Whitesburg KY

Court establishes county police force to patrol lake, parks

Vandals and thugs who destroy public property in Letcher County may see their days numbered after the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted Monday to establish a special law enforcement agency to deal with vandalism and other illegal activity at Letcher County parks and county trails.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said court members are fed up with vandalism and the dumping of garbage at Fishpond Lake and in other county parks. A new law-enforcement agency to be known as the Letcher County Rangers is being established specifically to patrol parks, trails and Fishpond Lake.

Ward said illegal activity in parks and on trails and garbage at the lake has been an ongoing problem. Ward said he had spoken with Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb to make sure the new agency meets his approval and will not conflict with law enforcement activities of the Letcher County Sheriff ‘s Department.

The discussion began after Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers mentioned a problem at the Campbell’s Branch Community Center with drug dealers and drunks hanging around every evening. Rogers told the court the “dopers” were bold and would require trained officers to deal with them. He said Letcher Fire and Rescue plans to invest thousands of dollars in equipment and buildings at Campbell’s Branch and doesn’t want to see the property and equipment damaged by thugs.

Darlene and Alice Campbell, who attended the meeting to represent the Campbell’s Branch Community Center, told the court the sheriff ‘s department responds whenever they call, but said they can’t stay at the center all the time.

Ward said the Rangers will be trained law enforcement personnel and sworn officers with full arrest powers.

Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling said the court can set up the force with arrest powers specifically for the purpose of policing the parks, trails and other recreational centers established by the county government.

“We want to be able to have a family atmosphere at our parks and recreational areas,” said Ward.

As proposed, the Letcher County Rangers’ duties will include patrolling Fishpond Lake, the Pioneer Horse Trail, ATV trails established by the county, and all community parks and recreation centers. The objectives of the force will include preventing vandalism and violence, maintaining a safe and healthy family atmosphere at county facilities, assisting campers, hikers, and outdoor recreationists, providing assistance to Pine Mountain Search and Rescue, and overseeing the maintenance and cleanliness of county parks and trails. The force will also conduct investigations of every report of vandalism and assist in the prosecution of offenders.

The Rangers’ will be required to pass the Professional Peace Officer Education test and to be trained at the Kentucky Police Academy. They will also be required to become certified in National Incident Management, basic search and rescue, and first aid.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who has spoken out against vandalism and littering for years, said he is glad to see action finally taken. Fleming, who previously brought discarded drug syringes at Fishpond Lake to the court’s attention, said county property belongs to the citizens of Letcher County and deserves to be respected and protected.

“I think this is absolutely necessary,” said Fleming. “We’ve invested thousands of dollars in parks and equipment. It’s just a handful who destroy it. I ask the citizens to help us by identifying them. This property belongs to the people.”

Fire Chief Rogers agreed with Fleming, saying the violators at Campbell’s Branch were always the same five or six people. He said they had grown bold because nothing had been done to stop them from selling drugs and drinking openly in the center’s parking lot, even when other activities are taking place.

“One works for a gas company,” said Rogers. “He’s out there in a gas company vehicle taking drugs and drinking.”

Fleming agreed that the Rangers have to have police power and training. He said some of the people committing crimes in the parks are very tough and would not be swayed by anyone but a police officer.

The motion to create the Rangers was introduced by District Two Magistrate Banks and was approved unanimously.

In other business, the court voted unanimously to purchase the Kingdom Come School from the Letcher County Board of Education for $150,000. Judge Ward said the court will establish a community center at the old school, but said he has also received several inquiries about using some of the space for offices.

The court also heard a request from Randall Caudill, representing the Letcher County Airport Board. Caudill, a former District Four Magistrate, told the board that Sapphire Coal Company owns part of the land the proposed runway will cross and plans to obtain the rest for mining purposes. Caudill said the company has offered to sell the land after it is mined for $500,000 and that Knott County has agreed to put up half the amount. Caudill said the company will also build an access road to Route 15 if they can use it for hauling coal. Caudill said the road can become the entry road to the airport when it is complete.

Ward told Caudill there is no way the court can come up with $250,000 during the current coal severance allotment for this budget cycle. The court voted to make a request that the amount be made a line item in the next budget cycle beginning in 2010, but Magistrate Banks said he believes that Sapphire will be willing to sell the land after it is mined for a good deal less than the stated quote. Banks also said he believes the coal company is mostly interested in an access haul road to Route 15 and that will pose the greatest problem. Banks said he doubts it will be easy to convince the Kentucky Department of Highways to allow for another access haul road on Route 15 and suggested the board get started on that as soon as possible.

Dr. David Narramore presented the Letcher County Tourism Commission’s report to the court and said the commission has applied for a $20,000 grant from the Brushy Fork Institute at Berea. Narramore said the county would need to put up $2,500 in matching funds to receive the grant, which will be used to create a comprehensive economic tourism development plan. He said the tourism commission will sign off on the grant at its regular meeting on August 10 at the Seco Company Store and plans to convene the first of several meetings on the economic development plan on August 18 at Letcher County Central High School. Other meetings will be scheduled in various locations throughout the county.

Narramore also told the court that a RAM (Remote Area Medicine) program to provide medical, dental, and eye care to residents without medical insurance is scheduled at Letcher Central High School campus for September 26 and 27. He said that approximately 90 volunteers will be needed, and that the RAM should be the largest one so far, with those who were unable to be seen at recent RAM events in Wise or Pikeville being attended to here.

Ward told Narramore he has received an inquiry about renting the old Whitesburg Post Office, the current tourism headquarters for the county, from Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks for office space. Narramore said the tourism commission has no objection as long as they can use one small office for tourism business.

Narramore also asked the court to allocate $1,000 as matching funds for an $18,000 Volunteers in Service to America grant so the tourism commission can obtain the services of a VISTA worker. The court approved both requests.

In response to a question from District One Magistrate Bob Lewis about speeding up the connection to water lines in Pound, Va., for Cumberland River residents, County Attorney Bolling said he has been in contact with the Pound Water District’s attorney several times and was told that the Pound district has been waiting for two months for information concerning the amount of water which will be required, water pressure, and rate of flow. Bolling said the information is supposed to be supplied by the Letcher County Water and Sewer District, but has not been forthcoming.

Magistrate Banks said he has been told by Harlan County Judge/Executive Joe Grieshop that Harlan County now has the funds available to complete the Cumberland River connection from the Cumberland Water Plant and is willing to do so. The Water and Sewer District meets July 23 at 6 p.m. in the Letcher District Courtroom and will discuss its options.

County Treasurer Phillip Hampton reported to the court that the county is in its best fiscal condition in his 28 years’ of working with the fiscal court. Hampton said the court came into the new fiscal year with a $3,857,965 carry-over, $621,000 more than last year.

“You have done an outstanding job on spending your money wisely,” said Hampton. “You’ve bought new equipment and initiated new projects, and given county employees a two-percent raise. You haven’t laid anybody off and you have done this with a lot of unknowns. Coal production is down. You all have done a great job.”

In other business:

• The court voted to blacktop walking tracks in Kingscreek, Dunham and Jenkins as soon as blacktop is available.

• The court voted unanimously to appoint Mahala Frazier to the Letcher County Library Board.

• The court voted unanimously to appoint Joe Walters of Jenkins to the Letcher County Tax Bill Board. Walters will replace Paul Ed Narramore of McRoberts, whose term has expired.

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