside from our normal permit fees from the vendors, which will total about $4,000 this year.”

He continued, “What worries me is that it created a potential public safety hazard by having hot oil dripping from a transformer. What if a kid was walking under that or something?”

Vandegrift added that he “wasn’t throwing Elisha under the bus” but just trying to do his job, “protect the city and the interests of the city.” He said Saturday night, “I had a great conversation with Elisha tonight and she was very agreeable to making some changes and were agreeable to working with them.”

In the end, Vandegrift said he just wanted to make sure that “everyone still had a good time.” He said, “It’s really, really important that this festival remains a community event… and that it’s not about an entity or individual making as much money as possible. When it becomes that, we have a serious problem. I’m not saying it has become that, but I am seeing troubling signs that it is moving in that direction.”

When asked if this would change how the festival is run, Vandegrift said, “I can guarantee you significant changes are going to be made.” Vandegrift is running for election to a four-year term that begins Jan. 1. His opponent is county school board Chairman Ambrose Wilson IV.
Spectators got a close look as one of RJ Corman Railroad Co.'s freight trains rolled through Main Street.
Despite the temporary electric problem, thousands enjoyed the festival, and vendors were happy. Debbie Osbourne, who works for the Purple Buffalo Lavender Co., a first-time vendor, said, “It has been very good for us.”

Susan Davisson, left, a designer at Jewelry by the Spoonful in Cynthiana, said this was her ninth year at the festival. When asked what keeps bringing her back, Davisson said, “This is my biggest money-making festival.”

The Pop Shop popcorn company was also pleased. Tiffany Davies said they came because, “We had heard so many good things about it and there’s a huge variety of vendors here. So, there’s sorta something for everybody. Plus, they are really good at not doing a lot of duplications.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

44th annual Fall Festival is Saturday and Sunday

One view of last year's festival (Photo by Katia Davis, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media)
The 44th annual Midway Fall Festival will be held Saturday from 10 to 610 and Sunday from 10 to 5.

Led by the Midway Business Association, the festival is one of the largest in Kentucky, drawing 10,000 people in one day last year, and a record number of vendors are coming this year. The event features crafts, food, demonstrations, entertainment and children's activities. At 2 p.m. Saturday there will be agility gymnastics in front of the Milam House on Main Street.

The entertainment schedule, sponsored by Country Boy Brewing, starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with Shanghai Express, followed by Blake Jones and Family at 11:15. Liberty Road takes the stage at 12:30, followed by Prototype at 1:45, Ned Hill at 3 and Kyle Sable Snyder at 4:15. Featured bands RC & the Nightshades and Trippin' Roots are scheduled at 5 and 7 p.m., respectively. The Sunday entertainment schedule has Mancave Ruckus at 10, Trish Torline at 11, Southland Drive at 1:15, Liam Fancy at 2:30 and Argo Lynn at 3:45.

Other sponsors of the festival are the Kennydid Gallery, More Than A Bakery, The Homeplace at Midway, Midway University, RJ Corman Railroad Co., United Bank, Coolmore America, Amberway Equine and Sporthorse Properties, Sleep Number, Bath Fitter, Champion Windows, and the Joe and Debbie Graviss Foundation. The City of Midway also assists with the festival. For more information, see www.midwayfallfestival.com/.

Monday, September 10, 2018

EDA to seek industrial zoning of 138 acres of farmland between Midway Station and new whiskey warehouses

EDA Chair John Soper, left, and new Midway member Michael Michalsin, right, talked during today's meeting.
The Woodford County Economic Development Authority voted Monday to seek light-industrial zoning of 138 acres of agricultural property, on which it has an option, next to the Midway Station industrial park.

The property is owned by Homer Freeny Jr., who has asked that the property be marketed in parcels of at least 40 acres, said EDA Chair John Soper. He said, "We're not trying to compete with our own property in Midway Station," on which developer Dennis Anderson has an option.

Soper said the property is in the Midway urban services boundary, as defined in the county's comprehensive plan, and is "a piece of agricultural land that's in the middle of commercial and industrial users." The tract to the north and east is the site of recently built and planned Brown-Forman Corp. whiskey warehouses, which the Planning Commission allowed under a conditional-use permit in an agricultural zone because whiskey is made from grain.

The application notes that the property has all utilities available and is in the Workplace/Employment Land Use District, which is intended for uses that create employment opportunities. That is a goal of the comprehensive plan, as is industrial development.

The City of Midway has not annexed the property, so the final zoning decision will be up to the Woodford County Fiscal Court, Planning Director Pattie Wilson noted. The application says, "It is anticipated that the property will be annexed by the City of Midway prior to the sale to any industrial users."

Today's meeting was the first for new EDA member Michael Michalsin of Midway, whom the City Council appointed last month to fill the city's seat on the board. Michalsin is a former Wall Street brokerage firm employee who moved to Midway five years ago and started Timber Fence Capital, a venture-capital investment business that bought Bob Mickler's equine-supply store in Lexington.

In another zoning matter, the commission will consider at 6:30 p.m. Thursday an application by EDA and Anderson to rezone 75 acres in Midway Station from residential to industrial. The change would be the last major step in the property's re-conversion to industrial; Anderson had planned a commercial and residential development, but that changed after the Great Recession and a succeeding resurgence of interest in the property by industrial users.

The story available via the link in the paragraph above has a labeled aerial photo diagram of the area. Here is the map filed with the rezoning application, labeled to show the Freeny tract, which is in two sections joined by a 100-foot-wide strip. To see or download a larger version, click on the map.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

City Council reduces property taxes 26 percent

By Hannah Woosley, Karlil Wilson, Alex Otte, Christie Netherton, Ana Neal, Sierra McLean, Thomas Franconia and Desiree Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council has completed the unusual step of lowering property taxes by more than a fourth, taken because the city is receiving so much more money from occupational taxes.

The council gave second and final reading Monday evening to ordinances that set tax rates on real and personal property at 7.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The current rates are 10.2 cents per $100, so the reduction will be 26.47 percent. When tax bills arrive in a few weeks, the city property tax on a $100,000 house will be $75.

“We could go even lower, but this is a safe start,” said Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who began discussing a property-tax decrease in July 2017, when the city was piling up occupational-tax revenue from the Lakeshore Learning Materials distribution center, the American Howa Kentucky auto-parts plant, and expanded businesses.

“We just did not need to be taxed at twice the rate Versailles was taxed on property,” Vandegrift said. He noted that the budget the council passed in June was based on an expected 25 percent reduction in property taxes.

Assistant Police Chief Rob Young talked with Council Member
Steve Simoff after the council meeting. (Photo by Sierra McLean)
New cop in town: Rob Young was introduced as the new assistant chief of the Versailles Police Department, which has responsibility for patrolling all of Woodford County, including Midway, which does not have its own police but pays Versailles for the service. Mike Murray, the former assistant chief, was recently promoted to chief and chose Young to succeed him.

Young said he has been a detective with the department for a year and a half, after 26 years of federal service. He told the Midway Messenger that he served 20 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Kentucky, the last three and a half years as the resident agent in charge in Lexington.

The assistant police chief typically attends Midway council meetings. Young told the council, “I was going through some of the crime reports, and Midway's a good place to be.” He said he plans to “keep it that way.”

Later in the meeting, Council Member Bruce Southworth said he was happy to see a report from the department showing that police have made more traffic stops in Midway recently. Speeding has been a chronic problem in the city.

Donation made: The council approved $575 in funding for Midway Christian Church, to help finish constructing a table made from recycled bottle caps for Northside Elementary School. The church has been making benches with the recycled products and wants to do more and place them around town, Vandegrift said.

Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher asked what the council would do if the Baptist church or Methodist church asked for a donation. Vandegrift said, “Our policy has ben to do this on a first-come, first-served basis.” He said the council has $325 remaining in its $5,000 donations budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2019.

Other business: Southworth, Gallagher and Council Member Steve Simoff voiced concerns over potentially hazardous road conditions due to lack of mowing on state roads, particularly Leestown Road, causing sight-line obstructions. Vandegrift said he sent an email Tuesday morning to the state Highway Department about the issue and will keep up with it until it is taken care of.

Vandegrift congratulated Southworth for his dedication and determination to secure a mileage sign for Midway on US 421 at the east edge of Frankfort, the first non-interstate mileage sign for Midway in years. “Congratulations to you for doing what state legislators couldn’t do,” Vandegrift said.

Dual-credit courses help boost Midway University enrollment 37 percent, freshman class 31 percent

Midway University says it has record enrollment in its undergraduate class for the third consecutive year. The 267 new undergraduates represent a 31 percent increase over last year, and total undergraduate daytime enrollment is now at 571 students, "the highest in recent history," the university said in a news release.

The university said its total enrollment was 1,668 across all student populations, compared to 1,217 in 2017, a 37 percent increase. "It is an exciting and transformational time to be at Midway," President John P. Marsden said. He commended several staff members for their work.

The university attributed a "significant portion of the increase in enrollment" to dual-credit courses, offered in partnerships with high schools in Franklin, Henry and Woodford counties. It said 409 students are enrolled in such courses this semester.
The new undergraduates come from 26 states and 57 Kentucky counties, plus two from Colombia and France. Sixty percent of the new daytime students, and 63 percent of all undergraduates, are female. The university went coeducational two years ago.

"Our overall growth is due to coeducation in 2016, expansion of athletics, dual credit enrollments, business partnerships for our evening and online programs, and team efforts across all departments on campus," Marsden said.

The university's rapid growth means it is "playing catch-up on facilities," the release said. "The fundraising project, 'The Campaign of Opportunities,' should wrap up this fall and a ground breaking will be held for the new field house and baseball stadium projects. With some of the funds already raised, renovations to the Belle Wisdom Residence Hall took place this summer with every bathroom getting a complete makeover."