Local leaders look back – and ahead
For the mayors of Midway and Versailles and the county judge-executive, the good in 2015 outweighed the bad – and 2016 will be even better. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said the July 16 opening of the new Kroger, “… certainly started a revolution of commercial and industrial interest here – first big project to get off the ground in years. We’re real excited about that, and excited about the success there.” Traugott also noted discussion of a proposed $1.75 million pavilion on North Main Street and the April Spark Versailles event organized by local high school students as signs of progress for downtown Versailles. “We’re entertaining interest from various companies. Private investment, I think, will be at a record high next year … The council is working well together, and I don’t anticipate that changing. It’s a council that’s willing to tackle tough issues, and carrying through this ($20 million) wastewater treatment plant is a big deal for the long-term good of the community.” The toughest issue the Versailles City Council is likely to tackle in 2016 is a “Fairness Ordinance,” aimed at eliminating discrimination towards gays, lesbians and transgenders. (Such a measure was passed in Midway near the end of 2014.) In October, Traugott assigned the topic to the council’s administrative and legal committee, chaired by council member Carl Ellis. “It takes a lot of courage to talk about an issue that makes some people uncomfortable. I’ve expressed my support, generally, for the ordinance. I think Carl will do a fantastic job of making sure that it is a balanced ordinance that is presented to the council – one that is not subject to abuse from either side, quite honestly,” Traugott said. The worst of 2016, Traugott said, was the senseless murder of six-year-old Logan Tipton which, Traugott said, “also shined a light on the goodness of our community.” Traugott said despite sometimes bitter words about the county’s Emergency Management program (a factor in longtime director Keith Slugantz’s surprise resignation in June) and the Versailles-Woodford County Parks and Recreation Department, 2015 featured smoother intergovernmental relations than the previous year. “We have a lot of opportunities if we work together, and I think presenting a united front makes us look better to outside interests, which are important as well,” Traugott said. “I’m excited. I thought it was a great year, and I think it will be an even greater year in 2016.” Midway For Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, 2015 was not only his first year as mayor of Midway, but a good year for Woodford County’s second-largest city. “I’m really proud of what we accomplished. It was a bit of an action-packed year. We started replacing some infrastructure, some water and sewer infrastructure, and we’ve worked on beginning to figure out a comprehensive sidewalk plan,” Vandegrift said. Landing the auto parts manufacturer American Howa Kentucky (AHK) for the Roach property adjacent to Midway Station was “huge for us,” Vandegrift said. (In November, the Japanese company announced plans to spend $13 million on a 100,000 square-feet facility and employ 54 full-timers.) Vandegrift said AHK’s arrival is likely to create the sort of momentum needed to lure other business and industrial clients to the area. As for the bad in 2015, Vandegrift said the delay of the $156.4 million business, residential and industrial development planned for the nearly vacant Midway Station may not be entirely … bad. (The project was put on hold after the tax increment financing (TIF) plan already passed by the Midway City Council and Woodford Fiscal Court was deemed inadequate and a September hearing before a state board was cancelled.) “I think it might have been a temporary setback, but I still think in the end, this property tax-only TIF is actually better for the city of Midway. It makes things a lot less complicated, and it also keeps more of that new revenue in the city coffers, instead of having to go back to infrastructure repair …” Vandegrift said. TIFs use a portion of various taxes generated by the development to reimburse the developer – in this case, Dennis Anderson – for spending on public infrastructure. (Anderson did not return a call from The Sun.) Vandegrift said the city (and county) wouldn’t need to write a new TIF ordinance, just amend the one already passed. He said the Midway City Council would probably have a first reading on the measure in February and Anderson could reapply for a TIF in the spring. As for relations between the governments of Midway, Versailles and Woodford County, Vandegrift echoed Traugott, saying 2015 was better than it had been in previous years. “But I think there’s still some work to do there, and I still have not abandoned this idea of sort of a joint summit meeting (between city and county leaders). I just don’t want to push the county too much …” Vandegrift said in 2016, he hopes the city will “continue” to improve its services. “… And the best way we can do that is to increase our revenues, and the only way to significantly increase our revenues is through job creation,” Vandegrift said. He added that he hopes the city will land a hotel next year, too. Woodford County Near the beginning of a short interview, Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle, like his mayoral counterparts, was asked about the occasional bickering between leaders of both cities and the county in 2015. “I can assure you, it’s always the cities’ fault,” Coyle said with a laugh. Coyle had a hip replaced in early 2015 and since recovering, regularly gets off a relevant jest during the twice-monthly Woodford Fiscal Court meetings. Coyle has about 25 years of age on Traugott and Vandegrift and, counting his time as county sheriff, nearly two decades more of executive experience. For Coyle personally, the hip replacement was perhaps the best thing in 2015, but Coyle said there were plenty of good things for the people of Woodford County, too. “We got some new businesses up and going here in Versailles and in Midway. … The Millville area, all the work on the distilleries down there, both at Woodford Reserve and Old Taylor, that’s coming along. I think things were good last year and will be even better next year,” Coyle said. “I just think it was a pretty good year, all in all, and I look forward to bigger and better things for next year.” Coyle said for county government, the low point came in October, when Woodford Fiscal Court accepted a short-term, $525,000 loan from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACO) to address a cash-flow problem. The loan was repaid the next month. After his joke about intergovernmental relations, Coyle turned serious. “Whenever you work with different entities, there’s always going to be times in that relationship when things don’t run as smooth as you would like to see them run … especially when you talk about money issues. When you have three different entities, they disagree from time to time, and occasionally you point fingers and bring up the past and the history of how we got from point A to point B, and sometimes that ruffles feathers. “I think in relationships with local governments, you need to be able to speak freely, get it off your chest, and then move on, and I think that’s what we’ve done,” Coyle said. Coyle said he hopes 2016 continues what seems to be a “growth spurt” with businesses, including the distillery work in Millville, and that the fiscal court, with a year under the belt for its three newest members, will be more effective. “I do feel better this year than I did last year, and things are good in my personal life and the life of the county, and I look forward to a new year …” Coyle said.