• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Brown-Forman bond request put on hold

Woodford Fiscal Court Tuesday spent much of its meeting quizzing Brown-Forman attorneys and officials about the company's request that the county issue $120 million worth of industrial revenue bonds (IRBs) to help them build 12 new whiskey barrel warehouses. Before the Q and A, Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle announced there'd be no vote that evening, though a vote was possible at its April 26 meeting. The warehouses would be built on 100 acres of land that Brown-Forman hopes to purchase at 960 Georgetown Road in Midway. Each would be 90,000 square feet with a capacity of 65,000 barrels. Tom Eiffer, an attorney for Stoll, Keenon and Ogden, which represents Brown-Forman, said the company is still running the numbers on the purchase and hasn't made a commitment. Eiffer said the IRB issue is critical to the company's decision. Eiffer cited five IRBs issued over the last 18 months in other counties, and said the company had considered counties other than Woodford to store Woodford Reserve in the new warehouses. Many of the questions from magistrates concerned the pilot program set up between the company and the Woodford County School District in the $60 million IRB issue in 2014 to build four new warehouses. The pilot program allowed the company to make payments to the school district in lieu of the taxes that would be generated if the company built the warehouses without the tax breaks that accompany the bond issue. Eiffer said such deals were not typical for distillery warehouse projects, which employ relatively few people. "What we're asking for (is the tax break) for the land and the actual warehouse buildings, but the inventory will be fully taxable," Eiffer said. Woodford County Attorney Alan George asked, "Why can't that kind of consideration be given for the county?" Eiffer said the company was very flexible, assumed the pilot program would be made under the 2014 calculations, and that the money could be given to the county directly. Coyle and several magistrates pointed out that the Woodford County Fire Department and Versailles Police Department (the latter of which is partially funded by the county) are the entities charged with protecting barrel warehouses. Eiffer said the funding breakdown was a function of the Woodford County tax structure, and reiterated that the company was not opposed to sending the pilot program funds to the county. "Instead of allowing the school district to get the lion's share of the pie, we need to negotiate where the lion's share of the pie comes to the county, so we can catch up. I think that's what we've discussed, and I think that's what the court wants," Coyle said. Magistrate Duncan Gardiner (Dist. 6) asked if the IRB would allow the company to keep the bourbon in Woodford County for two years, then move the barrels elsewhere to avoid county distillate taxes that begin then. Eiffer said he knew of no prohibition, but didn't know where the company would move the barrels. Gardiner said while he was in favor of a larger portion of the pilot program funds sent to the county, he might not want all the money to go the county. George asked why the IRB had to consist of 30-year bonds. Eiffer said that was an industry standard, later adding that the company wants the IRB to consist of six series of bonds issued every two years through 2026, with each issue funding the construction of two warehouses. Magistrate C.L. Watts (Dist. 2) asked if the company would consider making all of the bonds due 30 years after this year, instead of staggering them through 2056. Eiffer said not at this time. A state law allows state and local governments to issue the bonds, which finance construction and allow the company a property tax abatement on the increased value of the land. Barrel, distillate and payroll taxes are unaffected by the 2014 proposal and the IRB discussed Tuesday night. In each case, the county holds the title to the improvements and Brown-Forman makes the lease payments. "The bonds will have no impact on the county's ability to borrow money ." said attorney Mark Franklin of the Stoll, Keenon and Ogden at the court's March 22 meeting. "The county would not be liable for any debt service or payments for the bonds." In order to build the warehouses, Brown-Forman must first purchase the land and receive a zone change from the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission's Board of Adjustments. At the March 22 meeting, George said he believed magistrates wanted to know if the change has been approved before a vote on the bonds was taken. Bathroom for new pavilion? Woodford County Fair Board President Mary Lou Watkins asked the court to consider paying about $20,000 to build a bathroom for the new, $87,500 livestock pavilion. The pavilion, which Watkins said will be ready for a June 10 horse show, was paid for with two grants. Watkins told the court she didn't believe there would be money left over from the grants to build the bathroom, though any remaining funds would be used to do so. Magistrate Ken Reed (Dist. 4) said he didn't believe the court should vote on the matter because Watkins didn't provide precise estimates for the bathroom and other additions near the pavilion. Watkins said she believed adding the bathroom would make the new pavilion more attractive for regional shows. In the end, Coyle echoed Reed's comments and said the court needed more specific proposals for the bathroom and other improvements. Magistrate Mary Ann Gill (Dist. 7) asked why pavilion-goers couldn't use portable toilets, to which Watkins replied, "Not many people like them unless they're absolutely necessary." Grant for OD drug Woodford County Ambulance Director Hunter Shewmaker said his department received a $6,400 grant from the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention to purchase 165 doses of Narcan, a drug used to resuscitate victims of drug overdoses. Some victims require multiple doses of the drug. Drink sales Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chairman John Soper said he'd been approached by three businesses in Woodford County that want an earlier start on Sunday for by-the-drink sales. Soper said they want the county ordinance to mirror those of Midway and Versailles, which allow licensed businesses to begin serving alcohol at 11 a.m., rather than the county's start time of noon. In response to a question, Soper said the three businesses requesting the change were Watkin's Tavern, Peristyle (which is building a distillery and restaurant on the Old Taylor site) and a "boutique-style" hotel considering coming to the county. Magistrate Gerald Dotson made a motion asking that the matter be considered at the court's next meeting. The motion passed 7 to 1, with Magistrate Jackie Brown (Dist. 8) voting no. Tyrone Pike closure Woodford County Road Engineer Buan Smith told the court that work on the Shryocks Ferry Bridge April 22 will necessitate the closure of a stretch of Tyrone Pike for an hour beginning "around noon." That's when trucks carrying 94 feet-long beams will be on the way to the project. Smith said message boards in the affected area will be up by Thursday. George told Smith to draft and send a letter to the people notifying them of the temporary closure.

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