Renovation of the Laurel County Fairgrounds property and lowering property taxes for city residents dominated last week's meeting of the London City Council.
London Mayor Troy Rudder announced that the growth within the city limits requires lowering of tax rates, dropping from .088 to .087 cents per $100 of assessed value. Those rates include real property, personal property and motor vehicle and motorboat rates. The taxes can be paid at the City Clerk's office in City Hall by December 1. Taxes paid prior to that date will receive a 2% discount; those paid more than 30 days after Dec. 1 will incur a 6% penalty.
"The increase in buildings and businesses require us lower the tax rates because we cannot take in more than 4 percent," Rudder said. "Lowering the tax rates for the city is always good news for the public."
London Laurel County Economic Development Authority executive director Paula Thompson said that "things are absolutely booming" in the area, with calls from businesses and individuals coming in every day, with Rudder adding to that information.
"We had 16 business announcements last month," he said. "That's not bad in the middle of COVID."
Council members also approved demolition of some buildings and removal of equipment at the fairgrounds area - an issue that was previously voted on by the London Tourist Commission last month. But their vote was countered by Rudder and City Attorney Larry Bryson, who stated that any demolition at that site must be approved by the city council since the city owns the property but merely leases it to the tourist commission.
Tourist Commission Executive Director Chris Robinson said there is "unsafe playground equipment" at the fairgrounds, as well as some antiquated bleachers and fencing. An old bathroom and a shed between some of the softball fields are also safety hazards as well, he added.
Councilman Steve Berry, who also serves on the tourist commission, said he had met with community leaders familiar with the fairground property and that a committee was formed to study the property and look for future development. That committee proposes a renovation of the fairgrounds property that will be more productive in the future.
Council member Bobby Joe Parman said he would like to see the baseball fields improved to host tournaments, with Councilman Daniel Carmack stating that a feasibility study several years ago suggested improving current playing fields at the Little League properties.
"The North Laurel and South Laurel Little Leagues are both struggling," Robinson explained. "They've hosted numerous tournaments and are still struggling."
Councilman Judd Weaver suggested selling the usable but unneeded equipment as surplus, with Carmack making the motion to remove and/or demolish the unsafe playground equipment, bleachers, shed and old bathroom - pending any surplus or salvageable items. The motion passed unanimously by the four council members present - Noah White and Danny Phelps were absent.
Rudder said that he and Robinson would visit the property on Tuesday to take inventory of the remaining equipment and buildings, with Robinson agreeing to council members to submit a list of items at the next meeting.
An agreement between the London-Corbin Airport, Somerset Economic Development Authority and Somerset airport was also discussed, with Rudder and Thompson explaining that Somerset airport will pursue commercial flights and will work with the London-Corbin facility to utilize a freight facility. The agreement between the two airports would put Somerset as a regional airport to recruit national flight companies to the area. Thompson explained that London does not have a terminal appropriate for commercial flights but that the use of the UPS, U.S. Forest Service and Fed-X for freight deliveries would benefit both areas.
"The regional airport is good for me in recruiting," she said. "This is a win-win for us. We don't have the terminal for commercial flights, but the companies using our airport for freight deliveries will supply their own equipment to do that, so it's at no cost to us."
She added that H.T. Warehousing is now having freight shipments through the London-Corbin Airport and that new businesses and existing businesses would benefit from that service. The commercial flights into Somerset would also benefit the area, since the closest commercial airport is Lexington, with Knoxville being even further.
A contract to harvest paddlefish on Wood Creek Lake was also discussed, with council members approving a three-year contract. City Attorney Larry Bryson said Kentucky State University had placed paddle fish in the lake several years ago in hopes of producing marketable eggs.
"In 2010, they placed 530 one-year-old paddle fish into the lake to reproduce," he explained. "The reservoir is already there and the eggs can be commercially marketable as caviar."
Councilman Judd Weaver also inquired about a city ethics board, with Rudder responding that there is a board in place, although they have not had any issues to deal with in several years.
In upcoming events, Councilman Daniel Carmack reported that the Redbud Ride set for Saturday has 847 cyclists registered for the event, with over half coming to London to participate for the first time. More cyclists are expected to register as walk-ups on the day of the ride, with as many as 900 to 950 people participating this year.
A disc golf tournament is also expected to bring in 80 or more participants, with that event being held at the Whitley Branch Veterans Park.