Letcher County officials are seeking legislative action to curb electric company rate increases which have sent monthly power bills skyrocketing to the point they have more than doubled for many homeowners here . e Letcher Fiscal Court voted
Th at its January meeting Monday night to send a letter to 94th District State Rep. Leslie Combs, 92nd District Rep. John Short, and 29th District State Senator Johnny Ray Turner asking that legislative action be taken to address the rate increases.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming also asked that language be included in the request to address the growing class divide on the Kentucky Public Service Commission and other governing bodies which are supposed to represent all the people of the state, but often have no representation from the working class or poor.
Letcher Judge/ Executive Jim Ward and Fleming both expressed fears Monday that some among the county’s elderly and ill may freeze to death if their electricity is turned off because they are unable to pay the inflated bills. Ward urged citizens to take action by writing their legislators, by calling the Public Service Commission to express their outrage, and by signing an online petition protesting the rate increases.
“Everybody that disagrees with the raise in power bills should call the PSC,” said Ward. “Let them know there is no way we can stand for this. Jam their phones up. They will have to come up here. Just call all day long for a week.”
Ward gave out telephone numbers for the Public Service Commission (1-800-772-4636 and 1-502- 564-3940). He also asked Letcher County residents to go to www.petitiononline.com/ poweraep/ petition/html to sign the petition protesting the rate hikes.
Fleming asked that Ward’s letter to legislators request a change in state law to make it mandatory that the working class and poor have a strong voice on the PSC.
“Working class people make very little money,” said Fleming. “They get no help for this. They don’t qualify for assistance. I want to ask Jim to write a letter to our legislators to make it mandatory that one-third of the PSC comes from low- or moderate-income people. Now they are all fat cats with plenty of money. The power company people will get their $1 million bonuses. I’m so fed up with the way things are done in Kentucky, the legislature and the governor. They appoint the PSC.”
Ward said the power bill for the Letcher County Courthouse had increased from $9,000 to more than $ 22,000. He said county workers had checked every possible electrical appliance that might malfunction to cause such a spike but found nothing. Ward said that temperatures hadn’t been colder than the coldest months of the previous year, yet rates had gone up tremendously.
Fleming questioned the math of Kentucky Power Company and the PSC.
“How do they call it a 15 percent increase when it’s doubled?” asked Fleming. “They told me to unplug my cell phone charger.”
“Where are the governor and legislature?” asked Third District Magistrate Codell Gibson. “They don’t care.”
A spokesman for the Public Service Commission told The Mountain Eagle that members of the public are welcome to file complaints about Kentucky Power’s rate increase, but that it would be up to those filing the complaints to prove the new rates are higher “than what is deemed fair, just and reasonable.”
“ If someone were to bring a complaint saying a utility is making excess profit, under our rules of process the burden of proof would then fall on the party making the complaint,” said Andrew Melnykovych, spokesman for the PSC. “We have ordinary rate payers file complaints all the time. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t.”
In June, the PSC granted Kentucky Power’s request that it be allowed to earn additional yearly revenue of $63.66 million, a number that raised the average home electric bill by about 17 percent. The PSC also granted Kentucky Power a 14.7 percent rate increase in 2006, meaning the average monthly power bill for a Letcher County resident has risen by a whopping 31.7 percent over the past 4-1/2 years.
Melnykovych said the PSC knew the rate hikes would be a burden to residents, but that its members are “statutorily” required not to take action that would prevent a utility from earning a reasonable profit.
“We’ve got a pretty good sense of how decisions made here are going to impact folks,” Melnykovych said. “It’s not something the commission takes lightly.”
In other business, the court asked County Attorney Jamie Hatton to redraft some of the language in the county’s mandatory garbage collection ordinance to call for “curbing” garbage for collection.
Hatton told the court the term “curb” needs to be made absolutely clear to eliminate any confusion on the part of sanitation customers. Several magistrates agreed and said they had received a number of calls from people who were confused about the meaning of the term. Ward said it would basically mean to put garbage next to the county road at the end of their driveway and not to expect sanitation workers to have to come into someone’s yard to look for the garbage or to take county vehicles onto private roads to pick up trash.
The issue arose earlier in January when a county sanitation vehicle slid off a private road and crashed, nearly injuring the driver. (Details of the accident were reported in the January 5 edition of The Eagle.)
Judge Ward said the driver was fortunate he wasn’t badly hurt and said it is the court’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all county workers. He also pointed to liability issues, saying that questions had arisen with the county’s insurers several times over incidents when a sanitation vehicle had damaged someone’s property.
Hatton told the court members he will have a draft for them at their next meeting. The court agreed it is best to move slowly on the matter to alleviate any doubts people have about it.
The court also voted on annual bids for ongoing county purchases including blacktop, gravel, culvert and other items used on a regular basis. No bids were placed for concrete or bridge lumber. The court will re-advertise for concrete bids. Other bids were awarded as follows:
In other county business:
• Paul Nesbitt of Nesbitt Engineering, who is working with the City of Jenkins on water and sewer issues, reported on the Payne Gap water line extension project, which is administered by the City of Jenkins and will be turned over to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District when it is completed.
Nesbitt presented complete plans of the project and showed the court a scale drawing of the planned work. He told the court Abandoned Mine Lands will pay for the entire $6 million project, but will split the funding into two phases. The work will extend water lines from the Gateway Industrial Park in Jenkins through Payne Gap and Bottom Fork ( HWY 3406), and along Kentucky 15 to join county lines at Kona and Millstone.
Nesbitt said an initial phase which will be paid for by $600,000 in severance funds allocated by the court, will take the work to near the turnoff of the old Payne Gap Road. He said he hopes that by the time that work is done, AML funding for Phase I will have been released. Nesbitt said he will make regular reports every two to three months for the duration of the project.
The court also asked Nesbitt to provide an estimate of costs to connect the Jenkins and Fleming-Neon water systems along HWY 805 near the old Cavalier Drivein theater.
• Dr. David Narramore, Chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, told the court the tourism commission intends to form a committee to research the route of a trail from the Pine Mountain Trail State Park to Whitesburg to allow hikers a way down the mountain to patronize local businesses.
Narramore also announced a protocol that will endorse the development of websites for all recipients of the commission’s $1000 promotional grants and asked the court to allocate previously authorized funding in the amount of $2,500 as matching funds for a $10,000 grant from the Brushy Fork Institute.
• The court voted unanimously to approve a resolution to authorize a Memorandum of Agreement to accept a grant agreement providing funding for the Thornton Water Project. The agreement will permit the water line extension project to serve additional customers between Baker Recycling and the mouth of Thornton Creek.
• The court heard County Attorney Hatton conduct the first reading of ordinances setting the speed limits at Dove Lane, Malibu Road, and Church Hill at 10 miles per hour each.
Bank Balances as of January 14, 2011:
Genera l Fund — $643,810
Road and Bridge Fund — $429,770
Jail Fund — $97,159
LGEA Fund — $309,406
Senior Citizens Fund — $114,923
Forestry Fund — $10,763
Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp, Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $520,068
Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp, Debt Service Account — $49