Although local fire departments and rescue units are among the most heavily subsidized and best equipped of all county agencies and boast state-of-the-art equipment and well trained firefi ghters and EMTs, a paging system that constantly fails to alert first responders sometimes renders them nearly useless.
The paging system’s most recent failure was brought to the public’s attention this week by District Two Magistrate Archie Banks, who described having to wait for 40 minutes for the Colson Volunteer Fire Department to arrive at his house to begin fighting a fire that destroyed the dwelling. Banks said when firefighters finally did arrive from the nearby fire station he was told they had not received any of their pages and had learned of the fire at the Banks home when they were notified by telephone.
“I sat for 40 minutes and watched my house burn,” Banks said Monday night during the July meeting of the Letcher Fiscal Court. “Colson can’t get pages. They can’t get their radios to work. I looked at the pagers (and verifi ed that the pages had not been received). … Us with millions of dollars of equipment two miles away, and a $40 pager kept it away. I don’t want anybody else to have to go through that. Either fix them or go home.”
Banks’s final remark was directed at former District Four Magistrate Randall Caudill, who holds the county’s contract to provide radio and pager service for county workers as well as emergency agencies and police departments. Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers, who has raised the issue concerning pagers on a number of previous occasions, told the court that after Banks’s house had burned, the radio equipment was adjusted to work properly for a while, but that it is still in poor condition.
Caudill told the court he had adjusted the equipment to work at its optimum range, but said the system had since been tampered with by others. He added that for the last four to six weeks, a series of unrelated problems had caused poor communications in Jenkins, Letcher, and Gordon. Caudill said his tower has a direct line-of-sight link to the Kentucky State Police Post in Hazard, but state police dispatchers often have problems getting pages and communication to police departments and other agencies in Letcher County.
“Randall (Caudill) says it’s the post, and the post says it’s Randall,” said Rogers. “When it gets to the point that somebody loses their life, then who’s to blame. They’re working better right now, but you never get the first page from nine-one-one. Sometimes you get the second or third. I’d like to see Randall keep it (the contract to provide communications service), but if they can’t fix it, fire them all.”
Rogers said the pages come about five minutes apart, meaning that if the third page is the only one received, an emergency is already 15 minutes old before responders are even alerted. The court has struggled with the problem and recently approved the purchase of a mobile transponder tower for use in emergencies, and to serve as a backup for other towers as well.
In other business, the court also heard a report on the new county recreation center from Chris Russell, job site superintendent for Codell Construction. Russell told the court that all the bids for subcontractors have been opened and that the accepted bidders were vetted by Codell and recommended that the court accept all but bids five and 12, which he said would have to be rebid. Magistrate Fleming asked why the bids had not been opened during a court meeting, but Judge Ward said the opening had been done in the way it had so Codell would be able to see that bids were done to the specifications required by the architects, which would have taken a considerable amount of time, and that it would have added at least two hours to the court meeting.
Russell said the bids had been opened in a public meeting that was also televised on Government Channel 98 and that a number of impartial observers had been there as well. Fleming said he understood that the openings had been properly and legally carried out, but that he had just wanted to know why they weren’t done in a court meeting. He said the televised opening did allow everyone to see the procedure, but he just wanted to let the public know the court was in compliance with the law.
“I just want to make sure nobody in the public has any reason to doubt what we do,” said Fleming. “And it was on television.”
In other court business:
• Benny Hamilton of the Kentucky River Area Development District, who is working with the Letcher County Water and Sewer District to administer and obtain grant funding for water projects, announced that the district has secured grants totaling $1.6 million for the Red Star/Ulvah Water Line Improvement Project. The grants will pay for about two thirds of the entire project.
• Hamilton also told the court that several issues with steep grades will have to be resolved before the Department of Fish and Wildlife will approve the final plan for the Pioneer Horse Trail. Hamilton said he believes the issues can be resolved without the necessity of submitting another study and that Fish and Wildlife will have 30 days to respond to the new design. Judge/Executive Ward told Hamilton that he and Jimmy McIntosh, who has spearheaded the trail project from its beginning, examined the areas in question and have found ways around them that should satisfy Fish and Wildlife.
• Letcher County Court Clerk Winston Meade presented his final settlement for excess fees in the amount of $1,007.05 to the court. The total of excess fees comes to $29,007.05. Meade presented $28,000 to the court on January 18. The court voted unanimously to accept Meade’s Annual Financial Statement of Excess Fees. Meade also told the court his fee collections are down approximately $50,000 for the calendar year and if the trend continues, he may have to lay off some personnel.
• Don Amburgey of the Little Shepherd Amphitheater in Jenkins introduced Susan Adams, who will handle public relations duties for the amphitheater.
• Randall Caudill, representing the Letcher County Airport Board, told the court that negotiations are ongoing to allow a regional coal company to mine a portion of the airport site in exchange for thousands of dollars’ worth of leveling and shaping the property for a runway. Caudill invited the public to board meetings at the Pine Mountain Grill on the fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m.
• Jim Scott of the McRoberts Community Center and the Letcher County Blighted and Deteriorated Property Committee asked the court to create a document that owners of blighted property can sign to allow the county to take action to tear down houses and haul away debris on their property. Judge Ward said that as long as the county can get coal and gas companies to work with them to do the demolition voluntarily, they can do that. However, Ward said the county cannot use county workers and equipment to do work on private property without charging an appropriate fee, so the work must be done by volunteers. Scott also invited everyone to the McRoberts Reunion on August 6 and 7. Festivities will begin on Friday August 6, at 1 p.m. and on Saturday at 10 a.m. and will last until 10 p.m. on both days. A dedication of a Ten Commandments monument will be held August 8 at the McRoberts Veterans Memorial.
• David Narramore, chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, and Dave Chaltes, a Civil War re-enactor and former commander of the Ben Caudill Camp in Letcher County, reported on tourism activities. Chaltes told the court that “Thunder on the Mountain,” a Civil War re-enactment, will be held on August 7 and 8, featuring nationally known re-enactor Stan Dalton as John Hunt Morgan. The court approved allocating $3,000 from tourism funds to pay for supplies and travel fees for the event.
• A BMX/Skateoff will be held at the Whitesburg Skate Park July 31, with prizes totaling $1,000. The event is sponsored by the Letcher County Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, the Letcher County Tourism Commission, and the Letcher County Fiscal Court. Professional skaters and BMX riders will participate. For more information, contact Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto at 633-2129.
• Campbell’s Branch Community Center will host a dinner to celebrate receiving a $10,000 grant from the Natural Resources Cabinet. The dinner is Friday evening at 6 p.m. at the Campbell’s Branch Community Center.
• The court voted unanimously to name the following bridges and roads in Letcher Country to honor veterans of the armed forces:
Long Branch Road off Hwy. 1103 for Captain B.J. Fields, U.S. Marine Corps.
The bridge at Ulvah for Private Cliff ord Campbell, U.S. Army.
The bridge at Hemphill going to Pottertown for Specialist Richard L. Kincer, U.S. Army.
Loggy Hollow Road for Private First Class Garfield Tyree, a veteran of World War II.
Bank Balances for County Agencies as of July 16, 2010
• General Fund $709,763.80
• Road and Bridge Fund $753,247.13
• Jail Fund $214,741.46
• LGEA Fund $312,126.50
• Senior Citizens Fund $278,050.78
• Forestry Fund $7,582.57
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $503,155.75
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account $95.83