Citizens are being asked to join the Letcher County Fiscal Court in petitioning the Kentucky General Assembly to stop plans to move the local driver’s license office to Prestonsburg, but the move may be too little, too late since the law was passed to do so in the last session of the legislature.
At its October meeting Monday, the fiscal court voted unanimously to send a resolution to Kentucky legislators protesting the move, which will force Letcher County residents to drive to Prestonsburg in order to renew their driver’s license. The distance between Whitesburg and Prestonsburg is a little over 60 miles.
The law, HB 453, sponsored by Florence Republican Sal Santoro, passed both houses of the legislature and was signed by the Governor in March. It makes the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet the sole “application and issuance entity for operators’ licenses and personal identification cards” and eliminated the requirement that the documents must be applied for in the county of the applicant’s residence. Santoro called the legislation the final step in implementing the federally mandated “REAL ID” Act that was passed in 2005 as part of the 911 Commission’s recommendations. He said the bill was introduced to address problems with circuit clerks issuing the REAL IDs.
It is expected that circuit court clerks will lose around $5 million in various licensing fees, along with personnel losses. It also allows licensing offices to be consolidated, sometimes requiring long drives to renew licenses in rural areas. However, Santoro said that the Transportation Cabinet is working on an option to renew licenses online or by cell phone.
In June, Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order allowing a 90-day extension of licenses that expired between March 18, 2020 and June 6, 2020 due to the COVID-19 virus. The order was amended to allow remote registration for anyone whose license had expired until September 30.
The Letcher County resolution states that the court was opposed to consolidating the offices due to the extreme hardship from the long distances that will be required in order to renew licenses. Judge/Executive Terry Adams also said there are two petitions in the courthouse for residents to sign if they agree to oppose the changes. One is in County Court Clerk Winston Meade’s office and the other in the hallway of the Letcher County Courthouse.
Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, who voted against the bill, said last week that there is still a chance the state could put a regional office either in or near Letcher County, but there is no guarantee.
As a result of other action taken during Monday night’s meeting, hourly county employees will have a little more money for the coming Christmas season and the following year when they receive a two percent raise beginning with the October 25 pay period.
Adams said he had been looking at the possibility of a two percent pay raise for hourly employees and had determined that it was possible to do without damaging the budget. The raise will not apply to salaried employees and Adams said it will cost the court about $50,000 a year. Letcher County Treasurer Doris Jean Frazier agreed that the raise will not cause budget difficulties for the county.
Low wages for county workers have been a troubling issue to the court for a long time and Adams said he is proud of the way the county workers have done their jobs under the difficult circumstances with which they have worked. The vote to implement the pay raise was unanimous with several magistrates praising the county workers for their dedication. The court also voted to raise Channel 99 cameraman Jamie Hall’s wages to $75 per episode for taping meetings of county and other government meetings. Hall’s salary had been $50 for each meeting.
In other business, the court voted to declare kitchen equipment from closed Senior Citizens Centers, including sets of dishes, as surplus. Judge Adams said the court will sell the surplus items by sealed bid after they have been advertised. The vote to approve was unanimous. The court also voted to allow electrical permits to be issued through the county judge/ executive’s office. Adams said this will eliminate the confusion that was caused by individual inspectors issuing permits on their own.
Judge Adams asked the court to hold off on deliberations to allow permits for scuba diving in Fishpond Lake until next spring. Adams said he doesn’t expect many requests for permits during the winter months and County Attorney Jamie Hatton said the break will give him a chance to explore the various aspects of the action.
Newly appointed Tourism Director Clay Christian addressed the court and said there are a lot of interesting things going on in Letcher County. The court approved Christian’s request to allow current Tourism Board Member Winston Lee, whose term has expired, to transfer to the Trails Committee, and replace him with former director Jessica Howard. Christian said one thing the Tourism Committee is hoping to do is to establish an outdoor dining space in Whitesburg. He also said he is working to get Letcher County certified as a “Trail County.”
The court voted unanimously to re-approve the Ethics Code. Adams said it is unchanged from the previous year. It also voted to re-appoint Cumberland River resident Richard Carter to the Board of Directors of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District. Carter has served for several terms.
The court voted to authorize members to the 911 Board after several retirements. The new board consists of Matt Amburgey, Paul Miles, Charles Polly, Sheriff Mickey Stines, Shawn Gilley, Carter Bevins, Perry Fowler, and Jenkins Fire Chief Rick Corbett.
The court voted unanimously to adopt the following cemetery roads into the county road plan: Obey Fields Cemetery, Watson Adams Cemetery, Hughes Cemetery, Webb & Friends Cemetery, Blair Cemetery, Johnson Cemetery, Jimmy Griffith Cemetery, Dan Caudill Cemetery, Duke, Back & Witt Cemetery, Kirby Whitaker Cemetery, Watts & Whitaker Cemetery, and Cull Whitaker Cemetery.
Letcher County Jailer Bert Slone reported that he is experiencing a good deal of turnover at the jail. Slone said it’s hard to keep good people. He said that the increase in local inmates has caused several state inmates to be moved to other facilities due to overcrowding.
The court also voted unanimously to pass a resolution to honor veteran Harold Stidham, Sergeant First Class, United States Army, for his military service. A section of roadway running .02 miles on the left side of Thornton Road will be named for him.