Saturday, November 28, 2020

Next round of Midway Bucks, split between food outlets and other businesses, will go out starting Monday

Voucher for use at locally owned food suppliers, front and back
By Taylor Beavers
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Another round of “Midway Bucks” will be mailed out beginning Monday, Nov. 30, in an effort to help businesses during the pandemic, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced. The Midway City Council made a unanimous decision to do another round of the vouchers earlier this month. They can be used from Dec. 1, 2020 through Jan. 31, 2021.

Each city water customer will get $60 worth of vouchers in $10 denominations in an envelope separate from their water bill, Vandegrift said in an email to the council. The envelope will also contain a letter from him explaining this round and a list of phone numbers of participating businesses.

Voucher for use at other local businesses, front and back
He said half the vouchers, colored red, can be used at local food suppliers. This does not include chain outlets. The other half, colored blue, can be used at other local, non-franchised shops and services. Participating businesses will be listed on the back.

The funding for this program comes from the city’s $750,000 surplus. Vandegrift proposed that $48,000 be put toward the vouchers, including printing and mailing. This will use less than half of a $98,813 certificate of deposit that ends Dec. 5. The rest will be used for future investment.

“I believe one more stimulus is going to be necessary to get our local shops, services, and restaurants through the pandemic so that their doors are still open on the other side of this,” Vandegrift said in an earlier email proposing the program.

The council sent out two rounds of vouchers in the spring, and most of them were spent at restaurants and the Midway Grocery.

Council Member Bruce Southworth suggested also giving businesses another round of grants, which the council did after the first round of Midway Bucks, using $75,000 from the city’s federal relief funds. Vandegrift said he liked the idea, but there would be complications distributing the grant equitably, since some businesses close in January, as well as another application process.

Vandegrift said vouchers are more likely to keep people employed, since businesses will have the promise of cash coming in the door. “I think people will be very eager to help the shops if we structure it that way,” he said.

The grants were issued in response to an open letter from 19 Midway businesses asking for grants rather than another round of vouchers. Some businesses weren’t benefitting as much from the voucher program as others and the owners were concerned that ”without significant assistance or the lifting of pandemic restrictions . . . by the end of 2020, there will be more closed stores in downtown Midway than would be open.”

There was also concern over the fact that the voucher program was not covered for reimbursement by federal relief money, and grants were.

In response to concerns that people may be unsure about going into a store during the pandemic, Council Member Sara Hicks suggested that they could donate the vouchers to businesses or giving them as Christmas gifts.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Santa Claus will visit Saturday, in spite of the pandemic

2013 photo by Jill Novak
Santa Claus is still coming town.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced Monday night that the Jolly Old Elf will arrive by RJ Corman Railroad train as scheduled at 11 a.m. Saturday, despite increased concerns about the novel coronavirus.

The visit is sponsored by the Midway Business Association. Vandegrift said he consulted with the group about its safety protocols, and consulted with Woodford County Public Health Director Cassie Prather before deciding to allow the visit on Small Business Saturday.

"Children will be able to wave to Santa and put a letter in his box, which he will take back to the North Pole, Vandegrift wrote. Addressed letters will get a return letter from Santa.

"Families from the same household will be socially distanced from other families using marked parallel parking spaces on the south side of Main Street, and masks will be required to see Santa, who will also have a mask," Vandegrift wrote. "We will have volunteers keeping the line moving and enforcing safety protocols. The line will move quickly so everyone can wave to Santa and place their letter before he embarks for the North Pole at noon."

Vandegrift cautions, "Everyone old enough to wear a mask must have one on, Santa likes those who look after each other."

Woodford County recently had its first death from covid-19, and reported eight more coronavirus cases Monday. Franklin County reported 14, Scott County reported 20 and Fayette County reported 105.

Woodford County's rate of new cases over the last seven days was 5 per 10,000 people; the respective rates in Franklin, Scott and Fayette were 3.9, 3.5 and 7.2. A rate of 2.5 and above puts a county in the state's "red zone," which has the greatest restriction on activities. All but three of the state's 120 counties are in the red zone.

With a few weeks left in office, Rep. Joe Graviss offers thanks and asks us for 'more patience and cooperation'

Rep. Joe Graviss
By state Rep. Joe Graviss

Hi everybody,

As Thanksgiving arrives this week, it’s understandable if we find ourselves struggling to be thankful.

Covid-19 has certainly made 2020 a year we’d all like to forget. It has taken and endangered so many lives, it has kept us apart from extended family and friends, it has wreaked havoc on our economy, schools and healthcare systems, and even the preventive measures we’ve taken have unfortunately divided us politically.

Despite those challenges, there are still blessings that sustain us. Looking ahead, early reports of viable vaccines indicate better days are on the horizon, while looking back, we can see how past generations weathered even tougher times and still went on to thrive.

The Thanksgiving story we all know is a good example. Although it may not have happened exactly as we were taught in elementary school, it is true that the Pilgrims suffered greatly on their voyage over and in the winter that followed four centuries ago. Their famous 1621 feast was a hopeful sign that the worst was behind them.

In 1918, meanwhile, America went through an even larger pandemic than the one now, and that was on top of fighting in a world war that, overall, claimed up to 22 million lives and injured 20 million more. That time also lacked the medical expertise we have today and the technology that makes it much easier to stay in touch with loved ones and to work. Nevertheless, they endured.

Another advantage we have over that era can be seen in farming, which has kept our food costs remarkably steady for years. A good example of that can be found in the annual survey American Farm Bureau does to see how much it takes to feed a family on Thanksgiving. Last year’s total was below $5 a person, and the cost for a family of 10 was just a penny higher than what it was in 2018.

Speaking of that meal, it’s possible that the turkey might not have become its centerpiece had Benjamin Franklin gotten his way. In a letter to his daughter, he thought it might be a better national symbol than the eagle, since it was native to North American and was “a bird of courage.”

As for the holiday itself, it’s worth noting that Kentucky has a couple of important ties to Thanksgiving, and both involved our most famous citizen, President Abraham Lincoln. He helped settle its date at the end of November – Congress locked it into place in the 1940s – and he also is believed to be the first president to “pardon” the turkey, doing so at the request of his son.

When we sit down to eat this week and reflect on the good things in our lives, we must not forget to offer thanks to those who are doing their part to keep us safe, healthy and able to live as normally as possible under the circumstance. That includes our first responders and medical providers, utility workers and those who staff our restaurants and businesses, which need our support now more than ever.

I also want to thank those who have donated their time and resources to help those in need in our community, because it is making a difference. Our food banks and shelters are more critical than usual, especially with winter just around the corner and covid spikes on the rise. If you know of someone who is isolated because of the pandemic, take a moment to check on them when you can as well. That could make a world of difference to them.

If I could ask for anything more, it would be for more patience and cooperation from us all. Those twin intangibles are the bridge that will help take us to the lives we had not too long ago. The goal is to get as many as possible to the day where all of this is a memory rather than reality.

With that in mind, Deb and I hope you have a wonderful, and a safe, Thanksgiving. Thanks for all you do.

Friday, November 20, 2020

City will send each water customer $60 in vouchers, half for food suppliers and half for other local businesses

The Midway City Council voted unanimously this afternoon to issue another round of "Midway Bucks" to residents in an effort to shore up local businesses during the pandemic.

Each water customer will get $60 worth of vouchers, in $10 denominations. Half of the vouchers will be good at local food suppliers (not chains) and half will be good at other local businesses.

The city will fund the program from its $750,000 surplus, using less than half of a $98,813 certificate of deposit that matures Dec. 5. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift proposed that $48,000 be allocated for the vouchers, including their printing and mailing, and the rest for future investment.

Vandegrift told the council in an email Thursday, "I believe one more stimulus is going to be necessary to get our local shops, services, and restaurants through the pandemic so that their doors are still open on the other side of this."

In the council's meeting via Zoom on Friday, he said "I don't see anything we can do that would be more effective to avoid the scene of multiple storefronts empty next summer." He said if the council can't "share the wealth" with businesses, "What is this surplus really for?"

The council issued two rounds of vouchers this spring, but after most of the money went to restaurants and the Midway Grocery, it fulfilled merchants' request and gave $2,000 to each business.

Council Member Bruce Southworth suggested another round of grants so "shops are gonna get 100 percent of what we put into the program." About one in six Midway Bucks were not used.

Vandegrift said he liked Southworth's idea, but not as well as his proposal. He said it would require another application process, and the city would have to "give it equitably to every single shop or service." He noted that some shops will close as usual in January.

Council Member Logan Nance said businesses' overhead varies widely. "We want to protect the brick-and-mortar shops," he said, "and I think the bucks are the best way to to that."

Member Sara Hicks, who made the motion to approve Vandegrift's proposal, said "I feel like tax money is the citizens' money and I like the idea of citizens having free will how the spend the money."

Nance said people may feel uncomfortable going into stores with the pandemic so bad, but Hicks said residents could donate the money to businesses or give the vouchers as Christmas gifts. Vandegrift said the deadline to turn in the vouchers for reimbursement could run into January.

Vandegrift said another reason he prefers vouchers to a grant is that they are more likely to keep people employed, through the prospect of cash coming in the door, and that also helps support the long-term relationship between the city and the merchants.

"I think people will be very eager to help the shops if we structure it that way," the mayor said.

Nance issued a challenge to residents, to match the vouchers with their own money.

After the council voted unanimously for Vandegrift's proposal, he said, "These are the kinds of bold steps that people all over Kentucky are marveling at Midway for."

Thursday, November 19, 2020

City Council to have special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss relief measures for local businesses

The Midway City Council will have a special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday, via teleconference, to discuss ways to help local businesses get through the pandemic. 

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift sent businesses an email Wednesday evening saying, "I have been discussing steps with individual council members the last several days and while I can not yet reveal what exactly the details will be I can tell you this: financial help from the City of Midway is on the way."

Vandegrift wrote, "Each of you know you are facing a difficult winter to begin with," and said that with Gov. Andy Beshear’s "new but necessary restrictions, restaurants will certainly feel the extra hurt for the coming weeks. But, the virus is uncontrolled right now, and we do have the power to slow it down. It was a sobering realization today to learn that the Woodford County Health Department cannot do contact tracing right now because they do not have the resources and human power to keep up with the number of positives in the county."

The mayor said the city's plan would "help restaurants and shops alike get through this winter and keep your doors open. I consider one business having to close as one too many."

Vandegrift said he would be in "regular contact" with Midway Business Association President Cortney Neikirk, and invited businesses to contact her or him.

He concluded, "I greatly appreciate her and the board’s efforts, and I am beyond inspired by your resolve to remain an operating Midway business. We will help you get through it, and I firmly believe we will continue to be the vibrant place we are once we’re on the other side of our current situation."

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Council debates, approves street signs to honor Black educator Christy; occupational-tax revenue is up 23%

By Taylor Beavers
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council passed member John Holloway’s proposal Monday evening to place honorary street signs on East Stephens Street to honor a prominent Black educator.

The signs will pay homage to the late William Christy of Midway, who was principal of the high school for African Americans in Woodford County during segregation.

William J. Christy
“Mr. Christy was generally known as ‘The Professor’ because of his dedication to education,” and is in the Woodford County Schools Hall of Fame, Holloway said in his written proposal.

The Hall of Fame entry calls Christy a pioneer of African American education in Kentucky and says he made vast improvements in programming at the school, where he started as principal in 1938, and opened a new school in 1954. He later directed the local Office of Equal Opportunity.

Holloway said this is an effort to honor the Black community and their contributions in Midway. “We need to find ways to just show a little love here,” he said.

The eight new signs won’t change anyone’s mailing address. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said they will be placed below the Stephens Street signs from Winter Street to Smith Street.

Holloway said originally wanted to name the street for Martin Luther King Jr. but the idea was rejected by Milan Bush, who runs the Honoring Black Stories in Midway Facebook page and thought a local Black should be honored.

Holloway said that during his teaching career at the University of Kentucky, the number of Black students increased after the university made an effort to hire more Black professors and have more programs that may interest them.

“You’ve got to show that you’re connected in some way and that you care about what’s going on,” he said.

Vandegrift said he wants to try other avenues of helping people of color in the community, including making it easier for them to start businesses.

“Study after study shows that people in the black community sometimes have trouble getting access to capital,” he said, “and you need access to capital to build your business.”

Council Member Logan Nance said Christy “seems like a great person to honor” but suggested establishing a process for future nominations for other honorary street signs. He also asked if there were other ways the council could honor Christy other than a street sign.

“I’m just trying to look at this exhaustively before we decide on exactly what we’re going to do,” said Nance.

Council Member Stacy Thurman said she understood Nance’s concern they may not have given the project enough consideration, but thought the gesture is important for supporting Midway’s Black community, which is 11% of the town’s population.

“Whatever we decide tonight I think this is a good place, a good start,” said Thurman, “and I appreciate that effort and I think that hopefully it will lead into more conversations about what we can continue to do.”

Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher said Holloway had "a great idea" but voiced concerns that they were moving too fast.  “I know John said he asked at least three people,” Gallagher said. “Is there any more we can ask, or even local Midway people that’s been around a while? I just think we’re jumping into it.”

Vandegrift said, “Sometimes the decision just has to be made.” This was Holloway’s next-to-last council meeting, since he did not seek a second term.

Council Member Sara Hicks said she would like to find ways to help the Black community achieve “greater success” such as them being placed on local boards or governance.

“I think symbolic things are important,” said Hicks, “but I think things with a little more meat need to happen.”

Holloway said, “Is a street sign going to change the entire world? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.” He agreed with Nance’s suggestion about a nomination process.

“If Midway’s gonna be a history town, we need to honor our history,” Holloway said, adding that a number of honorary signs could be the basis for a tour, like those in larger cities.

Despite some council members’ caution, Holloway’s motion passed unanimously.

Good budget news: Vandegrift said occupational tax revenue is 23% ahead of where he thought it would be at this time. It was projected to decline 11% this fiscal year because of the pandemic, and Vandegrift said the revenue number was “surprisingly high.”

“I think we’re going to go well over our projected occupational tax revenue,” he said.

Vandegrift said Midway Station has been a large contributor to the increase, and the continued growth of the area is paying off well. Lakeshore Learning Materials has added 100 employees through an expansion, and the mayor said the distribution center is so busy that a Thursday ribbon-cutting for the expansion has been canceled. He said the firm is receiving 300% more orders than normal. He also credited Midway University, the town’s second largest employer, in helping with the revenue increase.

“I think we can continue to commit to these large infrastructure projects that we have already begun,” said Vandegrift, “and I think we can begin to at least see the light at the end of the tunnel where we’re not going to be damaged by the covid recession.”

Holloway asked if construction workers at Midway Station are paying occupational taxes, saying, “That’s a huge number of people, and those are really high paying jobs.” Vandegrift said that the workers do pay occupational taxes to Midway.

Green burials: Marcie Christensen, vice president of Midway Renaissance and chair of its Greenspace Committee, asked the council to appoint a task force to study the idea of creating a section of Midway Cemetery for green burials.

She submitted a written proposal which described a green cemetery section as “dedicated to sustainable practices that conserve energy, minimize waste, forgo toxic chemicals and vaults, use markers made of native stone, and burial containers made from natural or plant-derived material.” That means no embalming, caskets or vaults.

Thurman asked Christensen if she had reached out to local funeral homes to see if they were able to honor green burials. Christensen said she hadn’t, but said many people who want a green burial also want a home funeral. She said funeral homes don’t have to embalm a body or sell a casket, so she didn’t think they would object.

Since there is no place to do a green burial yet in Kentucky and you don’t have to live in Midway to be buried in Midway Cemetery, she said, “It would be a huge draw for people who want a natural burial.”

Vandegrift suggested that instead of a task force, the study could be done by the council’s Cemetery Committee to work on in January. When he asked Christensen if she had lined up any members for a task force, she replied, “I don’t know of anybody who’s dying to get on another committee.” Her unintended pun brought chuckles.

Hicks, the chair of the Cemetery Committee, said its other members, Nance and Thurman, are also on the Greenspace Committee. Vandegrift, who appoints committees, said they would be going off when the new council forms in January, and the committee would consider Christensen’s proposal.

Christensen also asked that the second Monday in October be declared Indigenous People’s Day in Midway. She said this does not have to replace Columbus Day, and the Greenspace Committee and Renaissance are interested in holding an observance.

“I have no problem issuing that proclamation,” said Vandegrift. “I think it’s perfectly appropriate.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Owner of historic building failed to meet repair deadline but gets a new permit, giving him another year to work

116 E. Main St. was photographed on Oct. 31, the deadline that was extended a year, three days earlier, by a new permit.
By Jordan Brown
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The owner of the historic building at 116 E. Main St. failed to rehabilitate it by the building inspector’s Oct. 31 deadline but got another building permit Oct. 28. That extended his deadline for repairs another year.

The deadline had already been extended in March, when owner Ness Alamdari had a consulting engineer submit a letter saying the building was stable, thus heading off possible demolition.

Woodford County planning and zoning officials had given Alamdari until March 30 to correct issues with the building cited by Building Inspector Joshua Stevens on Feb. 10.

Asked about the new permit, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said, “I’m disappointed that the progress on that is so slow, and I think only confirms what we’ve been saying all along. But I believe in adhering to the law and the law requires they issue a new permit if he wants one.”

The mayor added, “We will be having an independent engineer examine the structure and if they advise us, we will take proper steps to protect the public. If the owner can rehabilitate it, I will be over the moon with joy. But one must remember that fixing up the look of a building and obtaining an occupancy permit are two very different things.”

Alamdari declined to comment.

Vandegrift said in June that he would take no pleasure in the demolition of a historic stricture, but “I have been inside the building, and like so many others have watched as time and weather continue to deteriorate it . . . I came to believe that condemnation is the only solution.”

Alamdari had to pay $150 for the new permit. It will expire after 90 days if construction has not begun and is not continued. Recently, he has been working on the building.

On the application, Alamdari listed the estimated cost of improvements at $28,000 and his land cost at $55,000, for a total of $78,000.

His previous permit, issued in April 2018, listed $20,000 in repair costs. Alamdari told the Messenger several weeks ago that he had used aviation cables to stabilize the building.

According to Planning Commission records, the property has been a trouble spot since at least 2006.

The building was erected in 1898 by the Pilgrim Lodge of the Odd Fellows, an African American men's organization. Local historian Bill Penn, a nearby store owner, said it was last occupied 15 to 20 years ago. It is a landmark in Midway’s African American community but is also one of the most prominent examples of blighted property in Midway, due to its downtown location and severe condition. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

EDA OKs sale of 3.67-acre lot in Midway Station to automobile-robotics firm that will bring 45 employees

Photo on CSI Group's website shows its Lexington plant. For a larger image, click on it.

Midway Station is getting a high-tech employer that will provide 45 jobs with higher pay than usual and potential for expansion, Woodford County Economic Development Chair Michael Michalisin said at Friday's meeting of the EDA board, which authorized him to sign a purchase agreement with CSI Group of Lexington.

The company makes robotic welders and other manufacturing equipment for the automobile industry, principally Toyota. It employs 45 at its plant in Lexington and those workers will be part of an "initial phase" in Midway, with prospect for expansion, Michalisin said. Its other plant is in Toyota City, Japan.

"This is a huge deal," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said at the meeting. "It could become a really huge deal." He said the initial payroll would be similar to that of American Howa Kentucky, another Toyota vendor that was the first manufacturing plant to locate in Midway Station. He said afterward that the company is moving because it needs more room an industrial land in Lexington is in short supply.

Michalisin called CSI an "automated technology integrator" and "a really unique business run by really good people." The company's website says it won Toyota's Quality Vendor of the Year Award this year. 

The purchase agreement replaces a letter of intent that the EDA board approved in August. Michalisin said EDA and the company negotiated a lower-than usual price of $63,000 an acre for Lot 25, which is 3.67 acres. "That lot, we thought a net number of 63 was appropriate," he said after a closed session to discuss the deal. The standard price for industrial land in Midway Station is $65,000 per acre.

Michalisin, who lives in Midway, said he hopes to close the sale "as soon as we can."

State collects $500 fine for spray that drew complaints

Diagram in state agriculture department records shows where herbicide was sprayed. Highview Drive is near upper right.
By Nicholas Hall
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The state Department of Agriculture has fined Midway resident Joseph Greathouse $500 for spraying herbicide that drifted onto the properties of residents of Highview Drive in Midway in June. Some who were affected said the fine is insufficient to prevent other such incidents.

The agriculture department received five complaints from June 9 to June 15 about the spraying. Greathouse sprayed herbicide on June 3, a day when winds reached 11 mph at the time of the spraying, and several residents said they found evidence of herbicide damage on plants in their yards. Samples were taken by the department for each complaint. Three of the five complaints ended up having a sample that tested positive for paraquat, a chemical that is harmful to humans.

The fine for applying herbicide in a manner not in accordance with the label is $100 under state law and regulation. The department fined Greathouse for five incidents of the violation, totaling $500. The director of communications for the department, Sean Southard, said that the fine has been paid.

Though the department gathered the samples on June 17, it was not able to get the results back from the lab until July 29. Southard said the delay was caused by the pandemic. “Usually these cases are finished in a more timely manner, but the lab experienced some delays due to an increased workload and workplace restrictions adopted due to covid-19,” he said.

Greathouse declined to comment, saying that the Midway Messenger had failed to contact him for its story in June. The story reported that he could not be reached.

The agriculture department said that when Greathouse sprayed herbicide on the farmland that he leased from Susan Coats, the wind was strong enough to blow the spray into the adjacent residential area. Three of the complaints were made by residents on Highview Drive; one was made by Melissa Scheier, who lives on Ann Street; and one was made by Olivia Monzon of Oak Street.

Three of the residents said the chemical had lasting effects on their yards. Sean McDonald and Rebecca Herpick of Highview Drive said that spots were still visible on their plants. McDonald said the chemical had damaged much of the foliage in their yard, including the trees surrounding the house. “We’ve had leaves come down like it was fall, in the middle of summer,” he said. McDonald said the damage also caused the pair to abandon their plans for their backyard garden because he feared the chemical could linger in the soil.

Lisa Graddy of Highview Drive said many of the plants in her backyard still had spots from the chemical. Jeff Savage and Melissa Scheier also said the spots were still present. Savage said that the fruit trees in their yard had failed to bear any fruit since the incident.

All five complainants said the fine was too lenient to prevent future violations. “They’ll just do it again,” Savage said. “It’s small enough that they’ll still make a profit.” Graddy said, “$500 is a joke. That’s not going to stop them.” McDonald said, “$500 isn’t even a slap on the wrist.” He noted that if he and Herpick were the only ones who had made a complaint, Greathouse would only face a $100 fine for an incident McDonald called “a gross violation of our private property and our health.”

Savage said that while he understood that the farming had to be done, he would like to see more caution in the future. He said that the Department of Agriculture should consider increasing the fine if there were repeat offenses in the future.

McDonald said more measures should be taken to prevent the use of paraquat. “We’d like to see paraquat banned, and we’d like to see the fines increased,” he said. “I mean, something like $5,000 would get someone’s attention.”

Southard said the fine is designed to prevent such behavior in the future. “When an individual applies a pesticide or herbicide in a manner that does not comply with the instructions on the label, the department responds in a way that is meant to deter recurrence of the same behavior,” he said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Mayor: If bank keeps another from using its site, city should try to make it City Hall; Rau Bldg. could be bank

Wesbanco's Midway branch is scheduled to close in January.

By Jordan Brown and Gage O'Dell

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift is planning the next steps in getting a new bank to Midway, which could involve relocating City Hall and opening a public restroom downtown.

Vandegrift told Midway business owners in an email Monday that if the bank takes a legal step to keep another bank from taking over its location, he sees the site as a suitable place for City Hall, and maybe the current City Hall as a site for a bank.

“I am writing to inform you that should WesBanco place deed restrictions on their property that prevents another bank from moving in, it is my intention to work with the next city council to purchase that building to relocate Midway City Hall and potentially expand our visitor-center capabilities and community room offerings,” Vandergrift wrote.

WesBanco, the only bank in Midway, announced in September that it would be closing its Midway branch in January. Vandegrift said he had heard the bank might impose a deed restriction to prevent another bank from locating there. That would reduce the number of customers WesBanco would lose, and would force Midway residents to use banks outside of town, unless a bank could locate elsewhere.

Vandegrift said in the email, “It has been one of my main goals to make sure another bank can easily move in.” He said moving City Hall “could also help facilitate that by freeing up the Rau Building. I will not rest until we once again have a local, community-minded bank in Midway.”

The Rau Building at 101 E. Main St. houses City Hall. “While the Rau Building is a perfectly suited home for City Hall at this time, I am always open to any possibility that can benefit our citizens, our businesses, and our visitors alike,” the mayor wrote. “I wanted you to know that these possibilities exist and that we are always working to make every wish a reality so long as doing so is fiscally prudent.”

Asked if the Rau building would be feasible as a bank when it does not appear conducive to drive-thru banking, Vandegrift said via email, “I do think the Rau Building and others around town could work for a bank because the one I’m seeing an enormous amount of interest that doesn’t require a drive-thru. I think mobile banking is the future for them.”

Council Member-elect Mary C. Raglin disagreed. “No, Rau Building would not be a feasible location without having access to drive-thru banking for elderly or anyone incapacitated,” she said in a text. 

Council Member Logan Nance, who won a second term last week, said he remains hopeful WesBanco will not put restrictions on the property.

“They have sold other properties in the area to banks before,” Nance said. “Putting such a restriction on the Midway property would be a hostile act to our city.”

Nance said he likes the idea of having a “more robust visitors center” but the community would be served better by having a bank in that facility.

“I believe the current bank building is the best facility for a bank,” he said. “I would like to see it remain a local community bank.”

Downtown merchants have long wanted a public restroom for visitors on evenings and weekends, when City Hall isn’t open, but Nance and Raglin have voiced opposition to public funding of a restroom.

Vandegrift said in his email, “It is not at all inconceivable that a 7-day-a-week public restroom could be possible using an existing doorway located near the drive-thru of that property, which could remain unlocked on weekends as well, with proper security in place.”

Cortney Neikirk, president of the Midway Business Association, told the Messenger, "The merchants are thrilled with this idea. We would love to see a visitor center with public bathrooms here in town. As much as we would love to see another bank in town, we would love this space as the visitor center."

Vandegrift said the move would expand downtown parking permanently, since there would not be a need to reserve as many parking places for bank customers.

Asked by the Messenger whether he would ask the council to consider acquiring the property via condemnation if a purchase cannot be negotiated, he said, “I don’t think we’re at the point yet to discuss acquisition by condemnation.”

Asked if he made his original statement to discourage WesBanco from placing a deed restriction, he didn’t answer directly: “I really do believe it’s an elegant solution to quite a few issues, if WesBanco moves forward with placing a restriction on it.”

Former council member John McDaniel, who was defeated in 2018 and finished one vote and a coin flip short of returning in last week’s election, suggested in his campaign that Midway was losing the bank because the city moved most of its accounts out of the bank. He said he hoped that “city government can find its way clear to support the next bank that opens in Midway.”

The city had been banking mainly with Paris-based Kentucky Bank, keeping one account with WesBanco, for six months before WesBanco announced the closing. Vandergrift said in September that he did not think that this was related to the closing, since it is closing other branches in the region. Wesbanco declined to comment.

“This is what they do,” the mayor said. “WesBanco as a corporation came in hot talking about being a community bank, but they never really measured up to it. They hit us with fees and charges that we didn’t deserve.”

He said in the email, “Since WesBanco announced it is closing several of its branches in central Kentucky, mostly in small towns and clearly as a calculated move to consolidate their locations in order to be purchased by a larger bank, it has been one of my main goals to make sure another bank can easily move in.”

Friday, November 6, 2020

Midway's volunteer fire department gets 12 sets of bunker gear with $31,816 grant from Firehouse Subs

The Midway Fire Department has acquired 12 sets of bunker gear with a $31,815.84 grant from Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. Members of the volunteer department are pictured with the ladder truck the city bought this year. A press release from Firehouse Subs said the Maxfield System velocity coats and trousers "will be used for the protection, safety and well-being of the City of Midway firefighters, who are brave members of the community dedicated to protecting the lives of their families and neighbors." It said the grant was one of 67 the foundation awarded to public-safety organizations across the country in the grant period, totaling more than $1.2 million.
For a larger version of either photograph, click on it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

City, Business Association plan for socially distant visit by Santa on Nov. 28, but not if county is in 'red zone'

Santa probably won't have elves, due to the pandemic.
Santa Claus will visit Midway on the Saturday after Thanksgiving again this year, but in a socially distanced way due to the novel-coronavirus pandemic. That is, if the virus doesn't prevent it.

Santa is scheduled to arrive via an RJ Corman Railroad train at 11 a.m. Nov. 28. Children won't be able to visit with him, but he will wave and talk to them from a distance. The kids will be encouraged to bring letters to Santa that they can deposit in a box that he’ll take back to the North Pole.

That's what Mayor Grayson Vandegrift told the City Council and the Messenger today, after several weeks of discussion with the Midway Business Association.

Nov. 28 is “Small Business Saturday,” a national observance, and it is the traditional kickoff for the holiday shopping season in Midway.

Vandegrift said he would ask the council to block off the parallel spaces on the south side of the railroad tracks, the eastbound side of Main Street, "to form a socially distanced line for kids to drop their letters off and see Santa from a distance. We will have 'safety inspectors' who will ensure masks are being worn and that groups are not congregating. Only people within the same household can be together."

The mayor cautioned that if Woodford County is still in the "red zone" for cases of the virus "and/or if cases are still escalating and if the public health director advises, we reserve the right to cancel."

"We will continue to monitor cases and the situation on the ground," Vandegrift wrote. "We all need to urge people to return to the caution taken when the virus first arrived, to wear their masks, and to limit our circles and casual gatherings. If we buckle down now, we hope to see a de-escalation in cases and that would help ensure the event can proceed.

Vandegrift also announced, "A socially distant tree lighting is planned for Friday, Nov. 27 at 6:30, and may be canceled for the same reasons as stated above if circumstances dictate."

Republicans will represent Midway in the legislature: Southworth defeats Graviss, Fister beats Allen

KET table, using returns gathered by The Associated Press; for a larger version, click on it.

This story will be updated.

By Nicholas Hall
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Republicans won both of Woodford County’s state legislative races Tuesday.

Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg claimed victory in the Senate race with 53% of District 7’s votes. Similarly, Daniel Fister of Versailles won the House District 56 race with 53% of the vote.

With 97% of precincts reporting, Southworth had 33,127 votes. Democrat Joe Graviss of Versailles held had 27,113 votes, totaling 43%. Independent candidate Ken Carroll of Frankfort received 2,685 votes, 4% of the total.

Graviss ran for the Senate instead of re-election to his House seat. In that race, with 88% of precincts reporting, Fister had 12,405 votes for a 1,228-vote lead over Democrat Lamar Allen of Lexington, who had 11,177 votes, or 47%.

Allen conceded in a Facebook post. He thanked his supporters and wished the best for Fister.

KET table, using returns gathered by The Associated Press; for a larger version, click on it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Thurman, Raglin, Hicks, Nance, Gallagher win council seats; Simoff beats McDaniel by 1 vote for the last one

Council Member Stacy Thurman
UPDATE, Nov. 6: There were no changes in the results between Woodford County Clerk Sandy Jones's initial report Tuesday night and the report to the state on Friday.

Midway City Council Member Stacy Thurman again led the ticket to win her second term, four-termer Bruce Southworth lost his re-election bid, and one seat remained up for grabs Tuesday night as election officials waited to see if a few final absentee votes trickled in.

Member-elect Mary C. Raglin
Thurman, manager of the Midway Branch Library, got 577 votes, 80 ahead of Mary C. Raglin, who will be the first Black woman on the council and the first African American since 2014.

Five-termer Sara Hicks was close behind with 493 votes, followed by first-termer Logan Nance with 403 and three-termer Kaye Nita Gallagher with 379.

Two former council members were one vote apart for the sixth and final seat to be filled. Steve Simoff had 349 and John McDaniel had 348. The final totals won't be known until at least Friday, the deadline for County Clark Sandy Jones to receive absentee ballots that were postmarked by the Tuesday deadline.

Political newcomer Adam Bailey finished eighth with 329 votes, while Southworth got 327. Another newcomer, Andrew Nelle, got 110.

Amanda Glass elected to school board: Amanda Glass was elected to the northern district seat on the Woodford County Board of Education, defeating Ian Horn 1,509 to 731 in unofficial returns. The race was for the seat now held by Ambrose Wilson IV, who did not seek re-election. All are from Midway.

Board of Adjustment approves permit for distillery at I-64

The proposed distillery at the northwest side of the Interstate 64 interchange won a conditional-use permit from the Woodford County Board of Adjustment Monday night.

The approval, unanimous and without debate, clears the last big obstacle for the $3.1 million project of Bluegrass Distillers, which has an option to buy part of the Leslie Mitchell farm.

The permit will allow the company, which says it makes 12 barrels of bourbon a month at its Lexington distillery, to expand production and operate the new distillery and the surrounding property as a tourism destination in an agricultural zone. Barns will be remodeled and use for events, including rentals.

Elkwood, designed by Gideon Shryock, was built in 1835.
The company says putting the distillery in the agricultural zone will allow it to use the historic Elkwood mansion on the property as a tasting room, protecting its future. The mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Being on the register does not protect a property from demolition.

"We wanted to make sure the distillery was close enough to make it relevant," Sam Rock, one of the distillery's owners, told the board. "The whole goal is to bring back the life of the original house and the buildings."

Rock said a distillery in an agricultural zone makes sense because it will make bourbon from corn grown on the property. "It is truly an agricultural processing plant" that will show visitors "not just mash to glass, but grain to glass," he said. 

Planning Director Pattie Wilson said the Mitchell family bought the farm in the 1930s and got a section near Leestown Road rezoned for industry in 1992. The conditional-use permit applies only to property that is zoned agricultural. The industrial part will be used for barrel warehouses, Rock said.

The project was recommended for approval last month by the Agricultural Review Advisory Committee, with conditions that the board adopted. They include having a full-time agent on the property, to oversee rentals; music must end by 10 p.m.; the property must be closed by 11 p.m.; lights must be shielded and pointed down; and there must be “no trespassing’ signs posted to prevent guests from going where they shouldn’t.

Bluegrass Distillers will still have to submit a construction plan to the Technical Review Committee and a development plan to the Planning Commission, Wilson said. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Council likes speed-table idea; corner grocery may build new; county about to be in virus 'red zone,' mayor says

This speed table is split to provide a path for emergency vehicles, the mayor said as he showed this picture to the council.

The Midway City Council agreed Monday night to Mayor Grayson Vandegrift's idea to control speeding on East Stephens Street: speed tables.

The devices are slightly elevated sections of pavement that raise the entire wheelbase of a vehicle, are flat-topped and designed to "take 'em near the speed limit," the mayor said. He said they "would be a lot different" from the removable speed bumps that the city installed in 2017 but couldn't stand up to the traffic and were ditched.

Vandegrift estimated the cost of his planned two tables at $2,500 to $4,000, to be paid out of the city's paving budget. As mayor, he can deal with the matter on his own, but he said he won't move ahead until he solicits public opinion, including the views of first responders, horse farms, other businesses, Midway University and "anyone who drives through there. Their input is vital, so I'd love to hear it."

The mayor said he has never heard as many complaints about speeding as he hears now, and East Stephens seems to be "ground zero" of the problem. He and others agreed with Council Member Sara Hicks's observation that East Stephens traffic has increased since the new Weisenberger Mill bridge opened in late December. Vandegrift said police have recently issued "a bunch of tickets" after the city requested more enforcement, but said that is not a good long-term solution.

Diagram shows property being transferred; click to enlarge
A bigger grocery?
The council approved a quitclaim deed to Northside Homes LLC, the limited-liability company that is planning a residential development east of the Midway Grocery, for a piece of the old 62 (Winter Street) right of way. The firm plans to sell the 0.11-acre tract on the west side of the North Winter curve to Sanya LLC, which owns the grocery, for an expansion.

Phyllis Mattingly, the attorney for Northside, said Sanya is planning to build a new grocery. "My daughter's a new Midwegian, and she loves the corner grocery," she said.

Vandegrift said the grocery is doing well under its new owner, Nikesh Patel, so the city is not entertaining any ideas of a grocery in the Midway Station commercial zone.

Pandemic concerns: During the end-of-meeting roundtable, Vandegrift said Woodford County is "about to be in the red zone" for coronavirus cases, by averaging 25 or more new daily cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days. "People need to remain very cautious," reducing their activities and exposure, the mayor said, "and think about cutting out seeing people outside our homes." He said people need to ask, "Do we truly care about other people, or not?"

Vandegrift brought up the topic after Hicks told him, "Thank you for pulling together a safe Halloween. I think it worked really well." Vandegrift said he would publicly thank the committee that helped him, but not until after Tuesday's election, because two committee members are running for council seats.

He reminded the Facebook Live audience that the deadline for depositing absentee ballots at the Midway library is 6 p.m. Tuesday. He said he did not know when County Clerk Sandy Jones would have the results of the election. Absentee ballots postmarked Tuesday will be accepted and counted until Friday.

Council Member Stacy Thurman, who runs the library, said she has noticed stress in many patrons. "The election, everything, is weighing heavily on people," she said. "Check on your neighbors."

Other business: The council appointed Bart Shockley an unexpired term on the Woodford County Board of Adjustment, which grants certain zoning permits and variances. The vacancy was created by the resignation of of Al Schooler, who had been the city's longtime representative on the board.

Shockley is the husband of Debra Shockley, who is the city's representative on the Board of Architectural Review, which oversees land-use issues in historic districts such as Midway's.

City Council ballot has five incumbents and five non-incumbents, two of whom have served before

By Evan Johnson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

New mixes with old in this year’s Midway City Council election, as the candidate field brings an intriguing assortment of personalities who have diverse backgrounds and bring different elements to the table.

This is the largest field of council candidates since 2012, with five incumbents and five non-incumbents. For more detailed profiles of each candidate, with photographs, click here.

The familiar faces include five-termer Sara Hicks, four-termer Bruce Southworth, three-termer Kaye Nita Gallagher, and freshmen Stacy Thurman and Logan Nance. Incumbent John Holloway did not file for re-election.

The non-incumbents are Andrew Nelle, Mary C. Raglin, Adam Bailey, Steve Simoff and John McDaniel. Simoff and McDaniel are former council members who have served a single two-year term and are trying to get back on the council.

McDaniel, arguably the most fascinating candidate, is in a different position from the rest of the field. He lost his bid for a second term in 2018, running seventh in a race where the top six win. McDaniel is a retired police officer who has been active in several civic projects. He has clashed with Mayor Grayson Vandegrift on several issues, including the mayor’s purchase of a new ladder truck for the fire department and suggesting that Midway is losing its bank because the city moved most of its accounts out of the bank. Vandegrift defended the truck purchase and said he didn’t think the bank closing had anything to do with the city’s account moves. McDaniel says he seeks financial conservatism, and a five-year comprehensive plan for the city.

Simoff, who runs a bed and breakfast and worked many years in the horse industry, said he sat out the last election because he had to deal with a health issue. He firmly endorsed city funding of public restrooms downtown and the idea of moving the fire station to Midway Station, to have a better place for the recently purchased ladder truck and be closer to an area that gets many fire calls.

Bailey is the director of marketing and community outreach at Trilogy Healthcare, a senior-living community in Lexington. He says he wants to give back to the community and is focused on helping local businesses, and holds two business degrees. He says that instead of continuing to lower property taxes as real-estate assessments rise, some property tax revenue could be used to help businesses.  

Nelle has already shown interest in the council since moving to Midway in November 2019; he has watched nearly every meeting. He is an Air Force veteran and a delivery driver for Amazon, and is pursuing a second associate's degree. Nelle says he supports helping out small businesses as much as possible during the pandemic and will do whatever it takes to involve citizens in decision making.

Raglin says she is running to be a voice for African-Americans and people of color, whose voices have been “unheard.” She would be the first Black member of the council since Aaron Hamilton didn’t seek re-election in 2014; he signed her filing papers. She says she favors the idea of a new fire station at Midway Station, and is opposed to using city funds for public restrooms downtown.

Nance, who also opposes restroom funding, is a business consultant and Army veteran who won passage of a council resolution endorsing refugee resettlement in Kentucky. He was the only member who voted against annexation and rezoning of land for industry next to Midway Station, saying it had to stop somewhere. The other candidates (except McDaniel, who didn’t give an interview) also say they oppose more industrial rezoning.

Thurman runs the Midway Branch Library and chairs the city’s Affordable Housing Committee. She supports seeking more affordable housing options for citizens in Midway, and additional infrastructure including walkways to and from Midway University. She is open to the idea of a new fire station, and said the restroom idea needed more research, which she is doing with the Business Association.

Gallagher is a retired state employee who holds a variety of jobs that she says give her community connections. She says her experience on the council would be especially useful, given the uncertainty of the pandemic and other issues. Gallagher voted against the refugee resettlement resolution and says she is not for a new fire station at Midway Station “right now" but could be "in the future.”

Southworth is a retired municipal employee of 27 years, working as Midway's wastewater-treatment plant operator, Georgetown's water-treatment plant operator, and Versailles public-works director and city administrator. “I know what it takes to run a city,” he says. He voted against the refugee resolution. He says a new fire station should be seriously considered, citing funding as the controlling factor.

Hicks, a retired marriage and family therapist, says she is seeking re-election to complete some projects, such as painting the water towers and continuing cemetery repairs. Hicks has been an advocate for environmental conservation, renewable energy and keeping as many mature trees in the community as possible. She also says she would like to see more people of color in positions on boards in Midway.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Presbyterian Church's annual pumpkin-carving contest attracts many entries, with much creativity

The youth trophy for best Halloween spirit went to Owen and Caleb Denton. It is fourth from the right on the third step up. The church put PVC pipes on its handrails to deliver candy to trick-or-treaters. Click on the photo for a larger version.

The Midway Presbyterian Church's pumpkin-carving contest drew more entries this year than last year, and judging the winners was difficult.

Owen and Caleb Denton won the Halloween Spirit trophy in the youth category for their simple but happy jack-o'-lantern, as noted in the caption above.

Zeb Henry Weese won the prize in the youth category for the scariest pumpkin, left.

Also in the youth category, Olivia Roller won the award for most creative pumpkin, right.

The judging of the adult category was especially difficult, because the entries displayed so much creativity. Numerous jack-o'-lanterns were worth of the Most Creative award, so the judges made several honorable mentions and awarded the trophy for Most Creative to Debra Shockley for her multimedia entry, below.

Honorable mentions in the Most Creative category went to Bart Shockley, Barby Newell, Kit Walden, Mary Seeger Weese and Stephanie Jill Giles.

The adult trophy for Halloween Spirit went to Christy Reaves, for her entry below.

The adult trophy for scariest pumpkin went to Jeremy Shelton, for his entry below.
The church said thanks to the judges: Scott Hundley, Grayson Vandegrift, Al Cross, and Patti Cross.