Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ribbon cutting for pavilion set for 2 p.m. Wednesday

Contractors Tony and Natalie Bays of Midway neared completion of the pavilion in early October.

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

A ribbon cutting for the newly completed pavilion at the Midway Cemetery is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30.

“The ceremony will be completely outdoors and last a total of about 30 minutes,” Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email. He said masks would be required, as would social distancing.

In April, due to the pandemic’s potential impact on the city budget, completion of the pavilion was on a list of proposed cuts. At the time, Vandegrift noted that the concrete base wasn’t “going anywhere” and that “it would not a detriment to that project to be delayed a fiscal year.”

But the revenue situation improved, and in May, the City Council voted to put $30,000 back into the budget from the city’s surplus to complete the pavilion, which already had a concrete bier to hold caskets.

Council Member John Holloway, who helped design the structure, said at the meeting that he had visited several cemeteries and pavilions are “something other cities are doing right now.” He also said completing the pavilion would save a little money, because less manpower will be used in setting up tents.

Holloway said Public Works Supervisor Terry Agee wanted to ensure that the services at the cemetery are low stress and that the pavilion would help with that, specifically in wet weather.

Vandegrift said Agee saw an elderly woman roaming the cemetery alone, with funeral crowds limited due to the covid-19 pandemic, and it was "heartbreaking to see."

The winning bid for completion of the pavilion was $34,000, which Vandegrift said brought the total cost to $46,000. He said the city will spend another $12,000 or so on the driveway to it, which has been graveled and will be paved in the spring.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

County OKs $150,000 relief for Woodford restaurants

PRESS RELEASE from Midway-area Magistrate Liles Taylor

The Woodford County Fiscal Court has unanimously approved $150,000 for local small business restaurant relief.

Magistrate William Downey's proposal allocates $150,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to establish the Woodford County Food and Beverage Relief Fund to support Woodford County’s restaurants. 

This fund will give added assistance to restaurants helped by the cities of Versailles and Midway, and provides local funding to support restaurants in the county outside the two cities. Those in the cities are eligible for $2,000 and those in the unincorporated portions of the county for $7,500.

Local restaurants, Woodford County Chamber of Commerce Chair Austin Wingate, Tourist Commission Chair Maria Bohannon, Economic Development Authority Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway and the Kentucky Restaurant Association all expressed support for the program.

“Our restaurants and small businesses are struggling and they need our support now more than ever,” Downey said. “Our community has counted on these small businesses for many years, and now it’s our time to be there for them.”

Judge-Executive James Kay said, “Woodford County’s small businesses and our restaurants are so important to our local economy. Through smart fiscal management and conservative budgeting, we are in a position to offer economic relief in hopes of getting our small businesses through the toughest of times. In many ways this is a timely tax rebate to help make sure that our local small businesses can survive and continue to contribute to our economy and quality of life.”

The Fiscal Court has posted the guidelines, criteria, and application for relief on the county website. Kay encourages restaurants to complete and submit the application as soon as possible. Relief awards are expected to paid Jan. 12, 2020. For more information, check the website or email the county treasurer at sgarmon@woodfordcountyky.gov

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Here are the winners of the 16th annual Holiday Decorating Contest held by the Midway Woman's Club

The Midway Woman's Club has announced the winners of its 16th annual Holiday Decorating Contest.
Above is the Best Decorated Yard, 337 N. Winter St.  At left is the Best Outdoor Tree, 412 Mill Rd.  At right is the Best Indoor Tree, 304 S. Winter St.
For a larger version of any photo, click on it.
The rest of the winners, as photographed by Lauren McCally of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media:

Best Overall Design: 225 East Higgins Street

Best Christmas Spirit: 238 West Stephens Street

Clark Griswold Power Outage Award: 219 Cottage Grove

Most Fun: 221 Johnson Street

Most Creative Lights: 106 Cottage Grove

Best Daytime Display: 222 East Cross Street

Most Animated Display: 211 Cottage Grove

Spirit of Woodford County: 318 North Winter Street

Special 2020 16th Anniversary MWC Holiday Décor Judging Award: 219 Gayland

Best Business Decorations: Midway Boutique

Most Colorful: 219 West Higgins Street

Best Decorated Gate: 116 Cottage Station

Best Decorated Porch: 313 South Gratz Street

Best Traditional Decorations: 124 South Gratz Street

Best Decorated Fence – 116 Old Towne Walk

Welcome to Midway Award: 206 Gayland
(A new award, "for someone that has moved here in the last year and got into the spirit," the club said.)

Best Decorated Shed: 119 South Gratz Street

Best Wreath: 107 Cottage Garden Lane
Best Front Door: 205 Gayland

NOT PICTURED: Most Whimsical Lights, 245 W. Higgins; Best Inflatables, 138 Cottage Grove

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Mayor says Midway residents are all Citizens of Year for how they've handled the pandemic, urges caution

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in his occasional Covid-19 update that his Citizen Of The Year Award would go to the “Midway citizen” for residents’ “phenomenal job” in dealing with the pandemic. “We have not been as hard hit by Covid as so many other places,” he said, while noting that there are active cases in Midway, but predicting that nexy year, “We will have a normal Christmas.”

The mayor said now is the time to not allow “pandemic fatigue” to set in, but to be encouraged because vaccines are arriving and are “almost as effective as the measles vaccine.”

Vandegrift urged everyone to just see their immediate family this holiday season. He started his update with the full disclosure that he is in Florida at the home of his wife’s mothers house, and they are being extremely careful and not going anywhere – and that they had already left before the travel advisory was issued by Gov. Andy Beshear.

Vandegrift said that in a conference call last week with other mayors. Beshear was “very enthusiastic about the vaccine” in the beginning stages of being distributed and that he “urged a lot of patience” for everyone.

Omnibus pandemic bill includes McConnell-Barr measure for national regulation of Thoroughbred racing

The omnibus bill to fund the government and provide pandemic relief included several other measures, including one to set up a national regulatory system for Thoroughbred racing to overcome conflicts among states about medication of horses and other issues, raised in part by racetrack deaths of horses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced in a press release that his Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was included in the bill, which now goes to President Trump.

“Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserve to be protected,” McConnell said. “I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it.”

The House passed the bill in September with the support of 6th District Rep. Andy Barr. McConnell's original co-sponsors in the Senate were Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and and Dianne Feinstein of California, leading horse-racing states.

“With today’s passage of HISA in Congress we are in the final stretch of achieving the most transformational and consequential reform of the Thoroughbred horseracing industry since enactment of the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978,” Barr said. “For almost a decade, I have worked with industry stakeholders and my Congressional colleagues to build consensus around reforms that will protect equine athletes and strengthen confidence and international competitiveness in the sport.”

In August, Barr and McConnell announced an agreement among racing and breeding interests that was "years in the making to create national standards for the sport," McConnell's release said. "The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority will be an independent regulatory authority, similar to other professional sports, to set medication use and safety protocols."

Key to the agreement was Churchill Downs Inc., which had resisted additional regulation. Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen said in McConnell's release, “Senator McConnell’s leadership has been critical in bringing the Thoroughbred industry together and prioritizing the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. This is a pivotal moment for the future of horseracing, a sport that will now be governed by world class, uniform standards across the United States.”

Keeneland Association President and CEO Bill Thomason and President-elect Shannon Arvin said jointly, “The passage of HISA is a landmark moment for the Thoroughbred racing community’s ongoing efforts to ensure our horses are running under the safest and most transparent conditions possible and to protect the integrity of the sport for our athletes, horsemen and fans. The independent Authority established by HISA will bring a level of consistency and accountability that will improve our sport for years to come as they work to develop and implement uniform anti-doping, medication control and operational measures.”

McConnell's release also included compliments from The Jockey Club, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the New York Racing Association, the Humane Society of the United States and the Water Hay Oats Alliance, which helped lead the fight for legislation to prohibit use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing. Tracy and Carol Farmer of Midway's Shadowlawn Farm joined WHOA in 2018.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Businesses report varying levels of success during the pandemic; thankful for returning customers, aid from city

Goose and Gander's patio is festively lit, but outdoor dining that helped it in the fall isn't feasible now. (Photos by Al Cross)

Recent UK grad Danielle Bobo and her father, Craig Bobo of Midland,
Mich., looked through the prints and photos at Danselfly Gallery.
By Lauren McCally

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The year of the pandemic has been a very different year for those who own businesses and restaurants in downtown Midway.

“It’s been quieter than last year,” said Leslie Penn, co-owner of the Midway Museum Gift Store. “We didn’t have fall festivals, so it affected that, and all the restaurants are closed, so that’s affected people too.”

Penn was interviewed just as restaurants were reopening for a second time this year. Gov. Andy Beshear banned indoor food service on Nov. 18 and allowed restaurants to reopen to 50 percent indoor capacity plus outdoor seating Dec. 14.

Despite being limited to carry-out and delivery for much of the year, some restaurants say they are doing pretty well. “Sales have been good,” said Jeremy Day, a manager at Goose and Gander. “Our regulars support us more than ever.” He also said that despite setbacks the restaurant has “had a really good year.”

However, Mezzo manager Charles Mitchell and Heirloom manager Kay Thompson said business at their restaurants, owned by Mark Wombles, is down.

For other businesses, the closing of the restaurants has had a noticeable effect on their sales.

A festive drummer stands outside Gigi & George.
For Morgan Castle at Gigi & George, an antique and leather store that opened last year, it’s been slower. “I always thought, it’s okay, I’m still open,” she said. “You always think you’re gonna do better. When restaurants were closed, there would be weeks at a time when only one or two customers would come in.”

Some businesses have been able to recoup online. Jenny Vanwieren-Paige at Freedman’s equine outfitters and Megan McClure at Southern Sunday said online sales have been particularly helpful.

“I do a lot of business online, so I’m not quite as dependent on walk-in traffic,” said McClure. “ I can see a decrease in the traffic this year, particularly when the restaurants couldn’t seat inside.”

Heather Marchiafava at Commotion! Consignment Riding Apparel said her sales have increased and she has been a little bit busier this year than normal.

In spite of the pandemic, Ann Locke opened To You From Me in October. “It’s probably not the wisest thing, so people tell me, but it’s been fun and to be honest, its helped me get my feet wet and get going,” she said, adding that her “season has been wonderful” and that “everyone seems happy.”

Ken Glass, co-owner of Railroad Drug & Old Time Soda Fountain, said that while the fountain has taken a major hit, the drug store has been pretty steady.

Glass said that for the first time in 10 years, he said he doesn’t staff it till 4 p.m.. “We’re still doing some ice cream sales,” he said, “but part of the draw of the soda fountain is the ambiance of sitting at the soda fountain and having the music playing. … When you remove that stuff out of the experience, you don’t have a turnout.”

Many businesses say it’s their returning customers who have really helped them out.

”It’s been challenging, but we’ve done well, we’ve had a lot of help from our returning customers and from the city,” said Pam Logan, at the Back Room, “So hopefully, we’re gonna be okay and still be here next year.”

Restaurants were allowed to open at half capacity a week ago.
Shops and restaurants have also had to deal with the mask mandate Beshear imposed July 10. They say most customers, by far, have complied.

Glass said that in the “10 or 11 months” since the pandemic started, he could only count on one hand the amount of time he had seen someone “with the legitimate intent to not wear a mask.”

“People have been really good,” said Logan. “Of course, you get a few that don’t; that’s just when they’re forgetting to pull it up over their nose.” Some shops have even started to supply masks for customers if they happen to forget.

For those that have had a few issues, it mostly was in the beginning, or just one or two customers. “I’ve only had one person, this entire time, put up any kind of fight or fuss about a mask,” said McClure. “They just left after I said they had to wear one.”

Businesses have received much help from the City Council, with two rounds of Midway Bucks from the city’s $750,000 surplus and direct grants from federal relief funds given to the city.

“The city has backed us all the way,” said Penn. “They’ve really helped us just get through this.”

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Midway area has 3 members on new Chamber board

Clockwise from top left: Michael Moorman, Bret
Jones, Tim Culver and Chair Austin Wingate
Three people who live and/or work in the Midway area are among the new directors of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce.

Tim Culver of Midway University, Bret Jones of Airdrie Stud and Michael Moorman of Lakeshore Learning Materials are among the 14 new members. Culver and Jones are among those filling unexpired terms, Chamber President and CEO Emily Downey said.

The chair of the board is Farm Bureau Insurance agent Austin Wingate. Serving with him on the Executive Committee are immediate past chair Jackie Cecil of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, vice chair Justin Carroll of Community Trust Bank, and treasurer Christie Eckerline of The Kentucky Castle, who was appointed by the Woodford County Fiscal Court as Chamber representative on the county Tourist Commission.

The other new members are Thomas Davenport of Wesbanco, attorney Whitney Dunlap, Elizabeth Pitchford of Ruggles Sign Co., Cassie Prather of the Woodford County Health Department, Laurie Dorough of Daisy Hill Senior Living, Kyle Fannin of Spark Community Café, Elaine Bailey of Woodford County Schools, Becky Baldwin of Republic State Mortgage, Jeri Harley of Rector Hayden Realtors and The Woodford Charm.

"The 2021 board has an active full board at 16 members with ex-officio members in Mayor Brian Traugott, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and Judge-Executive James Kay," the Chamber said in a news release. "Ex-officio members are non-voting members."

The Chamber sponsors many programs such as job fairs, Women in Business, the Woodford County Executive Leadership Roundtable, the Woodford County Emerging Leaders program, and a Business Bootcamp series presented by Midway University. It co-sponsors Leadership Woodford County with the county office of the Cooperative Extension Service.

Prewitts thank Fire Dept. and others for rescue, say it's example of 'top-notch' first-responder services in county

This was first published as a letter to The Woodford Sun, which granted permission for republication.

By Nancy Prewitt

I'm sure many Woodford County residents are aware of how fortunate we are to have such top-notch first-responder services in our county, but they need to know.

On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 6, my husband and I were working at home, cleaning up from a major bathroom renovation. I was on the first floor and David was in the basement. He yelled to me that he thought his blood sugar must be very low, and he felt terrible. He barely was able to make it up the stairs and needed a great deal of assistance to make it to a chair. It quickly became apparent that this was not just low blood sugar; something else was going on as well.

I called 911 and the dispatcher was kind, fast and efficient. The Midway Fire Department arrived in what seemed like an instant. They asked immediately if we had gas heat, because their carbon monoxide monitors alarmed when they entered the house. I told them yes, we turned on the boiler about 20 minutes prior. A portion of the fire department crew tended to David, while the rest began surveying the house and taking measurements. The carbon monoxide level in the house was approximately 700 [parts per million, normal being 0.5 to 15 ppm].

Woodford County ambulance paramedics arrived in just a few more moments, and took over the care and rescue of David, quickly getting him outside into fresh air on the front porch, measuring his blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, oxygen saturation and carbon monoxide levels, all along assessing his cognitive level and motor function.

Every responder we came in contact with was competent, caring and professional. They opened windows all over the house, turned on fans, turned off the boiler, water heater and natural gas. The paramedics stayed until it was apparent that David was safe and back to normal functioning, and transport to the hospital would not be necessary.

The Midway Fire Department stayed quite a long time until the carbon monoxide levels in the house were back down to nearly zero. They assured we had a plan for the night, educated us on carbon monoxide detectors, and made certain we would get the boiler inspected the following day.

I can't tell you how thankful we are for the quick response of our Midway Fire Department and the leadership of Chief Butch Armstrong. We are equally blessed with the skill of our Woodford County paramedics. They literally saved our lives, and with all of the care and concern in the world. In the confusion of the day, we do not remember the names of everyone who assisted us, but we will never forget their actions, their faces, their voices, their concern. Thank you to every one of you. You are heroes.

The letter to The Woodford Sun was signed by both Nancy and David Prewitt.

Friday, December 18, 2020

City's last leaf pickups will be next week, mayor says

The City of Midway will make its final leaf pickup of the year next week, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced today. "After that we will be servicing the machinery," he said in an email. "If you wish to discard of any more leaves, please leave piles in the right of way by Monday morning, Dec. 21. Brush pickup will still occur every Tuesday unless circumstances dictate otherwise on a given week."

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bluegrass Distillers closes on Elkwood Farm, hopes to start making bourbon and open for visitors in summer

Posing at the closing were, from left, Coby Adkins of South Central Bank, co-owner Ben Franzini, farm co-owner Margie Atwood, Nathan Brown, co-owner Sam Rock and Hill Parker of Turf Town Properties. (Photos from Bluegrass Distillers)
This story has been updated.
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway will again be a town where bourbon is made.

Bluegrass Distillers of Lexington, closed Tuesday on its purchase of Elkwood Farm at the northwest quadrant of the Interstate 64 interchange for a new, larger distillery, warehouses event space and a visitor center.

“Midway has a rich distilling tradition and the town has been extremely gracious and welcoming,” owner Ben Franzini said in a press release.

After construction and renovations, distilling should begin next summer, the release said. Concurrently, the grounds will open for tours as well as community events and concerts. A total of $3 million will be invested.

Franzini said Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and the Woodford County Economic Development Authority “have been with us every step of the way and we could not have pulled it together without their help. We could not ask for a better location or town to build our future.”

After the plan for the property was negotiated with the county planning commission’s Agricultural Review Advisory Committee and approved by the commission as a tourism destination in an agricultural zone, two more obstacles remained.

L-R: Brown, Franzini and Rock sign closing documents.
The biggest was the state Transportation Cabinet’s requirement for two turn lanes on Leestown Road at the main entrance. Vandegrift said in an email that he, Franzini, co-owner Sam Rock, state Rep. Joe Graviss and Midway-area Magistrate Liles Taylor were in a call with cabinet officials, who agreed to give the company a grace period so it could finance the construction, in exchange for delay the opening of the event barn.

Vandegrift said the project also needed clearance from the State Historic Preservation Office, which “had to sign off with the local Native American tribes before the land was sold.”

The company has applied for a low-interest loan, sponsored by the city through a Community Development Block Grant. “There is no liability on the city for this, but we have to be the arbiter,” Vandegrift said. He said the Bluegrass Area Development District “has been vital in helping that part across the finish lines as well.”

EDA Executive Director Lucas Witt of Fortune Realty said the loan is still pending because “There are a couple of additional items that need to be submitted by Bluegrass Distillers.” The funds will go to the EDA and be released to the company for purchase of distilling equipment.

“This has been a difficult project to get done,” Vandegrift said. ”It’s taken two years and had numerous setbacks, but thanks to the determination of the owners to open a distillery here we’re at the finish line.”

Bluegrass Distillers says it started from scratch, mashing each ounce of grain by hand, and opened on West Sixth Street in Lexington in 2013. It was recruited to Midway by a task force of two then-City Council members, John McDaniel and Dan Roller, and Julie and Steve Morgan.

The Midway location will highlight what the company calls the “grain to glass” production of bourbon, beginning with 40 to 45 acres of blue and yellow corn on the property.

“We are thrilled to be moving our operations to Elkwood Farm,” Rock said in the release. “We have been looking in Midway for over three years, and at this particular location for most of that time.”

Normally, a distillery would have to be located in an industrial zone, but the closest industrially zoned spot to the mansion, which will be used as a tasting room, is 350 feet away. Tat would have been a long walk for many visitors, so the distillery will be in the agricultural zone, near the mid-1830s mansion. The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn’t protect it from demolition.

The company says it will initially employ around 30 people and give residents a chance to reconnect with the town’s bourbon history. “They’ve even hinted at naming one of their first offerings something that will harken back to that history,” Vandegrift said.

Now that the deal is closed, the process of annexing the property will begin.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

City Council ratifies list of five properties that will have their tax bills raised if they aren't fixed up by Sept. 1

A long-abandoned but intriguing house at Turner and Higgins streets is on the list. 
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Five Midway property owners will have to bring buildings up to code or face much higher property taxes, following the Midway City Council's adoption of a list proposed by the city's Code Enforcement Board.

Among other business Monday night, the council bade its official goodbyes to Members Bruce Southworth and John Holloway, and followed the state's lead in waiving alcoholic-beverage license fees due to the pandemic.

The five properties that the Code Enforcement Board said should be listed as abandoned are at 111 E. Bruen St., 318 Second St., 129 S. Turner St., 105 S. Winter St. and 116 W. Bruen St. or an adjacent property, identified by a property-valuation parcel number.

The issue identified at 105 S. Winter is an outbuilding, but Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in response to a question by Council Member Logan Nance that the tax penalty of up to 70 percent would apply to the entire property if the outbuilding is not brought up to code by Sept. 1.

The list is the first to be submitted by the new board under a blighted-property ordinance that the council passed in January after years of off-and-on discussions and lobbying by Vandegrift, who called the list "an important piece of work" that is due by Jan. 1 of each year.

The mayor said the three-member board and an alternate started with addresses that did not have water service, "walked the town" and eliminated those that they didn't think met the criteria for abandoned urban property under a 2016 state law because they were not "falling apart," as he put it.

The council also approved the mayor's plan to waive alcohol-license fees, as the state has done because of the difficulty the pandemic has caused bars and restaurants. Midway's fees are due June 1; Vandegrift said any new licensees before then would be licensed at no fee.

It also approved a second encroachment permit in Midway Station for Homer Freeny Jr. to facilitate access to his industrially zoned property, which will also allow the city to build a gravel street to the water tank, which Vandegrift said would "benefit us greatly."

John Holloway
The council approved resolutions honoring Holloway, who was elected in 2018 and did not seek a second term, and Southworth, who was elected in 2012 and finished ninth in a 10-way race for the six council seats last month.

Among the accomplishments noted in the Holloway resolution were the blighted-property ordinance, updated animal ordinances and the honorary naming of a section of East Stephens Street for African American educator William Christy.

Vandegrift said Holloway, a retired University of Kentucky theatre professor, "doesn't suffer fools" and was good at focusing on issues and "getting the job done," and at "picking up the details that some of us miss." He also noted Holloway's "labor of love" as unpaid manager of Walter Bradley Park.

Bruce Southworth
Southworth was elected to the council the same year as Vandegrift, who said they "agreed on a ton, disagreed on quite a bit," but were always able to have a beer together afterward and remain friends. "I wish that Washington could do that," he said. "I know they used to do that a long time ago, but I wish Frankfort could still do that; it doesn't seem to be the way of the world, but it still is on the local level."

Vandegrift said "Bruce's knowledge of the workings of the city, of infrastructure, has been vital. I hope he knows that I'm still gonna be calling on him for help when we have a question, especially about water or sewer construction." Southworth was Georgetown water plant operator for six years, wastewater-treatment plant operator in Midway for 11 years, and Versailles city administrator for several years. In 2011, he retired after six years as Versailles public works director.

Each resolution named a day in honor of the departing member; Holloway's will be Dec. 31, their last day in office; Southworth's will be April 1, the date he requested, signifying his sense of humor. "Touchdown!" he exulted when the date was announced. Vandegrift said, "You couldn't have thought of a better day for that one, my friend."

The council had already agreed to cancel its second meeting of December, so, barring any special meetings, this was the last one for Holloway and Southworth. Southworth got the last word, with his usual motion to adjourn; long ago it was reduced to one word that all understood: "Motion." And with that, the meeting -- and likely the substantive, official part of his public service -- ended.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Outgoing state Rep. Graviss relays good budget news

By Joe Graviss
State representative (until Dec. 31)

It may not have drawn much attention outside the Capitol, but work on next year’s state budget formally got underway last Friday, when the Consensus Forecasting Group finalized how much revenue it expects the state to have next fiscal year.

The group’s 10 economists sifted through pages of state and federal data to come up with their total, which now must be used by the governor and the General Assembly when enacting the next state spending plan.

In normal times, the group would just be gauging whether their projections are still on track, but these are not normal times. Because of Covid-19, legislators understandably just approved a one-year budget back in April, so we could have more information in hand before tackling the upcoming fiscal year.

While the pandemic has created havoc with some state revenues, the steep decline initially feared never materialized, thanks in large part to targeted budget cuts, a better-than-expected economy and the federal CARES Act.

For more than four months now, state budget officials have reported generally positive news. State revenues overall are up 5 percent, and sales-tax receipts are up almost 7 percent, a sign that consumer spending remains strong.

Friday’s Consensus Forecasting Group report predicts that steady trend to continue, and it estimates the 2022 fiscal year will have 2.2 percent growth.

This assumes no more federal stimulus packages, even though there are encouraging signs that a bipartisan deal is being worked out in Congress. If that occurs, there’s reason to believe Kentucky’s budget numbers will improve even more.

So far, we seem to be doing better than many other states. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy group, Georgia’s government has cut spending by 10 percent; Maryland’s has slashed spending by more than $400 million; and Florida’s governor vetoed $1 billion in spending and told agencies to prepare for 8.5 percent further reductions this fiscal year.

Nationally, charts used by the Consensus Forecasting Group indicate that the 15 million jobs the country has lost since March should be back at that level at some point in 2022. It will take a lot longer, though, for manufacturing to get back to pre-pandemic levels, and that holds true for Kentucky as well.

It is critical to note that the recovery is far from even. Many businesses, especially restaurants and others that have shuttered their doors, are still bearing a sizable burden because of public-health measures, and jobless numbers in many communities are still high. If Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year, hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians will exhaust unemployment insurance benefits and lose protections tied to housing and student loan repayment.

This, on top of record numbers of Covid infections and deaths, points to a tough winter ahead, even as the first doses of a viable vaccine arrive this month.

My hope is that we can find ways to hold on and keep ourselves safe until this pandemic is behind us. It won’t be easy, but it is a challenge we are equipped to handle.

I want to thank you for your part in this collective effort, and I hope you and your family are able to stay safe through the holidays and beyond. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there is any way I can help. My email is joe.graviss@lrc.ky.gov, or use the toll-free message line at 800-372-7181. The line is open during normal business hours each weekday.

Thanks for all you do, and holler anytime.

Friday, December 4, 2020

EDA and mayor looking at options other than highway commercial for remaining lots in Midway Station

Zoning map shows I-64 interchange and most of Midway Station
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The idea of a large commercial development at Midway Station is fading.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift threw cold water on the notion at Friday's meeting of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, and two key members of the EDA board largely agreed with him.

For months, since it lined up sales of all the industrial lots in Midway Station, the board has been considering how to market and perhaps redevelop the approximately 17 40 or so acres near Georgetown Road that are zoned B-5, or highway commercial, and owned by the EDA.

Vandegrift told the board that "We need to think anew" about the property. "I do not believe that 40 acres of commercial is a good thing for Midway anymore."

The mayor said he wasn't suggesting that the land be rezoned for industry, though he said in an interview after the meeting that is an option, along with a hotel or some sort of institutional use. He told the board that there are other options, such as professional offices.

"I'm just saying that should be considered going forward," he told the board.

"We line up very closely with that thinking," board Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway said.

Paul Schreffler, chair of the committee dealing with the property, agreed, suggesting that the market for commercial property has changed.

"We have to follow the dictates of the marketplace," Schreffler said. "There is demand for other things than highway commercial, B-5 property."

Vandegrift said afterward that he had sensed the board was heading in that direction and he thought it was a good time to make the conversation public.

He said the roads in the commercial zone are "obviously a problem" because they are not designed for highway commercial, and Midway doesn't need a large number of such businesses.

"It would create a lot of lower-paying jobs, which is not what we're looking for. . . . You would have a lot more traffic along 341, which is gonna become more and more troublesome if the state continues to ignore it." He said highway-commercial businesses might bring more crime, as targets for robberies.

Vandegrift noted that seven acres on Georgetown Road (KY 341), "the most marketable" commercial property at Midway Station, is owned by Dennis Anderson, the Lexington developer who one had an option to buy all the unsold lots in the development.

The mayor said he doesn't expect Anderson to develop the seven acres "anytime soon." He added, "I think the covid recession has probably killed commercial land sales."

He added, A little bit of commercial out there is OK." Asked if seven acres is enough, he said, "I think seven acres is plenty." He said it would be understandable if the EDA board wanted to keep one lot zoned B-5 for for a hotel, for example.

Asked if he was also trying to protect downtown businesses from highway competition, Vandegrift replied, "Absolutely, 100 percent. I don’t see how it would benefit them."

Vandegrift said the obvious zoning option for most of the B-5 property would be I-1 industrial, "because we’re hot as a pistol with that. The one detractor is those roads were not laid out for I-1."

During its meeting, the EDA board approved paying HMB Engineers up to $8,500 to estimate costs of relocating roads and utilities in the B-5 area, as well as improvements to a adjoining industrial lot.

Several weeks ago, Vandegrift said the southwest corner of the B-5 area could be the home of a relocated headquarters for the Midway Fire Department, but he said Friday that is "more of a longshot at this point."

During the meeting, Michalisin reported that on Dec. 3, he signed closing documents to sell to Big Dog Holdings, also known as White Dog Trading, 15.6 acres of Roach family property on Georgetown Road on the north side of Midway Station, on which EDA has long held an option with a profit-sharing agreement. He said EDA's proceeds from the sale were $65,048.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Mayor calls council meeting at 4 Fri. to discuss use of last CARES Act money; proposes more business grants

UPDATE, Nov. 4: The council approved Mayor Grayson Vandegrift's proposal. He noted that only cities that had exhausted their previous allocations were eligible, so "The hero of all this is our City Clerk-Treasurer, Cindy Foster, because had she not been so diligent to get that stuff in early and get it all reimbursed, we would not be looking at this extra forty-two thousand dollars." 

The Midway City Council will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Friday to discuss allocation of the city's final allocation of $42,260 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

In calling the meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that the state is releasing the final $50 million dollars of CARES Act funding to cities and counties that had exhausted their first allotment, including Midway.

"I believe it appropriate and necessary to use these funds as a second round of small business grants to our struggling local shops and restaurants," Vandegrift said in an email to the council and news media.

The city must file its application with the state Department for Local Government by Dec. 11, so Vandegrift is proposing that "rather than open up another application process," as it did with the first round of business grants, "we automatically award a second round of grants to the 31 businesses we did last time (I’m including VS Salon & Spa as #31). If any additional businesses wish to apply, we will give them until Monday at 5 p.m. to do so, for approval by the council at our [regularly scheduled] meeting that evening. If no additional businesses apply by then, each of the 31 will receive roughly $1,374, in addition to what they will receive with our Midway Bucks stimulus."

This week, the city sent each water customer $60 worth of Midway Bucks, vouchers redeemable at local businesses, with half designated for food suppliers and half for shops and services.

Vandegrift said the grants to businesses would be fully reimbursable, as they were before. "This will be federal tax dollars with us as the arbiter, and will not come out of our general fund once it’s reimbursed later in December," he said. "With this second grant, and the two rounds of Midway Bucks, we can proudly say we have done as much or more than any city in Kentucky to shore up our local shops and restaurants and assure they remain Midway businesses."

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

University will lower tuition for RN-BSN degree, keep other tuition, room and board rates same in 2021-22

Midway University will continue to freeze tuition, room and board in the 2021-22 academic year, and will lower tuition for the program for registered nurses to get a bachelor's degree, "making that rate the most affordable in the region and much of the state," the university said in a press release.

“The University has held its tuition rates without any increases for several years,” President John Marsden said in the release. “It is important to ensure our programs remain affordable and accessible for those seeking a private education.”

Marsden added, “Comparing our online undergraduate and graduate programs, we are the most affordable in this region when looking at tuition rates and credit hours needed to earn a degree. Our Master of Education and Master of Science in Nursing tuition rates are the lowest in the state and our MBA program is one of the most affordable in the region and can be completed in 12 months.”

Outside ranking organizations have also focused on the tuition rates of Midway University’s graduate programs over the last few years. Most recently, Midway University was recognized as one of the Top 20 Most Affordable Online Masters Programs.

Marsden said the university remains focused on the quality of its programs even as it tries to make them affordable. “This year Midway University completed several major renovation and construction projects without incurring any new debt,” he said. “As we grow, we continue to work to keep our class sizes small enabling our faculty to focus on each student. We believe Midway University is a great choice for traditional and non-traditional students as we keep our focus on students first.”