Thursday, February 28, 2019

Midway could have a Derby horse: Bourbon War, partly owned by McMahon & Hill, in major prep race Saturday

Bourbon War winning at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18, under Irad Ortiz Jr. (Photo by Lauren King, Gulfstream Park)
This story has been updated with Bourbon War's win. To read the revised version, click here.

By Abbey Huffman
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Once a horse that couldn’t get sold, Bourbon War could give his Midway-based owners their first Kentucky Derby starter.

The colt will try to earn official Kentucky Derby points in the Fountain of Youth Stakes Saturday, March 2, at Gulfstream Park.

Bourbon War has won two out of three starts and has impressed his connections with the talent he has shown. Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse put him on his Feb. 13 “Derby Dozen” for the way he “weaved his way through the field, going in between, then inside horse and then sliced through an opening between the two leaders and drew off to a very professional victory.” He the Feb. 19 list as an honorable mention.

Bourbon War is partly owned by Bourbon Lane Stables, a public racing partnership managed by McMahon & Hill Bloodstock, LLC, with offices in Midway.

Mike McMahon with another of his horses (Photo provided)
Mike McMahon, from Saratoga Springs, New York, has been involved with the thoroughbred business in almost every way possible. It was a trip to the Bluegrass for a sale that made him realize he wanted to make a career out of his interest in racing and breeding. He started his own business in 2001 when he founded McMahon Bloodstock, LLC.

Nine years later, McMahon started his racehorse ownership group, Bourbon Lane Stables.

In 2011, McMahon’s good friend and business associate, Jamie Hill, joined the business and the firm changed to what is now known as McMahon & Hill Bloodstock, LLC and is based in Midway, at 119 East Main St.

The team also manages Spruce Lane Pinhooks. A pinhooker buys a horse as a weanling or yearling to sell or “flip” it for profit as a yearling or two-year-old.

Spruce Lane’s pinhooks are kept and prepped at Spruce Lane Farm, owned since 2005 by McMahon and his wife. It’s in the big bend in Hedden Road, which runs between Old Frankfort Pike and Big Sink Road.

Bourbon War’s owners first met him as a yearling in the Spruce Lane Pinhook partnership, and still have him -- through misfortunes that turned out to be happy accidents.

Just like every other youngster that goes through Spruce Lane, the goal was to sell him as a yearling. With a top pedigree, by the sire Tapit out of the mare My Conquestadory, a prestigious race winner, on paper there shouldn’t have been any trouble selling him.

A $410,000 purchase at the 2016 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, Bourbon War was entered to sell in the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. But X-rays revealed a bone chip, and the well-bred colt failed to sell.

Plan B was to send him to a two-year-old in training sale in Florida, where he would be timed “breezing” an eighth of a mile, or one furlong.

This time, there were a few interested buyers who had vetted him and seen clean medical results, but when he breezed slowly, nobody came back to scope him, and one interested trainer thought he saw a chip in the ankle on the X-ray. There was controversy between veterinarians on whether it was a chip or just a double exposure. It ended up being double exposure, but before they knew that, and shortly before the horse would have sold, McMahon and Hill scratched him from the sale.

After two sales failures, McMahon’s friends, Greg Burns and Mike Winters of Lake Star Stable, bought half the horse. Bourbon Lane Stable bought out some of the pinhook partners, and some still own part of him.

His name came from both owners. Bourbon Lane includes “Bourbon” in almost all its horses’ names. Lake Star contributed “War,” naming the horse after a Bruce Springsteen album, which is also fitting to Bourbon War’s pedigree, being out of My Conquestadory.

Bourbon War was sent to Winstar Farm’s training facility. In May, he went to trainer Mark Hennig’s barn at Belmont Park in New York to begin serious training.

Bourbon War won his first race and finished fourth in the Remsen Stakes, a Grade 2 -- the second highest of three grades for stakes races. Both outings were at Aqueduct in New York.

He started his three-year-old campaign by winning a $51,000 allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Jan. 18. The race was for non-winners of two races and had an optional claiming price of $75,000.

That win was Bourbon War’s second attempt going around two turns; the first was in the Remsen at 1⅛ mile, where he finished a well-beaten fourth; Hennig said he was much more prepared for two turns going into the allowance race.

Preparing to step back up into stakes company in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, Bourbon War breezed a half mile in 48.68 seconds Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park, where he is stabled.

“We were pleased with it,” Hennig said. “We were just looking to sharpen him up a touch. The track wasn’t real quick that day, but I thought he got over it well -- finished strong and galloped out strong.”

Hennig said it’s comforting, heading into a highly competitive Grade 2 stakes, that his horse already has a win at two turns on the Gulfstream surface. “Any time you’re repeating something, I think, with a young horse like this and not throwing something new at him is more comforting.”

The time of transitioning from a two year old to a three year old is an important coming of age time for racehorses. Their connections hope to see growth in maturity, both mentally and physically. Hennig says he’s noticed more aggressive training from Bourbon War since they headed to Florida for the winter.

“I think he’s much more prepared for it at this point, physically and mentally, than he was when we ran him in the Remsen,” Hennig said.

After the Fountain of Youth, Churchill Downs will award 50 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points to the winner, 20 points to the place horse, 10 points to show and 5 points to the fourth placer.

Bourbon War drew post No. 4 out of 11 and has morning line odds of 10-1. Top rider Irad Ortiz Jr. will have the mount. Ortiz has been aboard Bourbon War in his last two starts.

Hennig said Thursday morning that he was “very happy with the post” and would “leave things in Irad’s hands.”

Other notable horses in the race are impressive maiden winner Hidden Stroll as the favorite; Grade 3 Nashua Stakes winner Vekoma; Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Signalman; and undefeated Global Campaign.

The $400,000 Fountain of Youth is the 13th race Saturday at Gulfstream. Post time is approximately 5:32 p.m. The race will appear on “Fox Sports Saturday at the Races,” which airs from 3 to 6 p.m.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Parade with Lillie Cox as grand marshal will cap off 'Go Green' St. Patrick's events in Midway March 16

Lillie Cox may be Woodford County's greatest promoter.
By Kristi Fitzgerald
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway Business Association is inviting all to the Woodford County Saint Patrick’s Parade March 16 at 4 p.m. Lillie Cox, a long-time community activist in the county, has been chosen as the grand marshal and Blake and Melissa Jones will be the Irish court of honor.

The parade will feature floats with the day's “Go Green” theme, Woodford County officials, Reid’s Irish Bagpipers and Drummers, the Woodford County High School marching percussion band, Midway University horses and riders, fire trucks, costumed characters, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and many other entries.  

The MBA press release also announces that “the world’s tallest leprechaun” will appear in the parade. He will also stroll around downtown Midway tying balloons from 2 to 6 p.m. Kids should also expect plenty other entertainment and activities, including free face painting.

The “Go Green” day kicks off at 10 a.m. with opening of historic downtown shops and a variety of Woodford County non-profit booths, including Midway Renaissance, Midway Community Garden, Big Spring Park, and Walter Bradley Park. Visitors can experience “green” in more ways than one with information on Evolve electric cars, recycling, solar energy, and more.

Downtown restaurants will open at 11 a.m. and will offer beverage, appetizer and meal specials, as well as prize drawings.

Saint Patrick’s and/or Irish attire is encouraged. For more information on becoming a parade participant contact Julie Morgan at morganjjm@gamil.com. For more information on the non-profit and educational booths contact Amy Bowman at amybowman583@yahoo.com.

Monday, February 25, 2019

EDA and city start 'new era' at Midway Station, consider how to maximize value, pay off debt and still create jobs

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift spoke to the Woodford County Economic Development Authority board Friday.
By Collin Kruse and Kristi Fitzgerald
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
               Now that developer Dennis Anderson no longer has an option on the Midway Station industrial park, the City of Midway and the Woodford County Economic Development Authority are wrestling with the development's future.
               The board of the EDA, which owns the land, discussed the future of the property, and its debt, at its monthly meeting on Feb. 22 in Versailles. It was the board's first meeting since Anderson terminated his option Feb. 7.
               Anderson had paid the interest on the property's mortgage in return for the option, which he exercised on several lots, selling them. Beginning July 1, the city and county will each have to start paying interest of $3,000 per month on the $2.477 million debt remaining on the land. 
               It may be hard for the EDA to be particular about land sales when the need to get money to pay debts is tying them down.
               EDA Chair John Soper suggested that the agency might be faced with the prospect of selling lots to employers who would create few jobs, as happened in the first phase of development many years ago. He said that would conflict with the original, long-term goal of the project.
               “Our goal is to produce long-term, re-occurring revenue, not just land sales, but the debt gets in your way,” Soper said.
               The treasurer’s report at the meeting said the land is valued at $2.967 million, based on sales amounts subtracted from the approximately $5 million that Anderson would have paid EDA if he had exercised his option. If that figure is accurate, the land is worth half a million dollars more than is owed on it, but EDA also has to spend money on legal work, engineering and maintenance.  
The board saw a potential redesign of the property in Midway Station
Station under and adjacent to the two high-voltage electric lines.
             If the land available in Midway Station sells for its estimated value, then the EDA could be short of paying the city the $600,000 it owes it on natural-gas and water lines built to the property. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift asked if Midway could receive a share of funds from future land sales after an unspecified “grace period.”
               Soper said, “We’ve got some immediate maintenance issues we need to deal with over there,” and money for that could come from getting additional lots from land at the east end of the property that has not been platted for development. He said that would require approval of banks that hold the debt.
               Vandegrift also showed interest in this section of Midway Station, suggesting that if access can be granted to the South Elkhorn Creek, the more rugged portion of the land that was left undeveloped could be used for recreational purposes.
               The land along the creek is owned by Homer Michael Freeny Jr., owner of 138 acres next to Midway Station that the city is annexing. He has expressed a desire to make that area public property for access to the creek for canoeing and other activities, with access through Midway Station and/or the tract being annexed.
               The mayor thanked Soper and the EDA board members for their "hard work," said Midway Station had entered "a new era" and it would be better for them, the city and county to finish developing the property than for an outside developer to do it: “It is important that we as a community develop it rather than outside interests.”
               The board made two definitive moves with the intention of getting the most value out of the land. First, it passed a motion to request rezoning of about nine acres, the last residential zone in Midway Station, into industrial.
               Some areas will remain zoned for professional offices. Planning Director Pattie Wilson said that would create “a good transition” from the commercial section in the front of Midway Station to industrial section in the back. Soper said the change would make Midway Station’s land more marketable because buyers won’t have to worry about the rezoning process.
               The board also agreed to have lawyer Bill Moore take a closer look at the deeds for tracts that have been sold to identify any provisions for maintenance of the industrial park, such as a property owners' association. “Somebody’s got to have some kind of responsibility for maintaining the common area,” board member Gene Hornback said.
               A strip of high voltage electric lines that run through Midway Station was also a topic at the meeting. Original plans were to have two-story commercial buildings accompanied by parking under the lines, but Soper has been working on a redesign to maximize the property value. “What you end up with on both sides of those lines is not much buildable land,” he said. “We’ve got to deal with this in some form or fashion.”

Saturday, February 23, 2019

New page has press releases; first is from drug store

The Midway Messenger blog has a new page for press releases about things we consider newsworthy but don't necessarily rise to the level of a news story, such as interesting new product lines or special offerings at local businesses. It may become a business-briefs column, depending on demand. The first release is about the arrival of cannabidiol (CBD) products at the local drug store. To read it, click here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Toastmasters to welcome insurance professionals Mon.

The Midway Toastmasters Club will hold an open house for insurance professionals Monday, Feb. 25, from 6 to 7:15 p.m. in Room 120 of the Anne Hart Raymond Building at Midway University.

The Toastmasters say attendees will receive free publicity for their businesses and a $10 coupon towards Toastmasters membership. RSVP by emailing toastmastersteve@gmail.com or calling Cynthia at 502-600-1851.

City Council Cemetery Committee to meet 9 a.m. Sat.

The Cemetery and City Property Committee of the Midway City Council will meet at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 at City Hall to discuss re-erecting headstones in the two African American cemeteries. The meeting notice says no action will be taken. All committee and council meetings are open to the public.

S. Elkhorn Creek at Weisenberger Mill, 11:45 a.m. today

Let's hope that big piece of deadfall makes it over the dam before too long.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Request for increased police presence in Northridge may have come just a little too late for one resident

At Monday night's City Council meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift noted that the Versailles Police Department, which patrols all of Woodford County, had been asked to increase patrols in the Northridge Estates area of Midway due to reports of a suspicious vehicle that seemed to be prowling.

Later that night, someone broke into the car of Northridge resident Blake Jones, according to a post he made Tuesday morning on Residents of Northridge Estates, a closed Facebook group.

Magistrate Liles Taylor, a resident of the subdivision, posted on the site Tuesday afternoon that he and Vandegrift had spoken to the police about "the unfortunate increase in attempted burglaries and vandalism" in the area, seeking additional patrols. "They were extremely responsive and are processing that request. We should see an increased presence as early as tonight."

On Wednesday afternoon, Vandegrift posted on the site, "The police are actively working the case and are using all resources available, including going through camera footage available. If the perpetrators are reading this: You’re going to be caught."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

City plans to clean out and evaluate sewers east of Winter as first step toward major repairs or replacement

By Korrie Harris
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council plans to approve a sanitary sewer clean-out that will happen within the year, according to discussion at the council meeting on Monday night.

“It’s something that’s much needed and it’s something that I think will lead to what’s next,” an even larger project to repair and replace much of the sewer system, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said. “I think it’s a huge bang-for-your-buck kind of project here.”

The old sewer system has had problems for decades, but the city hasn’t had the money to fix it. After the city paid off its two sewage-treatment plants, that freed up $63,000 in the Sewer Fund plus an extra $88,000 in emergency funds.

Engineers' map of sewer lines in proposed project
The city will also use its General Fund, which has a surplus that grew to over half a million dollars in the fiscal year ended June 30.

That extra money allowed for the investment in infrastructure. The engineer on the sewer project told the council that it would cost about $180,000.

Chris Stewart, an engineer at HMB Professional Engineers Inc. in Frankfort, told the council that the project would “figure out what repairs need to be made, where they need to be made, when they need to be made and kind of prioritize the issues that we find.”

The project will involve a truck-mounted camera that will enter sewer mains through manholes, record video and show what the sewers are looking like and what repairs are necessary. This clean-out will involve a high-powered water nozzle spraying inside the lines to remove sludge, tree roots, and other obstructions.

Vandegrift added that the project would also focus on the oldest sewer lines in Midway that have the biggest issues, east of Winter Street, and the major “trunk line that goes all the way out to the sewage treatment plant.”

Stewart gave the council an updated budget. He estimated that $115,475 would go to evaluation and $62,500 would go to engineering costs. According to the estimate, the project is estimated to cost Midway $177,975. He suggested that the city budget around $180,000 to $200,000 for the project.

Vandegrift said he would put the project in the budget he will propose to the council for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“Should you all approve it, we’re kind of ready to roll as soon as possible when July 1 starts,” the mayor said. Stewart said he could start preparing the bid documents as soon as the council approves the budget, which must be done by June 30 but in some years has been done in May.

Stewart said it will take one to two months to “get a bid package together” once the budget is approved. He said it could take about 30 days to advertise for bids, another 30 days to award a contract, and two months to complete the project. Overall, the project could take six months until completion.

“What we want to do is make sure that you have a decent budget amount to go from and then we can adjust that as we need to,” Stewart said.

Among other business at the meeting, the council declared the old sewage-treatment plant to be surplus property, allowing Vandegrift to sell it. He said he wouldn’t do that without checking with the council.

Development issues: The council held first reading of the ordinance to annex the 137-acre Homer Freeney property behind Midway Station. City officials want to annex the property before it is rezoned, to give the council final say in the rezoning.

The proposed rezoning, from agricultural to industrial, was originally supposed to be considered by the county planning commission in November. Vandegrift said the land should be annexed to “ensure that future development will have a very significant impact on city revenue and thus on out opportunities to improve infrastructure all over the city.”

A second reading of the ordinance and vote is expected to take place on March 4.

The council also approved Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chairman John Soper’s independent contractor agreement with the city, the county and the City of Versailles.

Soper works to help develop Midway Station, owned by the EDA.

“The game has changed at Midway Station,” Vandegrift said. “This has probably never been more important.”

Recently, Lexington real-estate developer Dennis Anderson terminated his option to buy the unsold portion of Midway Station, putting the debt on the shoulders of Midway and Woodford County. Anderson’s option agreement was set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year.

The city and county will each pay half the interest on the debt of Midway Station, an estimated $3,000 a month each.

There was one change from last year’s contract, and that referred to workforce development issues. Vandegrift said Soper was “already working on those.”

“He’s done a very good job getting us to this point and I believe he’s absolutely the right person to carry this project forward,” said Vandegrift.

In other business, the council approved two event permits.

Adam Reid, representing Midway Baptist Church, received approval to host a 5K run in Northridge Estates to raise money for a mission trip to Peru for church members. Reid said he would like to use the grass lot by Northside Elementary as a staging area. Council Member Logan Nance recommended that Reid reach out to the subdivision’s homeowners association about the use of that area. In voting, Nance abstained, and the event was approved 5-0.

The council also approved the American Diabetes Association race set for June 1.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Graviss explains vote for 'more moderate' bill utilities want to reduce customers' credits for solar generation

By Joe Graviss
State representative, Woodford County and parts of Franklin and Fayette counties
There’s a saying in sports that championships are won in the off-season.  In the General Assembly, however, new laws are won in committee, since that’s where most of the substantive work to pass them takes place.
            The Kentucky House has 16 committees that consider legislation, and while they may have many bills referred to them, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of these proposals will be heard, much less approved.
The committees generally meet once per week during this time of year, and most bills are voted on with little fanfare.  A handful, however, generate a considerable amount of interest among supporters and opponents alike.
We saw a great example of that in action on Thursday, when one of our House committees voted on a bill that would have a significant impact on the solar industry, especially those looking to buy these panels for their homes.
Currently, these customers – there are about 1,000 in Kentucky – are given credit for whatever excess electricity they generate, and these credits allow them to lower their electric bills when solar energy is not enough.
The bill’s supporters say these credits are too high and don’t take into account the cost to build and maintain the infrastructure the electric companies use to serve their customers.  Opponents, meanwhile, say lowering the value of the credits would make the systems much less attractive financially to potential customers.  Fewer panels would mean fewer solar jobs, from production to installation.
            This bill has failed to clear the legislature over the last couple of years, but a more moderate version was approved by the House on Friday, and I voted for it after talking with advocates for solar energy.
It will now be up to House and Senate leaders to see if a compromise can be reached.  The goal is to make sure it does not hurt a growing industry that also eases stress on our electrical grid.
            Another bill to come out of committee on Thursday is actually on track to be the first sent to the governor for his signature.
It would require electronic filing of all campaign finance reports, which would greatly speed up the process to get this information online and before voters.  Most of these reports are now filed on paper, which takes time for election officials to enter manually.  If this bill becomes law, it will take effect during the 2020 primary.
On Friday, the House voted for legislation that would “trigger” action if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade and returns decisions on abortion to the states.  Should that occur, these services would no longer be performed in the commonwealth.  In the final vote, legislators from 116 of Kentucky’s 120 counties supported this bill. [Editor's note: Graviss voted for the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 69 to 20.]
            Although debate from opposing sides is built into the legislative process, there are other moments where there is broad consensus.  We saw an ideal example of that on Tuesday, when House and Senate members from both parties came together to announce the formation of the Engage & Empower Caucus.
            This caucus is designed to serve as a focal point for legislation that would help the estimated 874,000 Kentuckians with a disability.  It will search for ways to increase their independence and better help them achieve their full potential, and I’m proud to support its work.
            Some of the bills the Engage & Empower Caucus will promote this year would do such things as broaden the Golden Alert system so it could be used to help find missing citizens who have a more broadly defined impairment or who may be an at-risk veteran.  Other bills will help those with disabilities retrofit their homes and extend better health insurance coverage for amputees in need of a prosthetic.
            One of the best aspects of legislative sessions is the sheer number of people who visit the Capitol.  There have already been thousands who have come to support or oppose a bill or just to make legislators more aware of causes important to them.
            On Wednesday, for example, we had the 15th annual Children’s Advocacy Day, which focuses on improving the overall well-being of our youngest generation.  Some of the proposals highlighted include limiting the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among adolescents and young adults; providing more mental-health professionals in our schools who can recognize and treat behavioral issues early on; and doing more to help young adults transitioning out of foster care.
Last Thursday, there was a rally in the Capitol rotunda in support of affordable housing.  Kentucky has a much higher percentage of people who struggle to find a place to live within their budget, but such organizations as Habitat for Humanity and the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky are making a profound difference when it comes to improving those numbers.
            This week, the 30-day legislative session reaches the halfway point, so the pace to approve bills is set to quicken.  We will wrap up much of our work by mid-March and complete the session by the end of that month.
            I encourage you to keep letting me know your views and concerns.  You can email me at Joe.Graviss@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181.  If you have a hearing impairment, please call 1-800-896-0305. The legislature’s website also has a lot of information and can be found online at www.lrc.ky.gov.   
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Cold weather puts chill on Chocolate Stroll, but raffle for prize basket drew more entries than last year

Strollers had to bundle up. This was the kettle corn booth.
(Photos by Korrie Harris, UK School of Journalism)
By Akhira Umar
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Cold temperatures seemed to play a big role in this year’s Midway Chocolate Stroll. With a high temperature of no more than 35 degrees, fewer people than last year – when it rained but the temperature was about 20 degrees higher – were willing to brave the weather for a little chocolate and shopping.

Those who did make it for the annual event, though, were not disappointed. Main Street had both local and visiting faces strolling around for the day. Families, the young and old, and even dogs, made their way to the Stroll.

One of these families was that of Liles Taylor, the new magistrate for the Midway district on Woodford County Fiscal Court. He brought along his wife, Robin Taylor, and their kids. This was not the family’s first time at the stroll; they’ve made it a point to keep coming back for it.

“We want to support our community and the merchants, Midway downtown merchants,” Liles Taylor said. “And even though it’s a little cold, we’re excited to be out as a family.”

Robin Taylor said she loves the event because it gave her an “excuse to shop” and to get chocolate. She went on to explain how their children enjoy the ticket process.

Raffle tickets were deposited at Sweet Tooth.
The Chocolate Stroll provides a chance to enter a raffle for a prize basket of gifts from all of Midway’s shops and restaurants. Everyone vying for the prize, or those who simply enjoy the prize process, spent the stroll visiting businesses and getting their tickets marked up. All completed tickets with names and phone numbers on the back were taken to the Sweet Tooth candy store for the drawing.

“I think it’s really fun because you get to explore the stores and get chocolate as well,” Arissa Keith, a 15-year-old local said.

Though not all shops cater to chocolate – or food at all, for that matter – the Stroll still worked to their benefit. Thanks to the raffle process, many downtown businesses are visited by customers they otherwise wouldn’t see.

This was Emma Frazier’s first Chocolate Stroll. Even though she didn’t get to participate like others, since she was working as a newly-hired sales associate at Freedman Harness Saddlery Inc., she still saw see the effects of the event.

“I think it’s gone over very well. It’s brought a lot of new people into stores that they normally wouldn’t go into,” Frazier said. “Since our store is primarily horse-related horse stuff, it brings a lot of non-horse people in here which lets them kinda discover new things about Midway.”

As predicted by Cortney Neikirk, president of the Midway Business Association and co-owner of 2 Ladies and a Kettle and Midway Sweet Tooth, the Chocolate Stroll was still a success, despite the smaller crowd. After talking to many of the businesses as the event wound down, she said “Everybody’s happy with today’s turnout.”

UPDATE, Monday, Feb. 11: After counting the completed tickets submitted for the raffle, the total came out to 516, more than last year’s 485, Neikirk said. Despite the cold and the appearance of fewer people, the Stroll was well attended.

“After talking to all the stores,” Neikirk said, “most said this was the most successful Chocolate Stroll they had had.”

Saturday, February 9, 2019

At town hall, Vandegrift and other executives see a spirit of cooperation among Woodford's three governments

By Tyler Parker and Chadwick George
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

“It’s a new day in Woodford County!” Mayor Grayson Vandegrift proclaimed as he concluded his opening statement at the countywide town hall, “We Are Woodford,” in Versailles Thursday night.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift gives opening remarks at the town hall.
(Image from KCTCS video on Facebook)
The executives of the three governments in the county began the town hall by talking about their goals and ideas. Vandegrift noted that he, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and newly elected County Judge-Executive James Kay are all under 40 (respectively, 36, 39 and 36), and “I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.”

Vandegrift, Traugott and Kay all said the meeting and the turnout of more than 100 people showed there is a spirit of cooperation. “What a wonderful sight,” Kay said to open their presentations. Vandegrift said there is “a renaissance in the county.”

Traugott said, “You can feel it in the air between Versailles, Midway and Woodford County and the Fiscal Court. It's inspiring, and it’s a fun environment in which to govern, so I'm looking forward to the next four years.”

The only hint of competition came from Vandegrift mentioning the attendance of all six Midway City Council members, while the Versailles council and county Fiscal Court had one and two absentees, respectively. “I don’t want to brag, but Midway wins again!” he pronounced, and laughter erupted from the audience.

Vandegrift had tried to arrange a joint meeting of the three government boards when the late John Coyle was judge-executive, but said the Fiscal Court resisted the idea. He said Thursday night that the town hall “really is, I think, a great start in the next step forward about how we work together as communities and as an entire county.”

Midway and the county are partners on the Midway Station industrial park. Vandegrift said they and the county Economic Development Authority have been “very fortunate . . . to really turn around Midway Station and take it from what was once called a boondoggle into a boon to our economy.” And to the city; the mayor noted that occupational-tax collections have more than doubled since 2014, and “It’s changed everything for us.”

Farmland preservation a key topic

As the question-and-answer portion of the meeting began, it was clear that the main topic on audience members’ minds was maintaining the county’s agricultural industry.

Hampton “Hoppy” Henton, long a leader in that effort, was the first to speak. He said the county should, like Fayette County have a purchase-of-development-rights (PDR) program, in which people are paid for placing a permanent prohibition on development of their property.

Next was Deb Pekny Heckney, who said she hoped that the officials’ vision for the county "is to let it always be the unique place that it is. . . . We left Florida because development came in . . . and destroyed an incredibly beautiful part of the world."

Margaret Reece Newsome of Versailles said she has worked for some of the best people in the horse industry, and said, “People come here for horses – not for shopping.”

The most passionate comment of the evening came from Jess Bowling, who said he has lived in the county since 1966, and “I am gettin’ tired of seeing it covered with concrete. . . . Stop it or there won’t be no farming!”

Stuart Weatherford of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which hosted the meeting at its headquarters, said the county’s horse and bourbon industries are “burgeoning,” but so is “the retirement industry,” and asked if there is a program to attract retirees who want to live on 10 acres or more with their horses.

“They're pure gold,” Weatherford said of such retirees. “They don't have kids, they pay all their taxes, they don't tax the system.” He said they can’t afford to retire in the Northeast and Northwest and “are looking for places to go.”

Vandegrift said there is no such program, “but it's a great point you make.” He said taxes in the county “tend to be high,” and Midway’s property taxes were cut recently “partly to help keep and attract people on fixed incomes.”

Dan Rosenberg said he has been a resident of the county since 1978, and asked about the process of appointments for its committees and boards. Kay said he wants to update and modernize the process by putting it on www.woodfordcounty.ky.gov.

Kay welcomed anyone with questions to visit him at his office on the second floor of the courthouse. “My door is always open!” he announced. He also encouraged everyone who wants an appointment to have an email and to be responsive.

Kay noted that he had created a drug task force to fight the opioid crisis, and will start live videostreaming of Fiscal Court meetings.

Longtime community activist Lillie Cox of Versailles told the executives and the crowd, “I probably know every person in this room. . . . We want to see people working together more. We want to see councils, tourism, the courts, all working together.”

State Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, who acted as master of ceremonies, said the next town hall meeting will be a “county-fair set-up” where “any entity in the county” can have a display.

Legislative update from state Rep. Joe Graviss

By state Representative Joe Graviss, D-Versailles

The 2019 regular session may have begun early last month, but it wasn’t until early last week that, like a train leaving the station, the legislative process began picking up steam.

That delay is by design. Under the constitutional rules governing odd-year meetings of the General Assembly, legislators only meet for four days in January and focus most of that time on such organizational matters as formally electing House and Senate leaders and establishing committees for the next two years.

The remaining 26 working days don’t begin until February, and are over by the end of March. These two months are when we decide which bills are destined to become law.

While relatively few votes were taken last week, this time was nonetheless important, since many of my colleagues and I began solidifying our priorities through the bills we filed. Our overall goals are to use these two dozen or so days to improve school safety; expand access to voting; broaden educational opportunities; and improve economic policies that benefit us all, not a select few. I will cover those more fully in the next week or two.

Governors also use these opening days to promote their own agenda. Their State of the Commonwealth speech has long been a tradition, and it’s special, too, because this is the only time each year that leaders of all three branches of government are in the same room.

Gov. Bevin presented this year’s address on Thursday, and he focused most of his remarks on bigger issues rather than specific bills. Some that he listed have near-unanimous support, such as the need to do even more to tackle the opioid epidemic, improve school safety, reduce bullying and increase the number of foster children who are adopted by loving families.

He also highlighted the positive upgrades that have been made at our state parks and with bridges that have long been in need of repair.

Outside of the legislative process, there were some other important events taking place at the Capitol last week.

In especially good news, we learned on Friday that Rep. Jim Glenn of Owensboro would be able to serve his complete term following his opponent’s decision to drop an election contest. As you may recall, Rep. Glenn won his seat by a single vote last November and was certified both locally and statewide by election officials.

The election contest was formally brought before the House last month in large part because of more than a dozen absentee ballots that were rejected in November because they did not meet statewide standards. A recount a little more than a week ago showed Rep. Glenn did indeed win the race, but after some of the ballots that had been rejected were accepted, the outcome was a tie.

Friday’s decision fortunately ends this issue, but there is broad agreement that changes need to be made so that future close legislative elections can be resolved in a fairer and quicker way without dominating the General Assembly’s time.

In other actions last week, the House began commemorating Black History Month, recognizing the contributions of such leaders as Dr. Grace James, who was the first African-American faculty member at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine.

Following a request from one of my House colleagues, meanwhile, the Attorney General issued an opinion stating that the recent emergency regulation limiting public access within the Capitol complex violates state law.

While safety is certainly important, the long-standing security measures in place were appropriate. I believe this regulation is more about keeping the public from being fully heard in the People’s House while we debate controversial bills; it certainly does not meet the definition of emergency.

Economically, we heard some good news last Wednesday regarding our bourbon and farming communities.

That morning, my House Agriculture Committee learned that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has approved requests by farmers to grow as many as 42,000 acres of industrial hemp in 2019. That’s up from 16,000 acres last year and just 33 acres in 2014, the first year the crop could be grown in Kentucky. I’m proud to say our Ag Department reported that in 2019 Woodford County has 12 growers, growing 154 acres with 58,700 square feet of greenhouse space. Franklin County has 11 growers growing 57 acres with 26,210 square feet of greenhouse space. And Fayette County has 22 growers growing 902 acres and 133,650 square feet of greenhouse space. In talking with hemp farmers, processors and retailers in my agriculture committee meetings, hemp is a booming business right now.

Later that afternoon, the Kentucky Distillers Association reported that the number of distilleries in the state and the value of their spirits have tripled over the past decade. The payroll for those working in the industry now tops $1 billion, and there were 1.4 million people who visited the Bourbon Trail in 2018, which is nearly four times as many as in 2009!

This week, we should begin seeing more bills clearing the House and Senate, and it’s possible some may be ready to be signed into law.

I will keep you updated on these and many other issues facing the General Assembly, and I encourage you to keep letting me know your thoughts as well. Your calls, emails, letters and in-person visits are critical in guiding me how to vote. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by so far.

You can email me at joe.graviss@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, please call 1-800-896-0305. The legislature’s website also has a lot of information and can be found online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Thanks for all you all do and holler anytime.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Tomorrow's annual Chocolate Stroll will start a series of Midway Business Association events for this year

By Akhira Umar
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

With events like tomorrow’s Chocolate Stroll and next month’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, plus other events later in the year, the Midway Business Association had plenty to discuss and plan Wednesday morning.

The Chocolate Stroll is Midway’s way of paying homage to Valentine’s Day. This year the event will be held Saturday, Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Every shop and restaurant on Main and Gratz streets will be participating, MBA Secretary Steve Morgan said. So will Equus Run Vineyards, from noon to 4 p.m.

The event will have a drawing for a prize: donated items from all the Midway’s shops and restaurants, and Equus Run. Anyone interested in entering the raffle can grab a free Chocolate Stroll ticket from any participating business. Partakers will visit 10 businesses and receive stamps for their tickets at each stop. Every business will have a chocolatey treat for visitors. Once tickets are completed, they should be dropped off at the Midway Sweet Tooth candy store for the drawing. More information can be found on the online site where the business association advertises the event.

Though Saturday’s high is forecast to be 36 degrees, the association is still expecting a crowd for the Chocolate Stroll. The sky is forecast to be clear, and last year 500 people came even though it was raining, said Cortney Neikirk, president of the association and co-owner of Midway Sweet Tooth.

The association spent around $200 less than last year advertising for this year's Chocolate Stroll, in order to spend more on St. Patrick’s Day. At Wednesday's meeting, members voted to spend $750, hoping to make it a day of events for all of Woodford County. The festivities are set to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 16, and continue until 6 p.m.

Midway Business Association members looked over the first
issue of The Woodford Charm, a new local magazine, as
Editor-in-Chief Cory Cooley talked about it Wednesday.
The theme of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations is “Go Green.” Non-profit groups such as Midway Renaissance, the Midway Community Garden and Friends of Walter Bradley Park will be incorporating the theme with booths including electric cars, recycling, solar energy and more. The parade, set for 4 p.m., will include “Go Green” floats, Irish bagpipers and drummers, the Woodford County High School Marching Band, Midway University horses and riders, an Irish Court of Honor and several other participants. For more information, go here.

Another event anticipated this year is Dock Dogs, an internationally known aquatic dog competition. After getting approval from the City Council and the Parks Board, the business association approved a motion to pursue the event. Though it has not finalized a date or financing for the event, it will continue working on logistics. If the event does come to fruition, Goose and Gander Manager Justin Werner of said it will likely take place during the summer, sometime from June to August. 

“There’s a lot of people that are interested in it and think it’s a good idea whether they’re here in Midway or not,” said Werner.

Then will come the annual Midway Fall Festival. It will have numerous art and food vendors, along with plenty of entertainment including live music and kids’ activities. The festival will take place Sept. 21-22. More information about the festival can be found here. The annual Iron Horse Half Marathon will also be that Sunday. Information about the race can be found on the event’s website.

The business association also approved a motion for Facebook advertising to encourage more customer traffic in Midway. Members agreed to spend $20 a weekend targeting people interested in Kentucky Horse Park events happening at that time. Elisha Holt, the association’s contracted coordinator, said she has been using this method for FatKats Pizzeria for a year and a half, and it has been successful.

Morgan, general manager at Kentucky Honey Farms, explained the shift in ad strategy: “I think it’s a huge thing that when somebody comes into your store or when I bump into people on the sidewalk I just say, ‘What brought you to Midway?’ and when we’re doing the events, it’s always completely amazing to me, but it’s always Facebook. It’s never anything else.”

With all these events, the availability of public restrooms is a major concern for the association. Besides downtown restaurants and some shops, City Hall is the only place with public restrooms, and it is only open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This has been a long-standing issue between the business association and the City Council.

“I think if you all press the case, the city would take some action. You know, I just don’t think the case has been pressed hard enough,” Al Cross, publisher and editor of the Midway Messenger, told other members at the meeting. “If there’s ever a time to get this done, it’s now. You got three new council members, you got a mayor who’s got a four-year term ahead of him. You know, get it done.”

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an interview after the meeting that there hasn’t been enough need for a fully operational public restroom to justify spending taxpayer money. He said he gave the business association the task of collecting $20,000 to $30,000 in private funding to build public restrooms, but no one has met the task.

“Until we can justify the expense of public restrooms downtown, it can’t happen,” Vandegrift said. “So right now, we either need to see more tax revenue come from downtown or we need to see more private investments. One or the other. And I’ve yet to see either of those things happen.”

Midway Station developer cancels his option, leaving city and county again responsible for debt payments

Dennis Anderson  (2014 photo)
Lexington real-estate developer Dennis Anderson has terminated his option to buy the unsold portion of Midway Station, putting the industrial park and its debt back in the hands of the city and Woodford County.

In a Feb. 7 termination letter to the county Economic Development Authority, which owns the property, Anderson said he and EDA have "two conflicting visions for its future," industrial and mixed-use development.

The city and county developed Midway Station as an industrial park in the early 1990s, but it was largely a failure, leaving the two governments saddled with debt payments on the $6 million borrowed to buy and develop the land. In 2008, Anderson proposed making most if it residential and commercial, and they optioned it to him in return for payment of the interest on the debt.

The Great Recession precluded development, and as the economy improved, industrial buyers emerged: first American Howa Kentucky, a Toyota supplier, then Lakeshore Learning Materials, which build a huge distribution center. Local officials soured on the idea of residential development on the property, and Anderson grudgingly went along last summer. He sold two more industrial tracts recently, but apparently never warmed up to being an industrial developer.

"I think he always saw this as a mixed-use development," Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said Friday. "He's big on residential; that’s where he makes his money." He said it boiled down to conflicting interests of a "a private developer and a public entity," so ending the relationship "is in everybody's best interests."

Vandegrift said he had expected Anderson to terminate the option. That, the mayor said, was one reason he told the City Council this week that it might have to resume making monthly interest payments of almost $3,000 each, and that whatever Anderson decided about his option, which was set to expire Dec. 31, 2019, Midway Station was likely "entering a new phase."

Anderson said in his letter that his company, Anderson Communities, had "taken a substantial loss on Midway Station" and paid about $1.4 million in interest on its debt. "This is money that otherwise would have had to be paid by the taxpayers of Midway and Woodford County." Anderson, who was a pharmacist in Midway before becoming a developer, said he had "fully cooperated" with the industrial development and "I do not want to stand in the way of the EDA's vision."

Vandegrift, asked via email how much he thought Anderson had lost on the deal, said "I think he's been made whole." Counting estimated legal, engineering and other expenses, "I think he has about $2 million in, but I would argue he made that back. He made $800,000 on Lakeshore, $700,000 on the convenience store (the one that hasn’t been built yet), $100,000 on the stair company, and close to that on a few other small lots he sold."

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Churches voice concern about half marathon during festival; mayor says Midway Station entering new phase

By Akhira Umar, Korrie Harris, Abbey Huffman and Chadwick George
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway’s churches are concerned about problems with moving the Iron Horse Half Marathon to the Sunday morning of the Midway Fall Festival. After hearing complaints at the City Council meeting Monday night, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he would set up a meeting between the ministers, the race organizers and the festival.

Also at the meeting, Vandegrift said that with 40 new jobs coming to Midway Station, the city’s new strategy for the industrial park is working, but it may have to resume paying off its debt if the property developer doesn't exercise his option to buy the property, which expires at year's end.

Half marathon: The Rev. Heather McColl of Midway Christian Church, representing the Midway Ministerial Association, presented the council with concerns about traffic, parking and safety during the half marathon, which is scheduled for 7 to 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 22.

McColl said there was lack of communication between race operator John’s Run/Walk Shop, of Lexington, and Midway churches, which will provide volunteers for the race and the festival. She said the church members will likely be exhausted through that busy weekend, and have already decided they can't do breakfast for the runners, as they have in the past.

“A lot of people feel that this is going to overwhelm our town,” McColl told the council.

“We just need more conversation about logistics,” she said. “If we’re asking for anything, we’re asking for better communication and that the churches become partners in this wider conversation and part of wider community conversations.”

X marks the planned finish line of the Iron Horse Half Marathon.
McColl said that if anything is changed, it should be the finish line, "right at the end of Gratz and Bruen [streets], and my church is going to be deeply affected by this." She said other churches also have concerns, and asked why the race was moved.

Vandegrift said the finish line could be moved. “I do wish Iron Horse had spoken to you all before they came to us with an event permit,” he said. “And I wish we had thought to ask that question, but we didn’t, so it’s neither here nor there now.” The council approved the permit in December.

The mayor said he thinks then new date was “an attempt to save the race” because “The Iron Horse numbers are dwindling,” to under 700 last year after some years with more than 1,000 registrants. (Some registrants don't show.)

In the end, Vandegrift issued a warning to the race organizers: “They have a very high bar to meet and they know it. If they screw this up, it ain’t gonna happen next year.”

After the meeting, McCall said she felt that her concerns were handled in the best they could have been by the mayor and council.

Midway Station started as an industrial park 30 years ago, but attracted few employers. In 2008, Dennis Anderson, of Anderson Communities in Lexington, optioned the area for redesign as a commercial and residential development, but after recovery from the Great Recession, the site attracted American Howa, an auto-parts company, and Lakeshore Learning Materials, which built a distribution center.

Shortly after, the city and the Woodford County Economic Development Authority decided against residential construction on the property and Anderson agreed.

There have been two recent real-estate closings on the property. Both are along McKinney Avenue, near the existing employers. Vandegrift said one is a plumbing-supply company that will employ about 10 people and the second company, which wished to remain anonymous for now, will employ about 30.

“It’s 40 new jobs and it’s a great move forward,” Vandegrift said, adding that the closings show the success of the new recruitment strategy for Midway Station, looking for smaller, "owner-occupied" businesses.

The mayor addressed concern about Anderson’s option agreement expiring at the end of the year. Anderson will have to decide if he wants to purchase all the land or step away from the deal, “which he could do at any time,” Vandegrift said. “We don’t know what Dennis’s plans are. I’m not sure he knows.”

If Anderson opts out, the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which owns the property, would take over its development. Though this would give the city more control over businesses coming into Midway Station, but it would place interest payments on the shoulder of the city and county instead of Anderson.

The city and county would each pay half the interest, an estimated $3,000 a month each. Vandegrift said he would put that in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He said other options could present themselves, but the city would need to work with the EDA to figure this out.

“The clock’s running now,” Vandegrift said. “Probably, likely, one way or another we’re entering a new phase of Midway Station.”

EDA Chair John Soper did not fret about the possibility of Anderson walking away. “You can look at it as a problem or you can look at it as an opportunity,” he told the council. “If we get it back, then we’re gonna make the most of it.”

He said Midway is an opportune destination for many Central Kentucky “contractor-product type” businesses near an interstate highway. Unlike more urban areas like Lexington, Midway has little traffic to impede businesses and plenty of space for these businesses to grow.

Other business: The council also accepted the 2017-18 fiscal year audit that was presented at the last meeting.

Council Member Sara Hicks, chair of the Cemetery Committee, said the panel has “more questions than answers” after meeting Saturday morning about the state of the Saint Rose Tabernacle Cemetery and Sons of Daughters of Relief Cemetery, resting places for African Americans.

Former council member Johnny Wilson donated $1,000 at the last meeting toward repair of headstones in the cemeteries, saying that 71 of the 303 stones need resetting, repair or replacement. Vandegrift said the process would take time.

Vandegrift said he plans to create a task force for affordable housing, with Council Member Stacy Thurman as chair.

Friday, February 1, 2019

State Rep. Graviss says pensions are 'on the right track' and changes will require input from those to be affected

By Joe Graviss
State representative for Woodford County and parts of Franklin and Fayette counties

We’ll use this week’s update to take a deeper dive into a specific issue again, and then once the session starts next week, get back to updates.

For well over a decade now, no issue has dominated the General Assembly’s time quite like our public retirement systems – and that trend isn’t expected to change as this year’s legislative session re-starts Tuesday, Feb. 5, following a short break.

Because this matter is as complicated as it is important, now is a good time for a quick refresher course while we wait to see what, if anything, the House and Senate will do during the next two months on this important part of our workforce’s benefit package to attract and retain great workers for the Commonwealth that we need.

When you hear discussion about public pensions, it’s mainly focused on the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS) and Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS). KTRS, which was created in 1938, covers educators from local school districts, regional universities and school-oriented organizations. KRS, meanwhile, began in the 1950s and is comprised of five separate systems that cover state and local government employees, non-certified school staff (such as janitors and bus drivers) and those who work at quasi-government agencies like public health departments.

Altogether, these two systems have nearly 560,000 members, and most are still working in public service or are retired.

In the early 2000s, when the stock market was booming, both retirement systems had enough money, or more than enough in some cases, to pay every future pension benefit they owed at the time.

Just like our own finances, however, unforeseen events can change projections, and that’s exactly what we saw happen in the aftermath of a recession in the mid-2000s and the Great Recession that began in 2008. Investment returns and government budgets alike went into steep decline. The attached slide from a recent pension task force meeting I attended gives more analysis of the erosion.

The General Assembly began addressing this problem in 2003 and implemented more significant retirement reforms in 2008, 2010 and especially 2013. Beginning in 2014, legislators also began setting aside much more money to begin restoring these systems’ financial health.

Taken together, this twin approach of bipartisan reforms and more funding is giving us the roadmap to bring down the long-term liabilities.

That number is sizable at $43 billion, but it alone does not tell the full story. For one, it’s what is owed over the next several decades; and, two, the systems currently have almost $39 billion in investments that have seen solid growth in recent years.

The system's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report actuarial chart on the current system's projected benefits shows the system righting itself in approximately 2042 with required actuarial payments to the system. Think of a snake that has eaten a mouse and time lapse photography shows the mouse bulge flowing through the snake’s body until it’s gone. In our case, that is approximately 2042 per the CAFR, and has a lot to do with mortality rates.

Investment earnings are responsible for about half of every pension/health insurance benefit received by public retirees, nearly all of whom still live in the commonwealth. They get about $4 billion annually, which is an economic value in itself. For comparison, Kentucky farmers received a little less than $6 billion last year for all of the crops and livestock they sold.

Some have asked me why we don’t offer a traditional 401(k) to new public employees. The short answer is because it would cost governments billions of tax dollars extra since they would have to make up the employer/employee contributions no longer available to pay down the liabilities. Instead, those contributions would be locked up in individual retirement accounts.

Kentucky is also not alone offering defined-benefit retirement plans; most state and local governments across the country have them as well.

The 2013 reforms did implement a hybrid system similar to 401(k)s in some key ways, and this new plan applies to KRS members, legislators, and judges who joined the system after that year. Employees and employers still pay their contributions as before, but the employees are no longer guaranteed a defined pension benefit. Instead, their retirement is based on those employer/employee contributions and KRS’ overall investment growth, which can then be annuitized at retirement.

Those 2013 reforms did not affect teachers, but that was by design, since they are not eligible for Social Security due to a decision made back in the 1950s. There is uncertainty whether new teachers would even be allowed to enroll in the federal program, and if they could, it would be especially difficult for cash-strapped school districts since they would have to pay six percent more for each new teacher as the local employers.

Given that KTRS already has more than half of the funding it needs for the next several decades, I don’t believe moving in that direction makes financial sense, and while the future is tough to predict, the system appears well-positioned for it. Another consideration is that reducing retirement benefits for new teachers would also make it harder to attract younger people to the field.

There have been secret and rushed attempts over the last year to push through new retirement reforms, but those have ultimately gotten nowhere. Legislative leaders are at least showing greater willingness to listen this year, since they formed a bipartisan public pensions working group a month ago that has already met for a half-dozen times and I’m attending every one of them. Its goal is to see if any consensus can be reached, either this year or in time for next year’s legislative session.

As I mentioned, I believe we are already on the right track, but if anything should pass in the weeks and months ahead, it must have input from those affected; it must not cost taxpayers more than current projections; it must not undermine already-promised benefits; and it must not make it more difficult to retain and hire the public-service employees we need and deserve.

I hope this brief review has helped to shed light on why this issue has often been at the top of the General Assembly’s agenda for so long. I will of course keep you updated on what may happen next.

At the same time, I need to hear from you as well. You can write to me at joe.graviss@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, please call 1-800-896-0305. The legislature’s website also has a lot of information online and can be found at www.lrc.ky.gov. Thanks for all you do and never hesitate to call anytime.