The Letcher County Fiscal Court is once again considering whether to turn the county’s garbage collection operation over to a private firm.
At its December meeting Monday, the court voted 4-2 to form a committee to recommend how the county would move from operating its own sanitation department to “franchising it out” to a larger firm such as Texasbased Waste Management Inc. or Ohio-based Rumpke, which now collects solid waste in Knott and Leslie counties.
Bringing in an outside company appears to be the only answer for the significant deficit under which the Letcher County Sanitation Department continues to operate, said District Four Magistrate Keith Adams.
“We’ve looked at it every way to look at it and it doesn’t work,” said Adams. “We’re facing higher costs in fuel and landfill fees too. We should have done this five years ago.”
“We lost a quarter-million dollars this year,” said District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming.
Officials say the sanitation department is $246,945 in the red for 2011. Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward said that while collection rates have increased to more 90 percent, “the other 10 percent won’t make up the loss.”
District One Magistrate Bobby Howard and District Two Magistrate Terry Adams voted against forming the committee. Adams said he is not in favor of turning the trash collection over to a private company and urged the court to look at every other alternative available. Adams also asked about a Louisville firm’s earlier proposal to steam garbage and reduce it to much smaller amounts. Ward said that after the proposal created signifi cant backlash from residents in the Millstone area, he hasn’t heard any more from the company, Greenpac Environmental.
Ward said he would not vote to accept any bid from an outside company unless the firm first agrees to hire the county’s current sanitation workers. District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson said that if the county can save $246,000 a year, the county could probably afford to move some of those workers into different jobs as well.
The committee will be comprised of Magistrates Ward, Gibson, and Adams along with county worker Bobby Kincer. Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton said he will provide legal advice to the committee.
In other business, the court voted unanimously to support a request to use multi-county coal severance tax funds to build a regional animal shelter in Perry County. Ward told the court the request would not affect a proposed animal shelter in Letcher County that he said is being held up because of a property dispute involving the proposed site. Hatton said a lawsuit resulting from the dispute might be settled soon.
The court also voted unanimously to support another request to use multi-county coal severance tax money, this one to fund a funeral science program being developed at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. SKCTC President Bruce Ayers told the court the program would be the first of its kind in Kentucky.
Hatton said that while the program will be centered at SKCTC’s Cumberland campus, the Whitesburg campus would benefit from the program as well.
The court also voted unanimously to approve a $6.375 million operating budget for the office of Letcher County Clerk Winston Meade in 2012 and a request to add a three-percent increase to the office salary cap of $661,550, which Meade said might not be needed.
While addressing the court, Meade praised County Attorney Hatton for his work in collecting more than $761,000 in delinquent taxes as of November, and said the delinquent tax collection rate in Letcher County appears to be the highest in Kentucky.
Meade also issued a reminder to delinquent taxpayers who have signed contracts to pay back taxes to keep their property from being sold to firms that specialize in buying delinquent bills. Meade said that once a delinquent taxpayer gets behind on the agreement, property taxes can be sold immediately without the firm having to go through the initial process of buying a delinquency. Meade said his office receives telephone calls every day from firms looking to buy up such delinquencies.
Hatton said the people who get behind on their agreed payments have been given every opportunity to settle their taxes and have been fully informed about the consequences.
“No one can claim that they have not known this,” said Hatton.
The court also voted unanimously to accept Sherriff Danny Webb’s 2012 operating budget of $841,592, which includes money for the salaries of two school resource officers paid by the Letcher County School System. The sheriff ’s office has a salary and wage cap of $441,932.
Letcher County Tourism Commission Director David Narramore reported that tourism is up 25 percent over 2010 and said a schedule of events for 2012 is ready to go to the printer for an early January finish date. In a related matter, the court voted unanimously to re-appoint Narramore and tourism commission members Donna Boggs and David Chaltes to another term.
In other business:
• The court voted unanimously to issue a certificate of appreciation to country music singer Marlow Tackett of Pike County for the work he has done in Letcher County to provide Christmas toys, clothing, furniture, and other supplies to needy families.
• The court voted unanimously to name the first bridge on Highway 806, behind the J.D. Maggard Store in Eolia, for Tech 5 Orville Collier, U.S. Army.