2017-09-13 / Front Page

Needle exchange clears final hurdle with vote

By WILLIAM FARLEY

Letcher County and the City of Whitesburg are on the verge of seeing a fully developed needle exchange program.

At its September meeting, the Whitesburg City Council approved the city’s participation in the program.

That approval, along with that of the Letcher County Fiscal Court, which was given in a unanimous vote at the court’s August meeting, completes the necessary steps for the Kentucky River Health Department to begin the free exchange of new syringes and needles for used ones in an effort to prevent the proliferation of needleborne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

At last month’s fiscal court meeting, Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputy Eugene Slone presented a request to the court to go on record with the members’ support, and introduced Karen Cooper, District Director of the Kentucky River District Health Department. Cooper asked the court to support the needle exchange effort and said that Letcher County had recently placed 50th in a study performed by the Centers for Disease Control of the national counties most at risk for Hepatitis C and AIDS. The study measured the top 200 counties in the United States that were most vulnerable to a HIV outbreak.

Cooper told the court that in Kentucky, a needle exchange program can only be implemented if the local board of health and county and city governing bodies where the program will be located approve it. With Tuesday evening’s unanimous vote to participate, the Whitesburg City Council made the program a reality.

When Deputy Slone made the request, he was surprised when Mayor James Wiley Craft told him the council had voted a year ago to approve the program. When Craft asked Slone if he had a resolution for the council to approve, he said he would have one brought to the mayor for the council’s approval. The council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to participate and gave Mayor Craft permission to sign the document when Slone brings it to him.

Craft told Slone and other members of his group that he understands that the anti-overdose drug Narcan will also be distributed to first responders and Slone said that the drug will be provided by Mountain Comprehensive Health Care. He added that the Whitesburg Police Department has already signed up for training in Narcan’s use.

“This council is progressive and we want to be on the cutting edge of all that can be done to help the people,” said Mayor Craft.

Mayor Craft also told the council he has spoken with Annette Napier of the Kentucky River Area Development District and she said until the state releases the environmental study on the Daniel Boone Hotel, no money can be drawn down from the grant to stabilize the building or finalize the contract with Whitesburg Architect Bill Richardson. Craft told Richardson, who is the project architect, that if he wants to go ahead and sign a contract the city will, but they are all proceeding at their own risk until state approval is final. Richardson said he is willing to wait, but said he wants to get started preserving the building as soon as possible. Craft said he expects to have several special called meetings in September and as soon as the environmental study is approved, they will proceed with the contract.

In other city business:

• The council passed the second reading of Ordinance 2017-5 to set the tax rate for real and personal property at $.34 per $100 for the coming year. City tax rates are unchanged from last year.

• The council passed Budget Ordinance 2017-17 to add the tourism fund to the city’s budget. The fund was inadvertently omitted in formulating the budget and it was funded at $15,000.

• The council voted to provide the usual cooperation to the Mountain Heritage Festival Committee for the upcoming Mountain Heritage Festival, including making the city’s customary $2,500 donation to the festival.

• The council also voted to approve the customary $2,500 donation to the Letcher County Farmers Market. Mayor Craft said the new building at the market site is named for the city.

• The Oktoberfest Celebration will be held on October 20. Councilman Mike Jackson will coordinate the music. Jackson also coordinated the music for the highly successful July 4 and Labor Day celebrations.

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