Whitesburg KY

Coal funds to help Jenkins area

Members of the Jenkins City Council were told this week that the way has been cleared for coal severance tax money to be spent on several projects that will benefit the town and its surrounding area.

The council learned at its March meeting this week that the state legislature is expected to approve coal

tax funding for projects to of Payne Gap. Severance tax money is also expected to be designated for projects involving Fishpond Lake, Raven Rock, the Jenkins Independent School System, and Wellmont Hospital.

Word that the coal severance tax allocations are expected to be approved by the Kentucky General Assembly later this month came after Mayor Charles Dixon opened Monday night’s meeting by surprising Letcher County Magistrate Wayne Fleming with a plaque that includes a picture of the US 23 cutthrough at Pound Gap and a commemorative rock from the geological fault located there. “Wayne is a special person,” Dixon said while making the presentation. “He served on the Jenkins Volunteer Fire Department, the Athletic Field Commission, the Jenkins City Council, and as Fifth District Magistrate. No other magistrate has done more for their district. Wayne is always there for Jenkins and the area.”

Fleming thanked Dixon and the council, but said much of the credit for helping the city belongs to 94th District State Representative Leslie Combs. Fleming said Combs has been instrumental in steering coal severance tax money and other state funds toward District Five and the rest of the Letcher County during the current session of the legislature.

Fleming had attended the meeting to present the council with a list of projects designated to receive coal severance tax funding in this biennium. He said Combs was particularly influential in obtaining $500,000 for the Cane Branch/McPeeks Branch water project as well as obtaining $5,000 for each police department in the county and $150,000 for each year of the biennium for the Wellmont Hospital improvements in Jenkins. Fleming said there would also be $75,000 to extend the Jenkins City garage, $100,000 for the Burdine sewer project and $100,000 for the Tourism Center (formerly the Welcome Center on US 23).

Fleming said coal severance tax funds have also been allocated in the amount of $45,000 to the Jenkins Board of Education as well as $100,000 to the Payne Gap water project, bringing a total of $1.5 million in funding in place for the Payne Gap project. Another $100,000 is in the package for improvements at Fishpond Lake.

Fleming told the council that tourism is high on the current administration’s agenda, especially with Lt. Governor Daniel Mongiardo. He said Mongiardo was instrumental in obtaining funding for a feasibility study on locating a water theme park in Jenkins. “Tourism will be the thing that saves Letcher County,” said Fleming. “We’re as good as any place in Tennessee.”

Fleming said tourism and related projects will also receive state funds, including $300,000 to purchase Raven Rock and return it to the city, a project he has long advocated. The Old Jenkins High School received $100,000, too. Fleming said Combs was instrumental in obtaining the funding for Letcher County.

“She has no opposition this year because she couldn’t be beaten,” said Fleming.

“We call on Wayne often,” said Mayor Dixon. “We appreciate his help and we appreciate that he always has it in his heart to help the people.”

In other business, the council learned that the Abandoned Mine Lands program is considering funding major improvements to the city water system. City Engineer Paul Nesbitt reported on a conversation he recently had with AML representatives and said the AML people said they will probably fund a study to look at Payne Gap and beyond to determine if the area is eligible for AML funding.

Nesbitt also told the council that several other funding packages are being put into place for water and sewer projects within the city. He suggested the city accept proposals for six to eight separate projects which have been proposed before, but make certain to go over each to ensure they meet current funding guidelines. Nesbitt also said he has discussed rate increases with the Jenkins Utilities Commission but suggested they wait until receiving recommendations from Kentucky Rural Water to set rates. He said if AML does fund the studies and water projects, funding will come in at around the same time frame as state water funding comes.

FEMA Coordinator and former council member Todd DePriest reported on meetings he and Mayor Dixon had in Beattyville with Mayor Joe Cash and others in the Lee County town. DePriest said Beattyville has created a city agency that acts like a private corporation in taking over blighted and dilapidated property and turning it into new houses. DePriest said they visited a housing subdivision which was diverse in income distribution and housing costs, which had been created from formerly blighted neighborhoods. He said the key was funding and that Beattyville has been successful mostly because of the nature of the collaboration and its ability to obtain grants.

In other business:

. Water Department Superintendent Bo Hopkins reported that water production for February was 13,258,000 gallons with 4,039,000 sold. Hopkins said the amount sold is an estimate because of problems with meter reading devices. Unaccounted for water loss was 5,679,600 gallons or 42 percent, up five percent from January. Breaks in water lines accounted for an additional 2,459,000 gallons lost.

. City Attorney Randall Tackett conducted the first reading of an ordinance creating a land bank for the city. The land bank will consist of land seized in blighted and deteriorated actions and will be funded by private donations. The Jenkins Land Bank will be operated by a committee consisting of the mayor and two commissioners.

. Tackett also swore in Tommy Greer and Ked Sanders, both of Jenkins, as Land Bank commissioners.

. Council member Chuck Anderson announced that Pike County recording artist Marlowe Tackett will perform on the Thursday night portion of the Jenkins Homecoming Festival. Anderson said that in the past, Thursdays have not been as well attended but said he believes that Tackett’s status as a well known artist will change that.

. New officers were chosen for the Homecoming Festival Committee. Greg Bentley and Glen Bentley will serve as cochairs and Paul Ed Sexton is secretary/ treasurer. Meetings are on the second Tuesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

. City Attorney Tackett also conducted the second reading of Ordinances 205 and 206. Ordinance 205 will allow the city to publish its ordinances in the American Legal Publishers updated edition. Ordinance 206 regards moving water meters to the edge of a property owner’s property line. Both ordinances were passed in unanimous votes. Tackett also conducted the first reading of Ordinance 106, which moves the date for purchasing occupational licenses from January 1 to January 31.

. The council also discussed problems with 911 calls. Council member Linda Baldwin said that ambulance drivers in particular have a hard time finding addresses in some neighborhoods.

. Council member Terry Braddock proposed raising city workers’ wages to $7.50 per hour for those not already at or above that pay grade. Rebecca Terrill agreed that a raise is necessary but said the raises should come at the traditional time during budget discussions, when all the city’s options are known. Mayor Dixon called a special budgetary information meeting for Saturday, March 8, at 1 p.m. Dixon said at the meeting he will try to provide all the information he has on funding, income, and expenditures in order to frame a budget for the coming fiscal year.

. Mayor Dixon presented a service award to Ernest “Opie” Kelly for his service to the city. Dixon said Kelly has worked for the city as a mechanic and has been instrumental in keeping city vehicles and equipment running. Kelly is leaving the city to accept a position with B&J Services, also in Jenkins.

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Polly reported on a proposal to acquire up to 250 acres from TECO Coal Company for a commercial site with hotels, restaurants, and shopping facilities. Polly said the commission will present the plan to TECO at the company’s offices in Corbin. City Attorney Tackett asked the commission to show the presentation to the council before taking it to TECO.

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