Whitesburg KY
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Court abandons new trash plan

County will continue picking up garbage, but layoffs may occur

The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted 3-2 this week to stop its earlier plan to hire an outside waste collection company to take over the operation of the county’s sanitation department.

The court took the unexpected action at its December meeting Monday night after Jeremiah resident Dale Johnson questioned the plan during a portion of the meeting set aside for comments by the public.

The vote took place after District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson made a motion to “fix” the county’s sanitation department rather than solicit bids from corporations such at Waste Management and Rumpke. Gibson’s motion was seconded by District Four Magistrate Keith Adams, while District Two Magistrate Archie Banks cast the deciding vote in favor of letting county employees continued picking up garbage. Banks was a member of the majority that voted last month to solicit bids for garbage collection, but at the time said he was more interested in gathering information than in actually obtaining a franchisee. Johnson told the court he had federally-funded PRIDE program and had interviewed every municipal and county government in the Fifth Congressional District about garbage collection. Johnson said that many of the mayors and county judges who had franchise garbage collection reported a number of problems including franchisees refusing to pick up garbage if bills weren’t paid promptly, resulting in problems with illegal dumping. He said Johnson County reported a good working relationship with its franchisee but others did not have such favorable reports.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who joined Judge/Executive Jim Ward in voting against Gibson’s motion, said that whatever happened he did not want the county to go back to having garbage dumped over the side of hills. However, Fleming said the county couldn’t afford to continue to lose money on sanitation at the current rate. He said the county stands to lose more than $290,000 this year. Fleming also objected to raising bills. He said it would penalize customers who pay their bills while having no effect on those who don’t.

Magistrate Banks told Johnson he, too, had personally spoken with a number of judge/ executives and magistrates in other counties and that a recent financial analysis of the sanitation department revealed that the entire system had broken down.

“The problem is the system,” said Banks. “We have 18 workers doing a job 10 people should be doing. Our concern is that we don’t want to go back to putting it over the hill. We’re trying to catch people who are doing illegal dumping now.”

Ward told the court there are a number of ways to structure a franchise so the problems Banks and Johnson brought up wouldn’t happen. He said that some counties kept the billing in-house and used franchise fees to offset unpaid garbage bills.

Gibson said that since the matter had come up again he wanted to make a last attempt to fix the system rather than franchising it out.

After the vote, Ward said, “I guess we’ll fix the problem.”

“We need to fix the system and we’re going to fix this,” said Banks. “But there will be some big changes. Some people won’t like it. Nobody wants to put people’s jobs in jeopardy. We can do the collecting but there will be some major changes.”

Banks said “curbing garbage” is among the changes that need to take place. He said garbage cans would have to be put next to the road, and that sanitation workers would not continue to look behind houses and garages for garbage. Banks also said that an inventory of who is getting garbage service as opposed to who is paying for the service would have to be made. He said the county will have to spend a considerable amount of money for new equipment as well.

In response to a question from Fleming as to where the money would come from, Ward said the county will have to request coal severance funds during the General Assembly session which begins next month.

In other business, the court took no action on a proposal from Letcher County Schools Superintendent Anna Craft to purchase the old Whitesburg High School property at a considerably higher price than the court offered last year. After saying people can build a house for the amount the court offered earlier, Craft said that since the court has expressed an interest in making a community center out of the old school she wanted to give it first chance at purchasing the property before it goes on the open market.

“The school is in a good location,” said Craft. “It is possible for two government agencies to negotiate. A prime location for a building is hard to find in Letcher County.”

Because the matter involved the negotiation of a purchase price for property, the court went into executive session to discuss Craft’s proposal. It took no action on her offer.

Whitesburg resident Elbert Lee also approached the court and asked if any action had been taken on a petition he presented in the October meeting asking that the county-wide smoking ban in public buildings be modified. Ward told Lee he had spoken with the Attorney General’s Office about the petition and learned that the smoking ban could not be placed on the ballot and that bingo parlors could not be exempted from the ban. Ward said any member of the court could make a motion to alter or revoke at ban if they wished. After Ward asked if anyone wished to make such a motion, none was forthcoming.

In other business Monday night the court:

• learned that during the last month county road crews blacktopped a road in Buck Creek, graveled and graded roads, and applied cold patch to potholes on county roads as needed throughout the county. Road workers also used the highway roller to compress ground at the skate park in preparation for laying the concrete pad, took county recycling to Lexington, removed a beaver dam from Bill Lewis Hollow, worked on the spillway at Fishpond Lake, and cleaned ditches and cut brush throughout the county.

• accepted a report from Letcher County Economic Development Director Joe DePriest, who reported meeting with Drew Dennis and Melissa Wheeler- Scott of the Kentucky Education Cabinet and with Annette Napier of the Kentucky River Area Development District since the last fiscal court meeting. DePriest also met with Summit Engineering and Drill Steel Services and later closed with Drill Steel Services on locating at the Gateway Industrial Park. He met with the Letcher County Prison Committee Project and with Maggard Sales and Service. DePriest also attended meetings with the Letcher County Planning Commission and the Letcher County Chamber of Commerce, and with representatives of Whitaker Bank.

In other reports:

• Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto reported that the concrete pad for the skate park has been poured and the skate park should be open and ready for use by the end of December. He also ordered two bleachers for the park. The fishing dock at Fishpond Lake is now open for use and Barto is working on a grant proposal through the Recreational Trails Program for the Pioneer Horse Trail. Plans are underway for parks at Kingscreek and Thornton.

• Litter Warden Darrell Banks reported checking 10 dumps and retrieving six names from them. Banks also had two dumps cleaned up, one on Joes Branch in Jenkins and the other on Haymond Hill. One person will have a jury trial for illegal dumping and five were set for pre-trial conferences. Banks answered 12 complaints.

• Letcher County 911 Director Brandon Conley reported making a number of memorial bridge signs to honor Letcher County service personnel who died in combat and working with first responders on pagers and radios. Conley also verified 911 addresses for fuel assistance and met with Kentucky State Police representatives and with representatives of Letcher County Central High School in preparation for the mock disaster drill conducted at the high school last month.

Bank balances as of December 14, 2007 were:

• General Fund – $320,624.97

• Road and Bridge – $1,385,942.34

• Jail Fund – $49,933.43

• LGEA Fund – $759,752.35

• Senior Citizens Fund – $1,563.20

• Forestry Fund – $5,907.43

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account – $406,318.55

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account – $105.64

• Letcher County AML Fund – 0

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