2017-07-19 / Front Page

Ward warns about more hard times: ‘Coal is back down’

By WILLIAM FARLEY

The hard times that have fallen on Letcher County’s finances are not likely to get better soon, if predictions from the state are accurate. At Monday’s meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court, Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the court that he has been informed that while mineral tax receipts from natural gas should stay steady, tax receipts from coal mining are likely to continue to fall.

“Coal is back down,” said Ward, adding that gas production has remained at a steady pace, neither rising, or dropping significantly. On a positive note, Ward said he would need to recall two laid-off workers who hold CDL permits to fill slots in the sanitation department, but he added that men are being replaced who are either retiring or taking disability leave.

Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming asked Ward how Judge Pro Tem Eddie Meade is holding up under the extra workload he has taken on, since so many county employees have been laid off. Meade is working in Sanitation, Road and Bridge, and other departments, in addition to his regular duties. Fleming said if the situation becomes permanent, he would not be against giving Meade a raise to account for his increased workload. Ward said that Meade is doing well and said that for now, there are few alternatives.

Fleming also said he is concerned about the increased workload on road crews and Ward said he would like to look into calling a couple more workers back. County Attorney Jamie Hatton told the court that before it starts doing that it needs to look at personnel policy closely. The court voted unanimously to approve calling two men with CDL permits back to work in order to fill the Sanitation Department slots.

In another personnel matter, Court Reporter Sue Dunn, who works in the County Court Clerk’s Office, informed the court that the July meeting would be her last as court reporter. Dunn said she is retiring and that while she thought she had a replacement lined up, after attending the last few meetings, her proposed replacement had decided she didn’t want to take on the extra duties. Judge Ward suggested appointing Courtney Baker to the position. Baker works in the Sanitation Office and Ward said she had expressed her willingness to take on the extra duties. The vote to approve Baker was unanimous. Sue Dunn has held the position since 1999, when she transferred from the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office, where she had worked since 1992, into the County Clerk’s Office.

In other business, Harry Collins, Chairman of the Letcher County Broadband Board, reported that board members have been busy working to make high speed Internet service for the entire county a reality. Collins said he and other board members have attended numerous meetings on the subject, including a workshop at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, where the Letcher Broadband Board was praised for being proactive and being ahead of others in the region. He said they are making a lot of very useful contacts, including Hilda Legg, who currently serves as Vice Chair of Broadband Properties Magazine.

Legg served in the George W. Bush Administration as administrator for a $6 billion loan and grant program for the infrastructure needs of rural America through Water and Environmental, Telecommunications, and Rural Electrification Programs. She also served in the administration of President George Bush as Alternate Federal Co- Chairman for the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C. Legg is a long-time advocate for rural development and rural broadband. Collins also said he will be attending sessions at the Kentucky River Area Development District where they will discuss what broadband can mean as an economic driver.

Mike Mullins, Executive

Director of KRADD, attended the meeting to ask the court to approve a resolution to participate as a target county in the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority. The authority was established under House Bill 156 to promoting outdoor recreation and tourism development, to stimulate outdoor recreation and tourism development and promote tourism development opportunities in the region. Judge Ward will represent the county on the authority’s board of directors.

Mullins told the court the authority will work with other states and the U.S. Forest Service to unite efforts to promote trails for hiking, horseback riding, and all-terrain vehicles, and to promote recreation opportunities. He added that last year, trail use permits in southwestern Virginia added $1.5 million in revenue and said the project should be self-sustaining. In response to questions concerning landowners’ concerns about trails on their property, Mullins also said that the program will help to deal with landowner liability concerns for land use. The court voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

The court voted to allow Letcher County Fiscal Court employees to contribute up to $2,600 to their Health Care Flexible Spending accounts. Judge Ward said the tax-free contributions can be used to offset deductibles and that up to $500 can be rolled over annually. The court also named Cathy Hughes of Jenkins to replace Jeanette Ladd, whose term expired on June 30, on the Letcher County Public Library Board of Trustees.

The court voted to place signs on the Memorial Wall in Blackey to honor PFC Ben Caudill, who served in the U.S. Army in Iran during World War II, and Sergeant First Class Lowell L. Walters, U.S. Army, Retired. The Town Hill Road on Little Cowan was dedicated in honor of Sergeant Darrell L. Profitt, U.S. Army Signal Corps, and Valley Branch Road at the Gordon Fire Department was dedicated to Private Danny Lynn Cornett, U.S. Marine Corps.

In financial matters, the court voted to accept the Summary and Reconciliation from the Jail Commissary Fund with a cash balance of $85,189.64. The fund started 2016 with a balance of $81,362.84 and had total receipts of $120,173.66. The court also approved the annual financial statement for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2017.

The statement was outgoing County Treasurer Phillip Hampton’s final report and Judge Ward said that the balances as given represent the amounts the county carried over from FY 2016-2017. Ward added that since then, a number of once-a-year payments such as insurance and other annual expenses have been made.

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