Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mayor looks back at a year of improvements in Midway, suggests others to be made with booming tax revenue

By Garrett Burton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Monday’s City Council meeting was almost entirely dedicated to Mayor Grayson Vandegrift’s annual report, looking back at what had been accomplished in Midway the past year. 

This was “the year we truly put our money where our mouth is in making large investments in our infrastructure . . . but we can’t rest on our laurels,” Vandegrift told the council, suggesting ways the council can use its booming payroll-tax revenue to make more improvements.

“Tax revenue created from new jobs is growing, and that it’s steadily improving our city’s fortune and future as it grows,” the mayor said, announcing that “We are 29 percent ahead of our occupational-tax revenue for the fiscal year, putting us on track to generate $838,000 this cycle.”  The city budgeted $650,000 in occupational-tax income for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The tax revenue from wages and profits has boomed mainly because of the Lakeshore Learning Materials distribution center, and further job growth will be led by expansion of the center, with 100 new jobs, announced in September. Vandegrift said this puts Lakeshore’s total investment the Midway at around $75 million.

In the only major action at the meeting, the council passed an ordinance authorizing $35 million in industrial revenue bonds for the expansion. The bonds will be paid off solely by Lakeshore’s lease payments to the city, which owns the property. That makes it tax-exempt, but Lakeshore will pay the county schools an amount equal to what it would pay in taxes.

“They will eventually employ at least 362 full time workers in Midway, far and away the largest job provider the city has ever had, and one of the largest in the county,” Vandegrift noted.

The mayor said “2019 saw us create over 225 more jobs in Midway,” and with other jobs expected from businesses that have bought lots in Midway Station, ”It won’t be long until our annual occupational tax revenue is exceeding 1 million dollars. For reference, back in 2015, we were bringing in $300,000.  That is the effect of bringing in 500 new jobs in five years.”

The city used the new revenue to make improvements, including a sidewalk-repair cost-sharing program.  “Of every project we’ve implemented in the last five years,” Vandegrift said, “none generated the number of compliments we received from citizens than this one.”

He said the city “should look seriously” at building new sidewalks “where they are needed and where they are possible,” such as East Stephens Street near the Homeplace at Midway, Leestown Road (US 421) and “the US 62 bypass,” officially Midway Road. He noted that sidewalks on the latter two would “require state input and/or participation.”

When East Stephens Street was repaved, it also got new lines in the center and on its edges.
Other infrastructure improvements this year have included the wastewater treatment plant and improvement this fall of East Stephens Street, including “edge lines which early eyewitness reports indicate are slowing traffic,” Vandegrift said. “It is time we create a five year road plan for a priority list of which roadways should be resurfaced soon,” he said, such as Higgins, Bruen and Gratz streets.

"Money is budgeted this fiscal year for a sewer repair project “that will mark a turning point for us in our efforts to combat aging infrastructure,” the mayor noted.

He said a “decades-long grievance about Midway,” its high water rates, could be ended by switching to a new water wholesaler in 2015, when the city’s contract with Kentucky American Water Co. is up. “Frankfort Plant Board is an obvious and strong candidate for our business because they can sell us equally clean water at a rate 40% cheaper,” he said, but “as other players come to the table, we should hear them out as well.” He said “wholesalers within our own county” are interested.

After the meeting, he said the interest is from the City of Versailles, which already supplies water to the Northeast Woodford Water District, but it’s unclear whether the water would come directly from Versailles or through the district’s lines.

The mayor ended his annual report by thanking city employees, whom he called “the unsung heroes of Midway.” Earlier, he thanked the council members, the Midway Business Association, Midway Renaissance and the city Parks Board for their work.

“I look forward to continuing to work together with you to maintain Midway’s status as a city that defies all expectations,” he said.

Earlier, noting that Versailles and Georgetown have followed Midway’s lead in banning discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, he said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that because a city is small that it somehow matters less.”

All council members applauded at the conclusion of the report, which can be read in full here.

Other business: Vandegrift said the long-debated ordinance to crack down on blighted property, which he has been trying to get passed since his election in 2015, should be ready for first reading at the Dec. 16 meeting.  He said he plans to have the second reading and final vote Jan. 6, but a special meeting if there are further questions.

 “I firmly believe this is the only way to tackle the problem of blight and abandonment,” he said, “and the current version is a great example of cooperation and compromise.”

Council Member Logan Nance asked that the council discuss the policy of shutting off water users for nonpayment, policy he said in September should be abolished. Vandegrift said the issue is “next on the agenda.”

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