2017-07-12 / News

Whitesburg council told audits are nearly done; grants may come easier

By WILLIAM FARLEY


Melinda Stanley, right, along with her two children were swimming with 24-year-old Richard Mullins when the group was caught in a rip tide. Stanley said her son was able to drag her daughter back to shore, and a couple on the beach pulled her ashore, but no one was able to reach Mullins before he disappeared. (Photo by Makenzie Holland, courtesy StarNews.) Melinda Stanley, right, along with her two children were swimming with 24-year-old Richard Mullins when the group was caught in a rip tide. Stanley said her son was able to drag her daughter back to shore, and a couple on the beach pulled her ashore, but no one was able to reach Mullins before he disappeared. (Photo by Makenzie Holland, courtesy StarNews.) After four years without a city audit, the City of Whitesburg is nearly caught up.

At the July meeting of the Whitesburg City Council Tuesday night, audits for 2013, 2014, and 2015 were presented and unanimously accepted by the council. Mayor James Wiley Craft told the council members the audit for 2016 (Fiscal Year 2016-17) will go to the auditor this month and should be finished within three or four months.

Council member Robin Bowen Watko suggested that since the city’s books will be in order, the council should receive more complete financial information, and asked that a separate financial report for each city department be included in the monthly packet the council receives. She also asked for monthly updates on water and sewer bills, including delinquencies, as well as a monthly accounting of the city’s occupational tax. Mayor Craft said it will require more work for city office staff but he will see that the reports are included in the packets.

In a related matter, following the water and sewer report from Water Maintenance Manger Chris Caudill, Mayor Craft told the council that since the audit situation is close to being resolved, the city will have a much easier time obtaining grants for infrastructure, and Whitesburg has several major problems that need to be addressed. Watko agreed and said that infrastructure grants should be a priority.

Craft also said the city will need to examine water and sewer rates, with an eye toward adjusting them upward. Caudill said Whitesburg probably has the lowest water rates in the state and Paul Nesbitt of Nesbitt Engineering added that the state estimates that water and sewer costs increase about two percent a year. He said the City of Whitesburg hasn’t raised its rates since it had to increase sewer rates to qualify for grants for the wastewater treatment plant nearly 15 years ago.

Craft also told the council that while the city has made progress in collecting delinquent water and sewer bills, it will need to increase collection efforts. He added that a number of city water and sewer customers with delinquent accounts have signed contracts specifying that they pay a specific amount of their delinquent bills as well as their regular monthly payment, with the stipulation that if they miss a payment their service will be terminated.

Paul Nesbitt told the council that while his work on the Daniel Boone Hotel is complete now that funding has been obtained, there are other water and sewer matters that need to be addressed. These include new lines along the bypass to replace the badly engineered one that is in use now. Chris Caudill added that there is a leak directly from under the city water plant which has to be attended to and said it will require tunneling under the plant. He said the city has the plans and knows about where the leak originated. Nesbitt said his company will continue its work with the city on water and sewer matters and will do all it can to help with the leak as well.

Caudill reported a number of pump failures and said they tend to run in cycles. He said city workers have done their best to keep costs down by taking parts from pumps that fail and using them to fix pumps that can be rebuilt.

Mayor Craft asked the council to approve a roadblock “nuc pro tunk” (then as now) that had already taken place to provide funds to the Little League. The council voted unanimously to approve his request. He added that the duties of city office staffer Patty Wood, who retired recently, have been divided between several other staff- ers and that Charlotte Ison has taken over accounts payable, so she will need to be approved as a check signer. The council voted unanimously to approve. Police Chief Tyrone Fields has taken over Wood’s duties managing business licenses and fees.

Craft said that swimming pool manager Donna Perkins had told him the current pool staff, as well as the customers using the pool this summer, are the best she has seen. Perkins said the Letcher County Food Pantry is sending lunchmeat, bread, and potato chips to the pool regularly so that kids who cannot afford lunch will be able to eat.

Mayor Craft asked the council to approve a $300 initial fee and a $50 per month maintenance charge for a new city website. The council voted unanimously to approve the request. Police Chief Fields told the mayor that the website designer has asked that the council take a group picture and provide biographical snapshots for the site as well.

Council member Watko told the council that Joanna and Mark Hardin are continuing their previously announced plans to take over the newsly-closed StreetSide Cafe and will rename it Fifth District. The new restaurant and lounge will open August 4.

Mayor Craft told the council it will cost $2,000 to rent equipment to clean debris from around city bridge pilings, but it has to be done for safety purposes. He said it will also require permission from the Kentucky Department of Water, but he has been assured that when the city plans the work, permission will be granted. Craft said visitors from the Appalachian Regional Commission will meet with him and representatives of the Department of Local Government on July 17 to go over federal guidelines for the ARC grant to stabilize the Daniel Boone Hotel.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to have the metal sculpture at the junction of Webb Avenue and Bentley Street across from Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College moved for safety purposes. Both Watko and Craft said they have received numerous complaints saying that the metal sculpture impedes motorists’ vision and presents a danger.

Craft said he will contact Letcher County artist Doug Adams, who built the piece, and ask for his help in relocating it. The council also voted unanimously to require a council vote before any object or decoration can placed on city right of way.

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