• John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor

Versailles City Council Q&A

Aaron Smither

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? My decision to run for city council came from a place that motivates most parents - to leave a legacy for my children. I am a product of Versailles and I want to make sure that our town remains safe and nurturing. My top priorities are: 1) to use my talents as a successful small-business owner and decision-maker to help manage resources; 2) to leverage my experience as a Woodford Co. Tourism Commission member to promote Versailles as a national, first-choice tourism destination; 3) to find “smart growth,” value-add business additions for our city. What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? Big Spring Park is one of the best assets we have. If the sun is shining, chances are my family and I are there. We have spent nearly a decade talking about the project and its time to turn the idea into reality.  I think a private/public financing collaboration should be used to fund the pavilion and while I am not aware of cost, I think it should be a priority for the city in our budget moving forward. Opening up the park to downtown will allow for more events, more activity, and better safety. What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19? Mayor Traugott’s Cares Act grant was a huge lifeline for small-business and struggling families. I would like to see the city commit to find ways to make it easier to do business with city government entities: expand online presence and incorporate technology concerning city services would be an example. What can the council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? The less there is of something the more expensive it becomes. Our challenge is finding the balance of how do we keep the small-town charm that Versailles is known for while finding ways to keep it as affordable as possible. I’ll be honest – I don’t have that answer yet. But what I do have is the ability and track record of identifying problems and finding solutions. If the council can help in this area, I will be at the center of that conversation. Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut? Part of good governance is to always find ways to be more efficient and streamlined. More than ever, people in our community are having to find ways to do more with less. I think that local government has the obligation to do the same. Fred Siegelman

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? I am running for City Council to provide the best leadership I can give to the City of Versailles to keep us moving forward. As a City Councilmen, I will aim to develop the city’s streetscape, provide more activities for youth to participate in, and will bring retail businesses to Woodford County. What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? Over the past several years the City of Versailles has seen economic growth that has in return attracted more families to move into the city. Due to the expansion, support from the city, the county, and civic leaders has advocated for the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the construction of the downtown pavilion. Currently the City and the County just approved $24,500 to be allocated towards addressing invasive species in Big Spring Park. This a major step in the right direction, but as of now it is too early to put a price tag on both of the projects. What we can say for now is that the completion of these projects is a path towards future development for the City. What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19? The Mayor has worked hard to secure funding relief from state and federal government to help our front-facing businesses. I was supportive of these efforts and will continue to support any funding resources we can find to protect small businesses. It is not as much question of what our government can do to help these businesses, but what can we all do to help these businesses. It is simple - shop local. Versailles is open for business. What can city council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? I have always been supportive of affordable housing opportunities in our community. Going forward, our City Council needs to continue to think of opportunities for affordable housing to take place in our second and third floor buildings downtown. We need our youth and elderly populations being able to have affordable housing that is close to shops and restaurants and does not require these individuals to have a car to get to where they need to go. Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut? COVID-19 has caused the state and local government to sharpen their pencil and stretch the communities tax dollars as far as they can. As a businessman and a long-time public servant, I know the importance of a strong budget. With that being said, I will aim to provide the least amount of burden on the constituents of this community and in by so doing yield the best benefits I can for the community.

Gary Jones

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? I want to represent the small business interest. They are what make our town unique and they need someone to advocate for them. I want to highlight overlooked attractions and maximize the potential of our entire city. I want to ensure everyone in Versailles is heard. Our town is varied in its inhabitants and they deserve a voice. I am a centrist conservative and I believe the Council needs differing ideologies to make it a fair and balanced body. I want to help ensure Versailles stays the small-town vibrant community it is. What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? The Park is enjoyed by a large section of the community. Revitalization should be a joint project by both city & county since both city & county residents will benefit. For the downtown pavilion, the city should partner with local businesses to help fund it. Everyone will benefit from these collaborations, the businesses with get advertising for being part of the community and the city will be able to better afford the kind of pavilion that downtown deserves. What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19? The City applied for and received Federal Funds to help both businesses and individuals affected by the COVID-19 economic downturn. They made all these funds available to the local businesses and any individuals that were needing help with rent and expenses. There is still money available to individuals that are in a continuing need of relief. What can the council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? The city and the county need to jointly pursue Federal money to help build affordable housing. The need is there, so the city and county need to work together to identify opportunities that might be available. Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut? The city is very judicious in its spending. We have one of the lowest overall tax bases in the state. Before any new money is spent, we on the city council, look closely to make sure it benefits the majority of the city. Lisa Johnson

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? I am running for City Council because I am an active member of our community and want to continue to be part of the solutions that will help Versailles be an even better place to work, live, stay and play.  With my experience in both professional business and non-profit sectors, I know collaboration and engagement are the keys to positive change. I am: candid- honest, truthful and straightforward, creative - I bring people and ideas together, and community focused - I would be a member of council who wants to hear your ideas and will work hard to accomplish shared goals.   What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? We are fortunate to have a beautiful green space in downtown Versailles and a pavilion is a good idea. There was a plan created in May 2000 called “Preserving Town and Country,” then there was a Pavilion Plan in 2017-2018 by a group who didn’t keep minutes of their meetings, and recently the City and County spent $12,000 for a plan to improve Big Spring Park. A public/private partnership would be a win-win. I say it is time for Council to decide upon a plan - “a little less talk, a little more action.”  What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19? My nonprofit, Mentors & Meals, was hit hard by C19. Fortunately, we were able to apply for and receive PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) assistance from the federally funded SBA which allowed M&Ms to keep staff. This allowed us to deliver 7,602 meals to students and their families from March to September.  I understand other businesses received CARES funds. Council should tell our Representatives to support additional CARES money and distribute it to those in need. In addition, I will encourage Council and citizens to “buy local” by patronizing our independently owned shops, restaurants, and farmer’s markets as much as possible. What can the council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? As a member of Council, I would support the effort to make attractive, right-sized housing available in Versailles for first time home buyers, seniors who want to down-size, and folks who want to live in the community where they work.  The Council should research good examples of what other towns our size are doing and then bring together citizens, public officials, businesses, builders, banks, and property owners to discuss shared action plans for locations and buildings that can be re-repurposed and revitalized. Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut? From my research, Versailles property taxes are low compared to other states and we would want to keep it that way. The 16-page City Budget is available on the Versailles.gov website and is fairly complicated. For example, there are line items in which 50 percent of the budgeted amount shows up in the General Fund Budget and the other half in the Enterprise Fund Budget, which makes it difficult to know exactly where our tax monies are allocated. If elected, I would welcome the opportunity to be a member of the Finance committee to ensure clarity and transparency for our citizens. Laura Dake

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? I am proud of what the city has achieved over the past four years and want to continue working for -- and with – the community to make Versailles an even better place to live for all. I am energized by the interesting work, blessed by the relationships I’ve built, and grateful to be given an opportunity to make a difference. My priorities include helping residents and businesses affected by COVID; improving Big Spring Park; working on age-friendly initiatives; enhancing Versailles’ wayfinding system; and focusing on growth that creates well-paying jobs but not at the expense of Woodford’s irreplaceable landscape.  What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? I’m excited there is interest in revitalizing the park and downtown, initiatives I’ve worked on for several years. The new park plan is not very detailed, and I have little information on a downtown pavilion at this time so don’t want to attach specific numbers to either project. I would expect that the city would partner with a private entity to develop the pavilion property so as not to assume total risk for it. Big Spring Park improvements will be done in phases over many years as city/county budgets allow. Volunteers should be utilized to do some of the work.     What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19?  As of this writing, the city still has about $40,000 in CARES funds to help individuals financially impacted by COVID with rent and utilities. If the city is awarded additional state/federal funds, I would certainly be open to awarding some of it to businesses as we did previously. I’m also interested in creating jobs that pay well to move people unemployed due to the pandemic into full employment. As things open up, I would be amenable to supporting our tourism marketing efforts to bring more people to Woodford County to spend money on food, lodging, gifts and attractions.    What can the council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? If re-elected, I would like to explore this issue in my next term. I’m not an expert, but federal funding, while often necessary, seem to tie communities to distant decisionmakers and the vagaries of the federal budget. Some thoughts include leveraging local solutions to fund housing affordability by engaging nonprofit developers and charitable foundations; providing some assistance to small landlords to fix their properties in exchange for a reasonable rent; exploring land trusts where an organization or government entity owns the land while the resident owns the house; considering accessory dwelling units; and encouraging mixed-use development.     Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut?   The mayor and department heads do a great job, I think, in preparing the annual budget by balancing funding for pressing city needs while leaving some room to explore new projects and opportunities. The city’s property tax rate remains among the lowest in the region at $56 per $100,000 of assessed value and lowering it would affect services. While sewer rates have increased to pay for the wastewater treatment plant’s expansion, other cities will follow suit in coming years. Council members are offered health insurance at no charge (for a part-time job) so this could be a place to trim.   Mike Coleman

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? I’m running because I want to continue serving the citizens of the City of Versailles as I have for the past four years. I prepared myself to serve on the Council by serving on the EDA, Planning & Zoning, BGADD, Tourism Commission and Chamber of Commerce. My top priorities are: assisting in filling our empty buildings like Sylvania, Kroger’s, etc. Attracting new businesses, retail, dining, etc. To help lead our city through catastrophic events as we have the past two years. What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? I am in favor of the BSP revitalization and the Pavilion because it will bring people downtown and help Versailles and our local businesses thrive. I would like to see us apply for grant and foundation funding and explore public-private partnerships or sponsorships to minimize the costs to the city and county. What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19? This year, the City distributed $433,000 in CARES Act relief funding to local businesses to offset the financial burdens as a result of the pandemic. The City allocated $50,000 for individuals in relief funding. We are currently exploring other potential options. What can the council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? We led a task force two years ago to explore opportunities and I am a member of the Kentucky Housing Policy Advisory Committee. This problem is not unique to Versailles and we will continue looking at opportunities to increase our inventory of quality affordable housing. Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut? Other than sewer rate increases to pay for the new wastewater treatment plant, city property taxes have remained the same for at least eight years. Our garbage collection rates remained the same for eight years. We review city expenditures each year during the budget process and our audits illustrate that we are fiscally responsible. Mary Bradley

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? I was born and raised in Versailles and it has been an honor to serve on its City Council. I love my hometown and am humbled to be entrusted as a representative for all Versailles citizens and residents, and I will continue serving with inclusion and respect for all. What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? The revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed creation of a downtown pavilion would provide great opportunities for an outdoor entertainment. From serving as hosting site for an array of community events such as farmers markets and craft or merchant fairs, both would serve as an important point of interest for our community. What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by Covid-19? The toll of the pandemic has impacted everyone; however, some businesses and individuals have found themselves in more venerable financial situations. Through the leadership of Mayor Traugott working alongside various community action groups and individuals, financial assistance has been provided to over 140 residents with over $15,000 in aid rendered so far. The City Council must continue to assess the needs of small businesses owners and residents and dedicate resources and assistance to provide economic relief and support. What can the city council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? Currently there are six lower income housing complexes throughout the community that provide 377 affordable apartment options. There are also many income-based options for single families. The City Council must continue to collaborate with the Housing Authority of Versailles to provide quality housing that is affordable and well maintained. Are there areas of city spending that can be trimmed and/or any taxes that can be cut? It is critically important, especially in these times, to keep city taxes low while also maintaining quality city and social services. Chris Bowling

Why are you running for city council and what are your top priorities? As a lifelong resident of Woodford County, I’ve always had a passion for what’s going on in our town, but this year decided to take the leap to run. If elected, I’d be the youngest council member and I think that is exactly what Versailles needs; new, 21st century ideas from someone who knows our city well. My top priorities would be to keep our Government and its resources as transparent as possible. Ensuring that any and everyone knows just where to turn to find the information and help that is available. What are your thoughts about the revitalization of Big Spring Park and the proposed downtown pavilion, and how much should the city spend on each project? I support any revitalization of our parks and green spaces, as well as a venue for entertainment, like the proposed pavilion! Big Spring Park has always been there for me and my family so, of course we should do everything in our power to keep it beautiful and inviting. However, this might mean a long-term investment, set out over a few years. I think finding a sponsor to finance a pavilion downtown would be best, not unlike Fifth Third Bank has done in Lexington, for their Thursday Night Live events. What more can the city do to help businesses and individuals affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19? First of all, I think having our Community Action hidden inside the head start building, at 200 Park Street, is just about as ineffective as it gets. A resource as important as this should be front and center, as to be welcoming for individuals seeking its assistance. Businesses suffering economic hardship should definitely utilize the grants Versailles has been awarded for COVID relief. Our city’s Tourism Commission, along with our Government could help to promote and encourage everyone to shop our local businesses as well. What can the council do to increase affordable housing opportunities in Versailles? What a very important and difficult question that I wish I had an easy answer to! We all realize there is a problem and the council certainly needs to explore as many options as possible. Enticing builders to establish affordable housing here, while trying to offset their losses will be a challenge, especially with the influx of families migrating to Versailles from Lexington. This is something I would be very passionate about, if elected to a council seat. Are there any areas of city spending that can be trimmed and any taxes that can be cut? Three-quarters of our city’s budget is being spent on its public safety; fire, police, etc. and property taxes are already some of the lowest in the state. I would assuredly have to review our budget in depth, along with the entire council and Mayor, to examine our options further.


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